We sent a 27 month old stallion prospect to a large breeding farm to be trained for collection and evaluated. They collected him 3 times within 4 days, and said he had little to no viable sperm. He did flag his tail, and there was seminal fluid, but no sperm to speak of. I have heard of stallions having plugged ducts, and needing to be bred frequently to open them up, could this be the problem, or is he just too young and immature? We are thinking of having him evaluated next spring at a different farm, and see what we have at that point, but the waiting and worrying is tough...thanks for any input.
Those could also be incomplete ejaculates they are getting. . . the "flagging tail" is not really a good indicator of what's going on. Some stallions don't flag much at all even when giving a very good collection, some flag even when not giving a full collection.
An young stallion still "learning the ropes" may well be more sensitive and shy to the process. If they are doing a more industrial-style program at the breeding farm, it could be that they aren't taking the time to really work with him and learn his preferences. Stallions vary widely in preference of AV type, temperature, tightness, the manner in which it is held, and even the lubricant used.
Some stallions in some situations will not ejaculate at all unless the setup is to their liking, or if they try they will give an ejaculate that is missing some or all of the actual swimmers. We've also seen this in stallions used a great deal during one breeding season. . . the process can "get old" to a more intelligent, social stallion. When this happens, we either give him a little break from collections or we change some variables to make it interesting for him again. Most males of most species aren't so fond of endless routine!
Back to the subject: did they find malformed swimmers, i.e. morphological problems, or did they find very low concentration? It sounds like the latter, and if it's the latter I'd suspect a combination of his younger age and a less than nuanced approach to his personal needs and preferences by the people "training" him.
In reality, when we introduce a young stallion to the AV we are both training each other: he learns about this strange contraption from us, and how to use it safely so that none of us gets hurt or frustrated. In turn, we learn from him his own preferences in the process. When this becomes one-sided, the humans usually blame the "dumb horse" when in fact it is the obstinate humans who are failing to embrace a mutual learning environment.
Sadly, so many "stallion handlers" are driven by a volatile combination of fear, ignorance, and incorrect assumptions about stallion behavior. Mix a young, sensitive, inexperienced boy into that stew and you could end up with a lifetime of collection problems. . . not to mention the mental confusion and unhappiness that the young stallion faces as he's processed through the "collection factory" like some interchangeable part on an assembly line.
Find someone to work with your boy who your gut tells you genuinely cares about stallions as individuals and as thinking, feeling, living beings. It is these folks who will help to find a mutually rewarding path for you and him as his breeding career develops. The old-school, "treat-'em-like-cattle" handlers are generally only effective on very stubborn, very thick-skinned, or very stupid stallions. Nowadays, most all of us in sport breed specifically for more sensitive, intelligent, self-aware horses. . . stallion handling must keep up with these trends, but sadly is not.
As Doug has said, the lack of sperm may be an indication that the stallion did not completely ejaculate, and it is also correct that tail flagging is not a completely reliable indicator of ejaculation. A more reliable indicator is the feeling of pulsations through the urethra at the base of the penis, which can be achieved by gently placing the cupped palm of your hand there above the AV. Even then, you can still get pulsations, and not a complete ejaculation, but it is a more reliable indicator than flagging.
It is indeed quite possible that your stallion is in need of a dose of "tincture of time"! At 27 months, he may be displaying some stallion-like behaviour, but his ejaculatory abilities and sperm levels may not yet be sufficiently developed.
Other problems that may be the cause are physical and related to blockages in the reproductive tract, as you note. Referral to a good equine reproduction specialist veterinarian may be able to assist in ruling this out. It is worth noting however, that this is more commonly seen in older stallions rather than younger ones.
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