With breeding season approaching, now is the time to get your stallion in the best shape possible. Management practices such as evaluating his weight, deworming regularly, keeping up to date on his vaccinations and giving him plenty of turnout are all important steps, but there is more work to do to ensure your stallion gets off to a good start when those shed doors open.
Training the Stallion
If you are working with a new stallion, it is best to learn as much about him as possible. Training for the breeding shed can take days or weeks, depending on the individual. It helps to have the same handler work with the horse consistently and get a good rapport with the stallion. First, he should be able to walk, halt, back, turn left and right in a non-sexual environment. Then the stallion and handler can work together in a teasing situation followed by the breeding shed. The horse should be allowed to act like a stallion and be enthusiastic, but for everyone’s safety, the handler should be the one in control.
Older, experienced stallions don’t really need training. Rather, they just need to be reminded of the routine. With them, it is important to look for pain, particularly in the neck, back and hind legs. Clearing up or managing any soreness early will help keep problems from surfacing later.
Regular turnout is extremely important and will go a long way in keeping the stallion happy. In many cases, if the stallion isn’t actively in training or competing, turn-out is the main form of exercise. This has been the case at Cre Run Farm in Montpelier, Virginia, which stands purebred Arabian stallions that run the gamut of age and experience. In 2006, Deborah Mihaloff, who owns the farm along with husband Alan Kirshner, said that they plan to start exercising the stallions under saddle. This has been highly successful with the thoroughbred stallions at Three Chimneys Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, where they gallop their horses every morning. “It takes more time and expense, but what it does for their health and happiness is invaluable,” the farm states on its website.
Evaluating Breeding Soundness
Every stallion should receive a breeding soundness exam prior to covering his first mare. The typical exam performed by a veterinarian consists of completing his reproductive and health history, performing a physical examination and collecting at least two ejaculates one hour apart. If any problems are diagnosed, adjustments can be made. If not, this will give you a baseline to go back to if something happens at a later date.
Mihaloff advises managing each stallion individually. For example, when collecting a stallion, it is important to know their likes and dislikes. The farm uses a different artificial vagina (AV) for each stallion, and the horse knows when there is even a slight variation in water temperature. With their 20-year-old stallion, they plan on collecting him prior to the breeding season to be certain everything is normal, so they don’t lose time once mares are ready to be bred.
Feeding the Stallion
Because a stallion’s workload is dependent upon the time of year, it is important to adjust his feed accordingly. Debra M. Powell, PhD, P.A.S., assistant professor at Ohio State University, suggests that stallions should start the breeding season in a moderate to fleshy body condition (see “Body Condition Scoring,” page 28). “When you start him off at this condition, you are better able to meet his daily nutrient requirements with a reasonable amount of feed during the breeding season, without much weight loss.
“Breeding does not usually require an increase in any other nutrient except the need for energy. On average, energy requirements are 25 percent above maintenance of an idle horse,” Powell says. Increased testosterone level, increase in activity and overall nervousness of the stallion all increase his energy needs.
“Most stallions should receive a total daily feed of a 70/30 up to a 50/50 hay-to-grain ratio (by weight of ration). The difference will depend on the individual variation between stallions, hay quality, and the energy density of the concentrate being fed. Fat supplemented concentrates can be beneficial for older stallions that may have a tendency to be thin and for any stallion that cannot maintain adequate weight with traditional grain mixes.” Powell also says that there is little evidence to support the use of supplemental Vitamin A or E beyond the required amount. Typically, commercial feeds already contain the proper levels of vitamins and minerals.
Powell recommends a feeding program that starts with good quality roughage at 1 to 1.5 percent of body weight per day (or higher). “Balance this off with a concentrate that is fed to keep the stallion at a body condition score of at least 6. If your concentrate amount exceeds 0.5 percent of body weight/day, then separate it into multiple feedings. Some stallions may need to be fed multiple meals per day in order to maintain body weight during the breeding season,” she says. However, once your stallion is done with the busy season, it is important to again adjust his feed levels. If you continue to feed your stallion in October the way you fed him in February, you very well could run into health problems.
It takes knowledge and experience to properly manage a breeding stallion, but tasks that you do routinely make up much of what is necessary to keep a stallion healthy. In addition, taking extra time to make necessary adjustments prior to the stallion’s busy season will go a long way in making sure you have a fabulous foal crop the following year.