As with any performance horse, correct nutrition of both mare and stallion has a major role to play in breeding success. Unfortunately there are some horses who suffer fertility problems despite receiving the correct nutrition. Stallions may suffer low sperm counts, while mares may have trouble conceiving or retaining their pregnancies.
While nutrition cannot solve all fertility problems, it can help in some cases. Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for reproduction, and that a deficiency results in infertility. Horses are incapable of manufacturing these fatty acids, so they must be available in the diet. As high grain diets are most likely to be deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, supplementation may prove beneficial in many cases.
With regards to stallion fertility, research has shown that supplementing with dietary fatty acids can increase the number of healthy sperm and decrease those with abnormalities. These fatty acids are directly incorporated into cells where they help to create stronger membranes. This helps the membranes withstand the aggressive processes of freezing and thawing, which makes supplementation particularly useful for stallions participating in AI programmes.
Research has also shown that the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid DHA is found in large concentrations in brain and retinal tissue, indicating its important role in the development of the foetus. Supplementing the dam’s diet with Omega 3 fatty acids has been found to result in offspring that perform better on visual, problem-solving and intelligence tests when compared to offspring in an unsupplemented group. The research also indicated that the benefits of these fatty acids are passed through the milk to young foal.
An additional reason to supplement Omega 3 fatty acids in broodmares is that the fatty acids are thought to help reduce the inflammatory response that often occurs in the mare’s reproductive tract following natural covering or AI. The fatty acids are metabolised to anti-inflammatory compounds in the body and these anti-inflammatory compounds may help increase the chance of conception.
Although Omega 3 fatty acids have many beneficial effects, they do not work in isolation, and interactions with other nutrients must be considered. The anti-oxidants, vitamins E and C and selenium, function synergistically and help to increase fertilisation rates and the numbers of active sperm. Selenium is also vital for sperm formation, and a deficiency has been shown to result in abnormalities and decreased fertility. Other nutrients, including beta-carotene and zinc, also have proven benefits for increasing fertility.
Zinc is essential for reproduction and hormonal regulation in both sexes and contributes towards maintaining an optimal sperm count. Beta-carotene increases fertility and libido and is particularly beneficial to mares as it stimulates ovarian activity, increases pregnancy rates and reduces the incidence of cyclic disorders.
In short, correct nutrition can maximise the chances of breeding success in both sexes and, for those animals with fertility problems, nutritional supplements with a sound scientific basis could well be worth considering.
Baileys Fertility Plus