Come winter, breeding stallions are ramping up for the season that lies ahead. While maintenance of fertility is of utmost importance in the care of breeding stallions, they must also be kept looking their best, sound, energetic and disease free. As with many aspects of horse care, a holistic approach is required to achieve these goals. And as always, good nutrition provides the foundation for maintaining fertile and healthy stallions that look stunning.
A stallion’s level of fertility is affected both by his genetics and his past and present environment. Good nutrition will never be able to make an infertile stallion fertile. However poor nutrition may limit an otherwise fertile stallion’s effectiveness in the breeding barn. To maintain maximum fertility in your stallions, a balanced diet that meets his energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements must be fed. Using a well formulated concentrate feed or a quality vitamin and mineral balancer pellet or supplement, together with high quality forage is generally all that is needed to meet requirements.
Ensuring the diet is well fortified with antioxidants is essential for maintaining maximum fertility. A study by Contri et al (2011) found that stallions supplemented with 1500 mg of vitamin E, 2.5 mg of organic selenium and 360 mg of zinc per day had improved sperm characteristics including increased average path velocity, straightness, improved membrane integrity, progressive motility and reduced numbers of sperm with abnormal morphology.
The omega 3 to omega 6 ratio in the diet may also have some bearing on the fertility of stallions, particularly those that will be used for the collection of cooled and frozen semen for shipping. Sperm with a higher omega 3 to 6 ratio (or more specifically a higher docosahexaenoic acid or DHA to docosapentaenoic acid, or DPA ratio) appear to handle the stress of cooling or freezing with less damage, giving them a greater capacity to fertilise an egg. High forage, low concentrate diets that contain more omega 3 than omega 6 give stallions the best natural chance of having sperm with more omega 3 fatty acids.
How do I look?
Stallions need to look their best to attract the mare owner’s eye. By the time a stallion reaches breeding age nothing can be done to change overall conformation, but muscling and topline, coat shine and a fit but well-conditioned appearance can all be manipulated through nutrition. And again, feeding a well-balanced diet that contains high quality protein for maintaining muscle mass, oils with both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for coat and skin health and a full array of vitamins and minerals will keep stallions looking their best.
Breeding like most physical activities promotes a degree of wear and tear on a stallion’s musculoskeletal system. Diet has a huge impact on the health of a stallion’s joints and bones. Trace mineral and vitamin deficiencies as well as low quality protein in the diet can contribute to joint and bone degeneration. While many stallions are supplemented with equine joint formula’s as a preventative strategy, using joint supplements can only be effective if they are fed in conjunction with a well-balanced diet that is meeting requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals.
The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in the diet may also play a role in joint health, with high omega 6 diets tending to aggravate joint inflammation. High grain diets that are high in omega 6 fatty acids should be avoided for stallions in preference to forage dominant diets higher in omega 3.
All too often good stallions are lost to colic or laminitis. While there are many causes of both these diseases, some are easily avoided through good nutrition. The risk of both colic and laminitis can be lowered by feeding a high forage, low grain diet, where an absolute minimum of 1.5% of bodyweight (1.5 kg/100 kg of bodyweight, 1.5 lb/ 100 lb bodyweight) is fed per day of forage. A preferable minimum forage intake is closer to 2% of bodyweight which will ensure a well filled and hydrated gut environment.
In addition, where grains are fed, only cooked and very digestible grains should be fed to stallions to lower the risk of undigested grains entering the hindgut where they will be rapidly fermented, causing acidosis. Hindgut acidosis is known to cause both colic and laminitis. Any stallions prone to laminitis should not be fed any grain or grain/grain by-product-based feed. Ever. Use FeedXL to steer clear of dangerous ingredients.
To keep stallions healthy they should not be allowed to become sedentary and overweight or obese as this also increases the risk of insulin resistance and laminitis. And it increases joint wear and tear. The maintenance of a regular exercise program and a moderate to good body condition will keep insulin sensitivity high and the risk of insulin induced laminitis low and reduce the stress placed on their joints. Regular exercise will also help to keep stallions fit and better able to cope with a rigorous breeding schedule.
How much to feed
How much feed a stallion needs on a daily basis to maintain the desired body condition is going to depend on the individual stallion, whether he is exercised, how much voluntary exercise he does, how many mares he covers in a season and what his maintenance energy requirement is. Some stallions are constantly on a diet while others are almost impossible to keep enough weight on.
As such, the amount you feed each day depends on the stallion. For stallions that maintain their weight easily, a forage-based diet (pasture and/or hay) supplemented with a high-quality forage balancer pellet fed at less than 1 kg/day with a small amount of oil to assist with coat shine may be all he needs. For stallions that need a higher energy diet to hold their weight, well formulated and fully fortified complete feeds or high energy ingredients mixed with your own supplement can be used to increase their energy intake. Stallions should be fed enough to maintain them at a condition score of 5 to 6 (on the Henneke 1 to 9 scale) where their ribs cannot be seen while stationary, but are easily felt with light to moderate pressure.
When formulating stallion diets it is always a good idea to maintain flexibility by having at least one component of the diet that you can increase or decrease according to the stallions energy needs on a day to day basis without messing up the balance of the diet. For example if you have a base diet that consists of 2 kg of concentrate feed that contains all of the high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, including anti-oxidants the stallion needs, you can then have a high energy ingredient like cooked corn, barley, oats or a high energy fibre like beet pulp that can be increased or reduced in the diet according to how a stallion is looking or feeling each day.
Feed with care
As stallion owners are well aware, stallions are valuable animals and as such they need to be fed with utmost care. Weigh feed ingredients to ensure they are fed accurately. And know how to adjust the diet safely to cater to an individual stallions needs without unbalancing the overall nutrient profile. Make sure nutrients important for fertility, including antioxidants are fed at optimum levels. And perhaps most importantly of all, don’t forget the forage. Failure to accurately feed enough forage may put your stallion at a higher risk of colic and could exacerbate fertility and joint issues. The more pasture and hay your stallion gets, the better.
Using FeedXL to put together stallion rations makes the process of getting all of this right… simple!