28 November 2013 Forage for Fertility!
Looking to get pregnant?…well your mare anyway…make sure she has access to forage on a continual basis!
We LOVE to sing out the virtues of forage around here, so naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to bring you some more research to help us sing out the message a little louder! A recently published study has highlighted the beneficial effects of access of forage day and night, on the reproductive efficiency of mares.
Food, stress, and fertility
Horses are ‘trickle feeders’, designed to eat large quantities of highly fibrous forages for most of the day and night. This is a highly-motivated, basic behavioral need, i.e. the horse MUST have it in order to function as nature intended. Any deprivation of this will lead to stress, and stress has been repeatedly shown in many species, including horses and humans, to have adverse effects on reproductive efficiency. Stress makes it harder to get pregnant, and stay pregnant
Horses that are managed on a time restricted meal plan and limited forage (such is commonly seen in our current management practices), are under chronic stress. Such stressors have been implicated in abnormal behaviors and the emergency of oral stereotypies (e.g. crib biting, wood chewing, tongue movements, lip movements). Gastric ulcers are also a frequent problem in domesticated horses. So it’s really not surprising this may have a negative impact on fertility too.
Quickie important note: **Gastric discomfort can occur in as little as 1-2 hours when a stomach is empty! ** Keep that in mind the next time your horse gets grouchy when he’s been stood around with nothing to eat!
In this recent study, researchers in Tunisia hypothesized that providing semi-continuous feeding schedule of roughage (i.e. hay available morning and night) would help to improve reproductive efficiency.
They took 100 Arab breeding mares and randomly divided into two groups. The “Continuous feeding” group (CF) had access to hay morning and night, the “Standard Feeding Pattern” (SFP) only had access to hay in the evening. The total amount of roughage for both groups was the same, as was their management schedule.
The results of the study showed that there was a significant difference between the two groups. Those receiving hay throughout the day & night (CF) had fewer estrus abnormalities and higher fertility rates, than those who were on restricted schedule (SFP). The conception rate in the CF mares was 81% compared with 55% in the SFP mares. Pretty impressive!
So if we’re trying to improve reproduction in the domestic environment, (remember, responsible horse breeding only!) keeping our horses closer to their intended natural foraging behavior, is an easy and efficient way of increasing reproduction. It’s also worth considering the possibility that timing of feeding may have an even bigger impact than the actual amount of food provided.
Take home message
Keep your herbivore happy (reproducing, or not) with continual access to a variety of appropriate forages (fresh and conserved). Any shortfalls in this, for even short periods of time, may induce a stress response. Stress response will lead to unwanted behaviors and negatively impact physiological and psychological function. This is not only a health and wellness concern, but also a welfare issue.