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Limiting dietary roughage may limit equine fertility

The nature of the diversity in gut bacteria in horses may be behind the species' vulnerability to digestive upsets, researchers suggest.Ensuring that mares have access to roughage throughout the day and night has beneficial effects on reproductive performance, according to a recent report.

Horses have evolved as “trickle feeders” and are adapted to eating little and often. Modern management methods frequently interfere with this natural feeding routine, and have been implicated in causing welfare problems and health issues such as gastric ulcers and colic.

The latest issue of Equine Science Update reports that evidence has emerged to suggest that restricting the availability of food to just part of the day can be detrimental to breeding performance.

The study, Temporal feeding pattern may influence reproduction efficiency, the example of breeding mares, by Haifa Benhajali and colleagues, was published in the open access journal, PLoS ONE.

One hundred Arab breeding mares on the national breeding facility of Sidi Thabet, near Tunis, in Tunisia, were included in the study.

They were randomly divided into two groups whose management differed only in the timing of availability of roughage.

Mares were housed individually except for a period of six hours during the day when they were turned out into a paddock. They had free access to water, a small amount of cut grass was given at midday, and 4kg of barley was fed overnight.

The “Continuous feeding pattern” group (CF) had access to hay both when turned out and when housed for the rest of the day and night. They received 5kg hay in the stable at night and 5kg hay when turned out.

The “standard feeding pattern” group (SFP) received 10kg hay only when housed. So the total amount of roughage provided each day for both groups was the same.

The researchers found that there was a significant difference between the two treatment groups.

Those receiving hay throughout the day had fewer oestrus abnormalities and higher fertility. The conception rate in the CF mares was 81 percent compared with 55 percent in the SFP mares.

They concluded that time-related patterns of feeding may be a major and underestimated factor in breeding.

Temporal feeding pattern may influence reproduction efficiency, the example of breeding mares.
Benhajali H, Ezzaouia M, Lunel C, Charfi F, Hausberger M.
PLoS One. 2013 Sep 30;8(9):e73858.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073858.

The full study can be read here.

Equine Science Update

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