Good fertility lies at the heart of successful breeding. Whilst other factors can influence a horse’s fertility, nutrition plays a central role in maintaining and promoting it in both mares and stallions. Read on for some essential advice to help support optimum fertility in your horse through feeding.
One of the single most influential factors on fertility is body condition and seasoned breeders know that an underweight mare is far more difficult to get in foal. Similarly, a stallion that is in poor condition or significantly overweight is likely to have reduced fertility, whilst also being less able to stand up to the rigours of the breeding season ahead.
When feeding for fertility, horses should ideally maintain a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5-6 on a nine – point scale, monitored regularly to pick up any changes that may need addressing.
However, it’s important to understand that reproductive stallions and mares should be fed like any other horse – based on their condition and level of work to ensure they receive the right level of energy for optimal body condition.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential for all round good health, so your horse will always need a good supply but certain micronutrients are more influential when it comes to fertility.
Vitamin A, for example, has an active role in reproduction and fertility in all horses. It is involved in sperm manufacture, helps maintain reproductive cycles and in mares it stimulates ovulation, or in other words the release of eggs from the ovaries. Vitamin E, is significant for fertility because its antioxidant properties can help optimise sperm integrity and create healthier eggs, with a greater chance of successful fertilisation. Vitamin E is present in fresh grass along with beta-carotene, from which your horse can make vitamin A, so letting your horse have regular access to good grazing is beneficial. If you horse doesn’t get access to regular grazing, these vitamins can be provided through a fully balanced diet.
Calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are all constituents of semen and seminal plasma, which is important for functional sperm. Selenium is key for stallion fertility as it maintains sperm quality. Zinc is an important mineral in both mares and stallions because it helps regulate reproductive hormones and is fundamental in helping to produce healthy, active sperm.
The best way to ensure your horse is getting optimal supplies of these vital micronutrients is to provide a high specification, nutritious balancer or a fully fortified suitable feed alongside good-quality forage. Preparation is key so it’s good to start feeding optimum micronutrients a few months before the breeding season to allow them to fully contribute to the ever-developing eggs and sperm.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are thought to help promote fertility and this is backed up by science. Research has shown they promote better sperm motility (basically stronger swimmers!), healthier sperm and increased pregnancy rates for less fertile stallions.
Omega 3’s can also have an impact on female fertility and research in other female animals has shown that they can promote regular ovulation, for a better chance of successful egg fertilisation, influence hormone concentrations and enhance overall fertility. In horses, mares fed Omega 3 fatty acids have demonstrated better reproductive health and a significant increase in pregnancy success rates, which could potentially mean a better of chance of getting your mare in foal.
A deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids can result in reduced fertility. So, making sure your breeding mare or stallion is getting good levels of Omega 3 fatty acids is important to support overall fertility and help enhance it in less fertile horses. Linseed meal is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids and can be introduced into your horse’s diet a few months ahead of the breeding season for maximum impact.
Protein and Amino Acids
Good-quality protein will support optimum fertility and protein quality is defined by the type and amount of ‘essential’ amino acids present.
Essential amino acids must be supplied in the horse’s diet and all are vital for reproduction. Lysine and methionine. for example, have significant roles in maintaining normal sperm structure and hormone balance. If you are looking to breed, good-quality protein sources like linseed and soya which have an excellent amino acid profile are a must to help support optimal fertility.
Breeding is not an inexpensive game, so ensuring that the mare and stallion are the most fertile they can be will help increase the chances of producing that much desired foal. By supporting good fertility with the right nutrients and dietary management, you can help give your horse the best possible chance for successful reproduction.
If you have any questions about how to create the best diet for your breeding horse, or any other horse, you can contact our nutritionist Lisa at lisa@smarthorse,co.uk or call 01531 557133.