BOONVILLE - It's the most exciting time of the year for Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville. The only Budweiser Clydesdale breeding facility in the world is welcoming some new faces.
The one of a kind ranch has already said "hello" to five new foals this season, with plenty more on the way.
“Right now we’re averaging around 20 a year, so we have another 12 or 13 coming this year," Ranch Supervisor John Soto said.
Soto is a quite a busy man this time of year. He personally oversees each Clydesdale's birth, and estimates he's seen more than 500 in his 27 years breeding the horses.
"It's stressful, and it's the longer hours, but this is the time of the year we wait for," Soto said.
Soto said the late winter into the spring is the best time for mares to give birth.
"A lot of it has to do with the horses' bodies," Soto said. "They're more fertile and in-tune in the wild to give birth in the spring when all the grass is coming up as opposed to having babies in the dead of winter. We want to have babies from the middle of January until around the middle of June. After that it gets pretty hot to have a newborn."
Once a mare lays down to give birth, an alarm rings and Soto gets there within a couple of minutes.
"By the time we arrive, that foal will be out in ten minutes. Then it's a waiting game. You have to make sure everything's ok with the mare and the baby's doing good, and eventually the baby will start flopping around in the stall a little bit wanting to eat," he said.
It takes about two hours before a foal is on its feet.
"You'll let him get steady and then take him under the mare to eat. That's at about three hours. Once he gets up and down a few times and nurses, you're good. So it's usually at about four to five hours before I know I can go home and get some sleep," Soto said.
He said the mares usually have their first baby sometime between their fourth and fifth years.
Hope, one of the more famous Budweiser Clydesdales thanks to a 2013 Super Bowl commercial, just gave birth to her first baby, Halie, in early February.
Not every baby born at Warm Springs will eventually make one of the three famous Budweiser hitch teams.
"All of our hitch gildings are males," Soto said. “To be on the hitch, they have to be at least six feet at the shoulder, which would be 18 hands. and then weigh about 2300 pounds."
He said the favored look is a white face, dark mane and tail, white legs and a bay color.
"But if they're not born exactly like that it doesn't make them a bad Clydesdale. We would prefer those colors, but if there's variations we can deal with that as well," Soto said.
A colt named, Pete, is one new arrival who may one day find himself on a hitch team.
“Pete’s amazing, he’s a great little guy," Soto said.
Warm Springs Ranch is set to open for tours near the end of March. Last season, the ranch welcomed more than 26,000 visitors.
For Soto, the emotion on the faces of guests is one of the best parts of his job.
"You get the range of emotions from 2-year-old babies to 90-year-old grandmothers," Soto said. "The little guys don't know the whole history of the Budweiser Clydesdales that they've grown up with like I have, where the 90-year-old people have seen the Clydesdales through the years, but they're just as excited as the little ones. It just expands to everybody. Seeing the people's excitement every day keeps us excited as well."