Fertility and pregnancy require nutritional support, just like the physical demands of performance, and any deficiency could lead to “under performance”, such as compromised fertility rates for the stallion or an inability to conceive in the mare. Whilst a fully balanced diet should provide all a mare or stallion needs, there are specific nutrients which play a role in fertility and the development of the foetus.
This is the major constituent of all body tissues, from muscle, bone and skin to reproductive organs, and not just of the parent mare and stallion but of the resultant growing foal. Most stud feeds will therefore provide elevated levels of protein to meet these increased demands but the quality of the protein is just as important because this determines the types and amounts of the individual component amino acids available in the feed.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Specific Omega 3 fatty acids are directly incorporated into cell walls and, since an egg and a sperm are single cells, the quality and integrity of their cell walls can have a direct affect on their viability. Indeed, research has shown that a deficiency of these fatty acids can lead to infertility and, as the horse’s body is incapable of manufacturing these “essential” fatty acids, they must be supplied by the diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
Antioxidant vitamins, like C and E, are known to support fertility whilst the mineral, selenium, is vital for sperm formation and a deficiency has been shown to result in sperm abnormalities and reduced fertility. Other minerals, like zinc, are essential for hormonal regulation in both sexes, whilst beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) increases fertility and libido and is particularly beneficial to mares as it stimulates ovarian activity and can reduce the incidence of cycling problems.
Just as biotin is not the only nutrient involved in the production of healthy hooves so no one of these nutrients works in isolation and they all have different modes of action and interact with other nutrients in the body. For this reason, a fully balanced diet supplying a range of nutrients will have more and wider reaching benefits than attempting to supplement the diet with one or two selected nutrients. Indeed, keeping breeding stock on a balanced diet all year round, and not allowing extreme fluctuations of body condition, will help them maintain internal reserves and be in a better position breed successfully.
A mare in good condition, not fat or thin, and on a fully balanced diet prior to covering, will be more likely to conceive first time, sparing the cost of further coverings or lengthy spells at stud. It’s then vital that the mare continues to receive this balanced diet from conception onwards as development of the foetus commences immediately and requires nutritional support throughout gestation. Research has shown that the growing foetus lays down stores of minerals in the liver on which to draw when it is born and growing rapidly so a deficiency in the mare’s diet during pregnancy can have a “knock-on” effect on the growth of the foal. This is when products like nutrient dense, low calorie, Baileys Stud Balancer, become invaluable as you can maintain nutrient intake without supplying potentially unwanted calories.
Where a mare or stallion still has fertility issues despite a good quality balanced diet, it’s possible that further supplementation may be beneficial, although breeders should consult their vets first to determine any possible underlying cause. Certainly there’s a case for stallions whose semen is collected for AI to receive additional Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet because the direct incorporation of these into the cells helps create stronger membranes more able to withstand the aggressive freezing and thawing processes involved. There is also potential benefit to the mare since they are metabolised to anti-inflammatory compounds in the body and this is thought to reduce the inflammatory response in the reproductive tract directly after covering, thus increasing the chances of conception.
Fish oil, like cod liver oil, is the richest source of the necessary essential Omega 3 fatty acids but, since the increased inclusion of oils in the diet requires a corresponding increase in the inclusion of supporting antioxidants, it is best to choose a specially formulated supplement designed to provide a range of nutrients that work together to support fertility. Like any supplement, this should then be fed in addition to an already balanced diet and not instead of.