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Feeding-breeding link: it’s all in the timing

in-foal-mareThe timing of feeding mares has a major impact on reproductive success, research suggests.

Researchers from France and Tunisia set out to study the effect of the timing of feeding on reproductive efficiency in breeding mares.

Martine Hausberger, Haifa Benhajali, Mohammed Ezzaouia, Faouzia Charfi and Christophe Lunel used 100 Arab breeding mares at the national breeding facility of Sidi Thabet, in Tunisia, for the study, the findings of which were published in the open-access journal, PLoS ONE.

The mares, aged 4 to 21, were divided into two groups of 50 that differed only in the timing of the availability of their roughage, which was fed as hay.

One group, the standard feeding pattern group, received their 10 kilograms of roughage only during the night, when they were stabled.

The second 50 mares, in the continuous feeding group, received half of their 10kg of roughage during the day and the rest at night, when stabled.

All the mares received a ration of barley during their nights stabled.

All 100 mares spent seven hours in the open during the day, and 17 hours in their individual stalls.

mare-foal-tb-stockMares were tested for oestrus detection by teasing with one stallion and were then examined clinically by rectal palpations and ultrasound before being mated naturally or inseminated by fresh or frozen semen.

Mares in the continuous feeding group had fewer oestrus abnormalities – just two, compared to 16 in the other group – and proved significantly more fertile, with a conception rate of 81 percent versus 55 percent in the the mares fed their roughage only at night.

Hausberger and her colleagues said the semi-continuous feeding of roughage may be a way of fulfilling the basic physiological needs of the horses’ digestive system, reducing stress and associated inhibitors of reproduction.

It was, to their knowledge, the first evidence showing the effects of feed timings on reproductive success in a mammal.

The timing of feeding may be a major and underestimated factor in breeding, they concluded.

The researchers said the results showed that the timing pattern of feeding mares had a major impact on reproductive success in horses.

“Coming closer to the natural patterning of foraging behaviour in horses may be thus an easy and efficient way of increasing reproduction in the domestic situation.”

Benhajali H, Ezzaouia M, Lunel C, Charfi F, Hausberger M (2013) Temporal Feeding Pattern May Influence Reproduction Efficiency, the Example of Breeding Mares. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73858. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073858

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