Nutrition and Reproduction

“Sex is truly a luxury in the body–you’ve got to be productive before you can be reproductive,” began David Pugh, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ACVN, a professor of reproduction at Auburn University, in his presentation, “Nutrition and Its Effects

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“Sex is truly a luxury in the body–you’ve got to be productive before you can be reproductive,” began David Pugh, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ACVN, a professor of reproduction at Auburn University, in his presentation, “Nutrition and Its Effects on Reproduction” at the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Bluegrass Equine Reproduction Symposium Oct. 23-26, 2002, in Lexington, Ky. He stated that broodmares with a body condition score (BCS) of less than 4 on a nine-point scale exhibit:



  • Increased length of spring transition (to proper estrous cycling);
  • Increased time from foaling to ovulation;
  • Increased number of cycles to conception;
  • Decreased conception rates;
  • Increased fetal wastage (fetal loss); and
  • Decreased milk production.

Pugh discussed several other points to remember when considering nutrition relative to equine reproduction, including the following.


Feeding Broodmares



  • Underfeeding might delay the date of first ovulation in maturing mares.
  • Moderate mare body weight gain or loss during gestation doesn’t appear to greatly affect foal weight.
  • More than 60% of the foal’s growth occurs in the last trimester of the pregnancy. Most non-draft horses gain 150-200 pounds during gestation.
  • Feeding fat beginning at nine months of gestation will increase the mare’s milk fat percentage, but not birth weight of the foal.
  • Pugh recommends a diet with 8-9% protein until nine months of gestation, then a diet with 9-10% protein for months 10-11. Inadequate protein can decrease foal birth weight, even in mares in good body condition. But too much protein can be problematic–mares with a history of stress and consumption of high-protein or legume-rich diets may have placental edema or premature separation of the placenta, particularly with diets high in some estrogen-rich legumes. A rising nutritional plane, or feeding for weight gain, in pregnant mares (especially with high protein) is associated with placental edema (indicative of placental inflammation, which can decrease the nutrients going to the foal).
  • Supplementing vitamin E near the end of gestation may increase IgA and IgG (types of antibodies) in colostrum

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Written by:

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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