Stud farms have two main reasons for advertising their stallions as "private fee."
Some stallions have so many conditions, terms, fee reductions, and special offers that it's meaningless to post a fee: no breeder would actually pay the listed fee, and posting one would only serve to dissuade the mare owners who might be interested in sending mares but who would be frightened off by a high listed price. Here's an example: a farm might offer a fee reduction for in-state mares, another for stakes winners, and one for black type producers; the farm might tie in a lowered stud fee to a boarding/foaling contract; or the stallion manager might wish to attract foal share arrangements with owners of mares that meet specific pedigree requirements. Advertising a $7,500 fee when the "right" mares would actually be charged $1,500 probably ends up losing prospective clients, but indicating a $1,500 fee will likely attract the wrong type of mares.
The second -- and by far most common -- reason that stallions are listed as "private fee" is to avoid stating publicly that a stallion's fee has dropped precipitously. Say a farm decides to drop one of its horses from $60,000 to $20,000 to reflect the stud's actual marketplace demand. Making the new fee public is the kind of news that no stallion manager wants to announce; it reflects negatively on both the horse ("Is he worth even twenty thousand?") and the stud farm ("Why didn't they know a year ago that he wasn't worth anywhere near sixty grand?!?"). It also upsets breeders who patronized the stallion a year previously at an inflated fee. By listing the horse as available for "private fee" for a year or two, farms hope to avoid the direct numbers-to-numbers comparison that is possible when dollar figures are ascribed.
While there will continue to be situations where a private fee is appropriate, the truth is they're rare. And they really don't apply to larger commercial stallion farms.
Well, stallion managers have the perfect opportunity in 2010 to start off with a relatively clean slate. A stallion standing in 2009 for $75,000 but whose actual market value was $20,000 or even $15,000 would normally pose a public relations problem for the stud farm, and would be a prime candidate for a private fee notation in 2010 This year, stallions all over the place are being reevaluated. Many farms are dropping profitable stallions' fees by 50% or greater. So there's no reason this year to hide behind a "private fee" cloak. Go ahead, stud managers: price your stallions fairly. The industry expects it this year. A drop in fee by half or more barely makes a blip in the breeding news these days. If you've already settled on "private fee," there's time to change it to an announced price.
The industry is giving you a pass right now to "rightsize" without too many repercussions. I don't think you'll have the same chance next year.