Artificially extended photoperiod administered to pre-partum mares via blue light to a single eye : observations on gestation length, foal birth weight and foal hair coat at birth

19 Sep 2017

In seasonally breeding animals, photoperiod perception is crucial for timing of important physiological events. In the horse, long day photoperiod influences the onset of ovulation and cyclicity, shedding of the heavier winter coat and the timing of parturition. In this compilation of studies, conducted across three breeding seasons and two countries, the impact of artificially extended day length was investigated on gestation length, foal birth weight and foal hair coat at birth. The light therapy was administered to pre-partum mares via mobile head worn masks which provided short wavelength blue light to a single eye. In Study 1, reductions in gestation lengths were observed following administration of artificially extended day length (124.8 ± 15.11 days) in the final months of pregnancy to a group of Thoroughbred mares compared to controls (P < 0.05; 339.7 ± 9.56 days vs 350.6 ± 9.13). Study 2 revealed that pre-partum exposure to artificially extended day length (104.6 ± 9.89 days) increased foal birth weight compared to controls (47.13 ± 2.93 kg vs 43.51 ± 6.14 kg; P < 0.05) in mares bred early in the year. In Study 3, artificially extended day length (87.53 ± 19.6 days) administered to pre-partum mares affected the coat condition of foals at birth with respect to hair weight (P < 0.0001) and hair length (P < 0.0001) compared to controls (0.34 ± 0.20 μg vs 0.59 ± 0.12 μg and 1.93 ± 0.56 cm vs 2.56 ± 0.32 cm, respectively). Collectively, these studies serve to highlight the influential role of the circa-annual changes in photoperiod length on the pre-partum mare for normal foetal development during the natural breeding season. It also emphasizes the potential that exists to improve breeding efficiency parameters by artificially simulating this important environmental cue in the latter stages of gestation against the backdrop of an economically driven early breeding season.