- Sierra needed to learn how to mount the phantom for collection.
- We needed to analyze Sierra's sperm to make sure that it is viable for cooling and shipping.
The process can be a difficult learning curve for stallions as it requires them to do something that is completely non-instinctual: mount a phantom. A phantom for breeding is a padded dummy mount that looks quite similar to a gymnastic vaulting apparatus. When you think about it, there is absolutely no reason why a horse would naturally want to jump on top of this, let alone have sex with it!
How the process works is that a mare in heat is selected to be used as a tease, based on the specifications and preferences of the stallion. Yes, stallions have preference; for Sierra his preferences are the little ladies with the giant butts. The mare is then brought out to excite the stallion, causing him to drop his penis so it can be washed. The mare is placed behind a short wall just behind the phantom to encourage the stallion to then mount the phantom. As the stallion mounts, a receptacle is used to gather the semen. The semen is then tested for: presence of urine, sperm count, sperm motility and sperm preference of three extenders that will help keep the sperm viable during the cooling and shipping process.
The mare chosen for Sierra was a cute little buckskin quarter horse, Nina. And she was just perfect for him. He immediately took to her and dropped and was a very good boy about his penis being cleaned. On his first try at the Phantom, Sierra didn't quite understand what we were getting at. The phantom didn't even register. He knew his job: mount the MARE. He ended up mounting the wall and putting his feet over the mare's back instead of mounting the phantom. We were able, however to get a good collection from him, regardless.
While testing his first collection, we unfortunately found that he had urine in his ejaculate. Urine kills sperm; almost everything kills sperm. This is a common issue. Many stallions, like Sierra, go years successfully impregnating mares through hand breeding and pasture breeding without issues. The mares uterus is amazing at assisting and supporting sperm. However, when breeding through AI it can be a another obstacle in the process.
Example of Equine Sperm Under Microscope (Not Sierra's)
His first collection had a good sperm count of 177 million per milliliter (average sperm concentration is 100-200 million per ml). However, when looking at his first collection of sperm under the microscope, the motility was low (20-30% instead of the average of 70-80%). This was a result of the urine contamination damaging the sperm and reducing motility.
After trying unsuccessfully to get Sierra to urinate before our second attempt, we gave it another go. This time, Sierra figured it out and successfully mounted the phantom. A fantastic learning curve!
In the testing of his second ejaculate, the urine content was greatly diminished. The staff at the Equine Park were also able to sustain the sperm by both centrifuge as well as use of the extender to dilute what urine was in the semen. The results were positive: concentration of 195 million per ml and a 75-80% motility rate. His sperm also seemed to work well in all of the extender options.
Sierras sperm are now undergoing testing to see how well they cool and more information will be available in the future.