With the breeding season in mind now that spring is somewhere around the corner, thoughts are usually on the mare. The stallion, however, must also be in peak health in order to produce the very best fertility rate and resulting offspring.
The nutrient requirements of a stallion can be quite variable, depending on his breeding schedule and his temperament. Management of stallions can sometimes cause them to become stressed and unsettled and this excess movement can increase energy requirements substantially. For good welfare, stallions should have the company of other horses and freedom to move about as much as possible.
Energy requirements of stallions are estimated to be similar to those of a horse in light to moderate work, or about 20-40% above typical maintenance requirements. In practice, however, each stallion should be assessed individually and dietary energy adjusted to maintain a healthy body condition. Protein requirements are similar – slightly increased from maintenance. The quality of protein is important and if the stallion is a good doer and doesn’t need much compound feed and is fed coarse, late cut hay then a balancer product supplying good quality protein as well as vitamins and minerals should be fed.
Little is known about the best diet for optimal semen quality, but first and foremost the stallion needs a balanced diet with a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer if they require less than the full recommended amount of compound feed to maintain condition.
Supplementary vitamin E and omega-3 oils have been proposed to boost sperm quality and are worth feeding to subfertile stallions during the breeding season and for the preceding couple of months in the UK when there is no access to growing grass.
Stallions who are in work should be fed according to their workload and again, need to be assessed individually. Those who struggle to maintain condition during the breeding season should be fed to enter the season in good to a little fat condition, and also have their management reviewed because being unsettled causes weight loss.
In the UK it is still common to keep stallions isolated but this only exacerbates behaviour problems so ideally they should be socialised from an early age with geldings so that they can exhibit normal behaviour. Keeping stallions in work and exercising them regularly gives them purpose and can help them settle. It is becoming more common nowadays for mares to be pasture bred with the stallion left to run with them, which is the healthiest and highest welfare situation for all the horses involved, even although there is a slightly higher risk of injury.