Start the Breeding Season with Equine Nutrition Review

Horse owners can help prepare their animals for the upcoming breeding season--and keep them healthy through the winter--through proper nutritional management and veterinary oversight, said Kristina G. Lu, VMD, Dipl. ACT, a theriogenologist at the McGee Fertility Center at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky.

"Careful assessment of the nutritional status is critical for all animals, especially in preparation for the breeding season," Lu said. "You have to pay attention to nutrition; make sure they have enough to keep their weight consistent, but avoid the tendency to overfeed as part of expressing care and concern. Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition can have negative impacts on fertility.

"The beginning of the calendar year, just before breeding season, is a great time to schedule a wellness check for horses that includes careful assessment and recordkeeping of the body condition, haircoat, how the horse is carrying its weight, and more," Lu explained. "This should include a comparison with past examinations, if available."

Owners should be aware of their mare's weight before and after pregnancy, and ideally have a record of these stats over past years in order to help them to keep an accurate measure of what their horse should weigh.

"Pregnant mares can be challenging to assess because a large abdomen due to imminent foaling can disguise an underweight mare," Lu noted. "Achieving an early pregnancy can be difficult in an underweight mare that is also lactating."

Mares are not the only ones that need to maintain a healthy weight going into the breeding season. "Stallions, especially those with regular breeding activity, must not be forgotten," Lu remarked. "Being overweight can make breeding more difficult and interfere with fertility; however, (stallions') caloric needs may increase with regular breeding use."

Poor nutrition can also exacerbate endocrine and metabolic issues, including equine Cushing's disease and insulin resistance, which can make maintenance of optimal body condition and reproductive cyclicity more challenging.

"Identifying these individuals before the breeding season may allow better management and a more successful breeding season," Lu said.

More information on Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

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