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The Effects Of Feed On Stallion Behaviour And Fertility

Managing and breeding a  stallion can be challenging, but knowing more about how their diet affects both behaviour and fertility is essential. Ensuring that your stallion has a balanced diet that includes a range of essential nutrients to  support their reproductive system will help to achieve good fertility rates.  We’ll take a closer look at how horse feeds can affect stallion behaviour and overall fertility below.

Energy requirements for breeding stallions

Just as for all horses and ponies, the individual stallion's energy requirements will vary according to a number of factors, including breed and temperament. It is suggested that stallions generally have a greater energy requirement than mares or geldings with the same characteristics, probably about 10% more for maintenance in the non-breeding season.

Once the stallion starts covering, his energy requirements will largely be determined by how many covers he carries out, whether for mares or for collection for artificial insemination. Covering 12 times a week would be considered as hard work and would have an increased energy requirement of about 20% over maintenance requirements.

Because a balanced diet is vital for good health and fertility, stallions that are overweight or good doers should be fed low-calorie sources of vitamins and minerals, such as balancers or supplements.

Nutrition and Fertility

Whilst many fertility issues cannot simply be put down to poor nutrition, making sure your stallion has access to high-quality feed and the nutrients needed can be helpful for optimising fertility. Selenium, for example, is an essential nutrient when it comes to sperm development. Whilst the range between too much and too little selenium is relatively narrow compared to other nutrients, too little of this mineral in your horse’s diet can lead to lower fertility rates and could have an impact on breeding. Additional minerals like zinc are also recognised as being linked to male fertility and lead to many people over-supplementing to try and increase fertility. Research suggests that feeding enough is important but extra is not usually effective at increasing fertility.

The impact of freezing and chilling semen 

In the sports horse sector, semen is increasingly collected and stored for later use or for shipping around the world. The semen is chilled or frozen and thawed when needed, all of which puts huge pressure on the integrity of the sperm cells. Sperm contains high levels of fatty acids in the cell membranes and it is these that are vulnerable to increased damage from chilling, freezing and thawing.

Supplying good levels of essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 in a stallion's diet is important for improving the resilience of the sperm cells. These fatty acids can be supplied by including linseed oil or fish oil to the ration. In addition, supplying antioxidants in the ration is also important. As well as selenium which we touched on previously, both vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene can help with this. A study in 2005 on human males showed that increasing levels of the antioxidant Vitamins E and C and beta carotene resulted in higher sperm numbers and motility. Beta carotene is a pre-cursor of Vitamin A but is now known to be beneficial in its own right. There have been many studies in dairy cattle looking at the effect of beta carotene on female fertility, but less work done in equines either male or female.

The main sources of beta carotene in a horse's diet are green, leafy plants, so the horse at grass should be consuming plenty of beta carotene. The stabled stallion however, being fed older or poorer-quality forage, might be consuming considerably less. Adding alfalfa to the ration would provide lots of beta carotene, as illustrated by its dark green colour.

Vitamin E is regularly included in feeds, supplements and balancers by manufacturers, so using the recommended amount of one of these should be sufficient for most stallions. However, Vitamin C is not routinely added and, because the horse's requirements tend to increase at times of stress, sourcing a feed that does contain supplementary Vitamin C might prove beneficial in relation to fertility.

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