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Getting the stallion ready for the breeding season

Scone Equine Hospital - Friday, July 31, 2020
Getting the stallion ready for the breeding season

Feeding the stallion

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, but as always, good nutrition provides the foundation for maintaining fertile and healthy stallions that look stunning.

Maintaining Fertility

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 stallion, a balanced diet that meets his energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements must be fed. Using a well formulated concentrate feed or a balanced vitamin and mineral 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. Studies have found that stallions supplemented with 1500 mg of vitamin E, 2.5 mg of organic selenium and 360 mg of zinc per day 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 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.

Staying sound

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.

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 can be used to increase their energy intake. Where possible, use a low grain, or grain-free, high fibre complete feed. And if the feed does contain grains, make sure they are well cooked (extruded, steam-flaked or micronized) to avoid hindgut starch fermentation and laminitis.

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.

Feed with care

Stallions are valuable animals and as such they need to be fed with utmost care. Have your stallion rations evaluated by a professional nutritionist or use a service like FeedXL.com to create a balanced diet. Weigh feed ingredients to ensure they are fed accurately. And know how to adjust the diet safely to cater to an individual stallion 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 receives, the better.

 

Getting the stallion ready for the breeding season

Training

While some stallions are pretty good at their job, new stallions require training.Just like any other discipline, the stallion needs to understand his job and understand his boundaries.Repetition is really important when training the new stallion.If training the stallion to collect semen, this is even more important.Making sure the stallion is trained to the Phantom BEFORE the season starts can save embarrassing phone calls to expectant clients when the stallion fails to “perform” or the semen quality is insufficient.Training a stallion to have semen collected off a phantom usually takes a few days with a stallion demonstrating good libido. If training a stallion to live cover, ensure the safety of all participants.An older dry mare is usually a good starting point for a young stallion.

Basic semen assessment

It is important to remember semen production is a biological process.The sperm factory changes with time, peaking in quality and quantity between 5-8 years of age and deteriorating in quality from about 15 years of age.Damage to the testes or a period of illness in the stallion’s life may damage his sperm production at any age.As such, we recommend all stallions have a basic semen evaluation at the start of the season.The semen evaluation helps to identify any issues the stallion is having, can determine the number of mares the stallion can breed in a season and a cooled semen evaluation can be performed if the semen is to be transported this season.Before semen is evaluated it is important the stallion is “cleaned out” which may require 3-5 ejaculations (to remove dead stored sperm) before a daily sperm output can be calculated.

Identify problems early

A breeding stallion can receive some pretty bad press if he starts firing blanks.Identify problems with your stallion early by chasing up pregnancy results with mare owners.If mares are ovulating within 24-48 hours of being bred and he is covering a “normal” mare population, his pregnancy rates should be around 60% per cycle.An early assessment may give you some management tools to increase his pregnancy rates.If your stallion is injured during the breeding season, seek immediate veterinary assistance.A kick to the wrong area may put him out for the whole season if left untreated.

By Dr Jen Clulow & Dr Nerida Richards