Feeding the Broodmare During Lactation-Monitor Body Condition and Topline Score

Proper nutrition for the broodmare during lactation is essential to make certain that she produces adequate milk for the foal and also maintains her body condition so that she will re-breed successfully and safely carry the next year’s foal.

The broodmare has substantial increases in requirements for digestible energy, protein, lysine, methionine, threonine and minerals as she goes from the last month of Serena and Ella in pasturegestation to the first month of lactation.  For a 500 kg (1100 lb) mare, her DE requirement goes from 21.4 Mcal per day to 31.7 Mcal per day, her protein requirement goes from 630 grams to 1535 grams per day, her lysine requirement goes from 27.1 grams to 84.8 grams per day and her calcium requirement goes from 20 grams per day to 59.1 grams per day, with similar increases in other amino acids and minerals. (Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, pages 298-299).  If her feed/nutrient intake is not increased to provide these nutrients, she will attempt to maintain milk production by depleting her body stores for energy, amino acids(primarily from muscle mass) and minerals, causing loss of weight,  loss of body condition, loss of muscle mass and some bone mineral losses.

To meet her increased DE requirement, an additional 3.43 kg or 7.5 pounds of grain containing 3.0 Mcal/kg (1364 Calories/lb) will need to be added to her diet gradually post foaling.  This need to be adjusted to maintain her body condition as mares vary widely in milk production!  Fortunately, she also can consume more dry matter during lactation, so she is actually able to eat more forage and more feed.  If she is fed a product that is labeled as suitable for lactating mares, the additional feed will provide the additional energy as well as the other important nutrients.  She will also require unlimited access to water and access to salt free choice along with good quality forage.

If she does lose weight during lactation (reflected by loss of both body condition score and topline score, she is much less likely to cycle normally during lactation and less likely to become pregnant and carry the next foal.  This may explain why some mares are “every other year” mares in producing foals.  They are frequently mares that produce large foals and milk very heavy during lactation.  As a result, they do NOT maintain body condition and do not re-breed and carry a foal the next year.  When they are not in foal and not lactating, they gain weight and come back into the next breeding season in good flesh and breed successfully.  This is even more likely if they are not in a suitable body condition (BCS 6+) prior to foaling. The nutrient requirements will start to decrease at the 3rd month of lactation and will gradually decrease until the foal is weaned, when she can then be fed at maintenance levels adjusted as needed.

Monitoring body condition and topline score of the mare and the body condition score and growth rate of the foal are the best ways to determine if the feeding program for both is producing the desired results!

 

Solving Separation Anxiety in Horses

It’s always a great consideration to keep your horse with a companion, as it feeds that natural instinct and bond horses experience in the wild. Although ideal, sometimes it’s not realistic. There can be periods of time where your horse will need to cope with being separated from stall mates or companions, and the better prepared they are, the easier the transition.

Here are a few tips to better prepare your horse for times of separation:

  • Start Small – Moving your horse’s companion away slowly, can sometimes result in a better transition. Try switching a buddy to another stall and gradually widen that gap of space between the two.
  • Frequency – Keeping a regular routine of separation will help your horse to better adjust. Instead of attempting once a month, try a few times a week. This will set the stage for the progression of separation.
  • Distraction – If your horse seems extremely bothered by the separation, try distracting him with some feed or hay. Practice other forms of distraction that might ease that anxiety.
  • Stay Calm – Horses are very intuitive and can react based on your emotions, so avoid yelling or raising your voice if your horse displays signs of anxious behavior.
  • Keep it Safe – Make sure while separating your horse from his companion that the environment is safe. Check over a stall for safety or fencing for security. If the anxiety is beyond a level of safety for your horse, consider talking to a professional that can help with varying techniques.

Separation anxiety can be stressful for the horse owner and horse alike, but with small, frequent steps, you’re likely to start down the path of stress-free separation.

Dieticians Boast Healthful Benefits…What About Your Horse?

The nutrition industry is beginning to understand what role fermentation, gut bacteria and gut microbiome play in human and animal health. Science has just scratched the surface and is beginning to understand the activity of the microorganisms in the digestive tract and the mechanisms of action related to those microorganisms and food choices.

Fermented foods are gaining attention in the human nutrition space, but what  does that mean for our equine companions? Increasing amounts of research studies are suggesting fermented foods have powerful health benefits ranging from promoting gut health, controlling inflammation, and providing other healthful experiences. “Fermented foods” are being emphasized by registered dieticians as something to not ignore in food selections. So, how do we share these benefits with our horses without inviting them to eat Kombucha, yogurt, avocados, sauerkraut, and pickles?

A balance of good quality forage as the base of the horse’s diet and a feed concentrate that includes fermentation metabolites is key to maintaining healthy gut flora and a strong immune system. You might be asking, how do I know what is an effective and beneficial fermentation product? And how do I know my feed or balancer concentrate contains this?

I have invited a guest writer Christine W. of Diamond V to share more information and some supporting science regarding fermentation metabolites.

“Fermentation metabolites produced by Diamond V are unique, bioactive compounds that work naturally with the biology of the horse to strengthen and empower the immune system, support digestive tissue integrity, and promote a healthy microbial community.  Hundreds of these compounds are produced from a proprietary anaerobic fermentation process of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and work synergistically inside the animal to help them perform to their full genetic potential.  

These compounds help the horse’s immune and digestive system function normally in face of the many stressors and challenges, specifically hauling, training, breeding, herd dynamics, and environmental factors.

In other words, this specific species of yeast, produce several products or compounds that are beneficial to the microbiome in the horse’s hind-gut.  When the horse’s gut is working optimally, everything from digestive to immune function is set up to be resilient in the face of stressors and challenges that might otherwise compromise animal health and performance.”

Fermentation metabolites benefit your horse’s digestive tract by supporting a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome. The millions of little bacteria that live in the digestive tract all have names and each one ferments complex carbohydrates resulting in volatile fatty acid production. These acids impact digestion, absorption and the overall gut health. On a feed label you might see yeast culture listed (or S. cerevisiae extract). When fermented by the horse’s microbiome, these specific S. cerevisiae yeast culture metabolites have been shown by to support tissue strength and integrity, contribute to a stable hind-gut pH and support a healthy gut microbial community as well as a balanced immune response when challenged by stressors.

So why is improved tissue strength, integrity, and digestive health important to horses?

Horses with a strong digestive tract are better able to absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. Research has shown that harmful substances are less likely to permeate the gastrointestinal cellular wall. Think of it as closing your screens on your windows to keep bugs out of your house, but to allow fresh air and good things to flow in. Horses need to have a strong gut to absorb amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and prevent unhealthy bacteria or harmful substances from getting into circulation and causing problems. By absorbing the good nutrients and getting rid of the potentially harmful substances horses are more likely to perform to their full potential. Their immune and digestive systems are supported to handle the challenges that come with hauling, training, and just being a horse in changing environments.

This article was written with collaborative authors Heidi A., Emily L., and Christine W.

Amino Acid Requirements for Horses

In order to fuel, repair, and recover muscle, equine diets must optimally contain a superior amino acid profile, including all 10 of the essential amino acids. Most horse owners can quickly name the crude protein level in the feed they provide their horses. But, what horse owners really need to know about is the amino acid content. Protein is made up of amino acids, similar to how a chain is made up of links. There are two basic categories of amino acids: Essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet, as the horse cannot create them on its own in the digestive tract, where the nonessential amino acids can be made.

Another key point is that some amino acids are known as “limiting” amino acids. This means that if a horse runs out of this type of amino acid, it can’t utilize any of the remaining amino acids present in the feed. If the horse has enough of the first most-limiting amino acid, but then runs out of the second most-limiting amino acid, it can’t use the remaining amount of the third most limiting, and so on.

In horses, the first three most-limiting amino acids, in order, are lysine, methionine and threonine. Generally speaking, if these three amino acids are present in sufficient quantities, the ingredients used also provide the remaining amino acids in sufficient quantities. It is increasingly common to see these three amino acids listed on the guaranteed analysis of horse feed tags, as it is an indication of the quality of the protein sources and the balanced nature of the feed.

If you are looking for a feed that may help impact topline, be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed tag. In specific Nutrena feeds – SafeChoice productsProForce products, and Empower Balance– the amino acid levels are called out and guaranteed on the tag. The amino acids included in Nutrena’s Topline Balance products are included in specific amounts and ratios. Research has shown that this specific combination and type of amino acids help to support a healthy topline when fed correctly.

Guaranteed amino acids on the tag is a good starting point. You then need to let the horse tell you if the feed is working by regularly evaluating and noting changes in topline condition.

To determine what nutrition best fits your horse’s needs, take the Topline Balance assessment for a customized nutrition plan.

Winter Care for your Senior Horse

As those who live in true winter geographies know, the cold weather can be brutal for any horse, let alone our aging companions. That is why it’s incredibly important to consider the special needs of your senior horse, as the temperatures drop.  

  • Blanketing – Depending on the extremeness of your temperatures, blanketing your senior horse can be an important consideration of winter care. Try to remember to spread out and look over your blankets before the weather turns bitter cold, to ensure they are in good condition. 
  • Body Condition Score (BCS) – It’s important to understand and evaluate your senior horse’s Body Condition Score before the winter months hit. But if you find yourself in the thick of winter with a senior horse that is rapidly losing weight, then speak to your veterinarian about the best options to add on pounds during the frigid months. 
  • Hydration is Key – The role water plays in the health of your horse is just as important during the cold of winter, as it is the heat of summer. Make sure there is adequate access to fresh water for your senior horse throughout the day. Not only can dehydration lead to impaction colic, but it can decrease feed intake, which is vital for your senior horse during the winter months.  
  • Stay Well-Supplied – Make sure you are prepared for the conditions, which includes sufficient amounts of feed and hay, medications, anti-ice materials, flashlights, light bulbs and other items you may need if a storm hits.  

Winter isn’t an easy season to endure with senior horses, but with planning and preparedness, you and your aging friend will weather the storm.  

Ask the Expert: Large Round-Bales

Question: We are having a hard time finding small-square bales and as a results, are going to start feeding round-bales. How many small square-bales are in a round-bale?

Answer: It depends on the weight of both the large and small-square bales. For example, if the round-bale weighs 1,000 pounds, then 20, 50-pound small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. If the large round-bale weighs 1,200 pounds and the small-square bales weigh 40 pounds, then 30 small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. It important to know the weight of hay bales both for feeding and economic purposes.
Also keep in mind storage and feeding losses associated with round-bales are usually higher compared to small-square bales. Especially if the round-bales are stored outside and fed without a hay feeder.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Calming Effects on Horses

Adapted horses have been found to have a calming effect on other horses in fear-eliciting situations. In practice, experienced horses are often used as companions when young horses are introduced to potentially frightening situations (i.e. loading onto a trailer). However, studies of social transmission of adapted in horses are scarce.

This study, conducted in Denmark, investigated if demonstration by an experienced horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses to cross a novel surface. Young horses were allowed to observe the experienced horse being led five times across a novel surface. Immediately afterwards, the young horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls were allowed to observe the experienced horse eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not when the experienced horse crossed the novel surface.

All young horses succeeded in the task, but horses who observed the experienced horses crossing the novel surface had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate compared to controls. This result suggests a calming effect of the demonstration, which could be implemented when training young horses in fear-eliciting situations.

Summarized by: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

 

Lighting & Nutrition for Breeding Late Winter/Early Spring

Mares that are not pregnant at the end of the year should be getting careful attention in December and January to make certain that they are ready for the start of the breeding season. Horses in North America have a universal birthday January 1, so it may be desired in some cases to be breeding as early as possible while making certain that foals do not arrive in December.

The use of artificial lighting to help prepare mares for breeding is a fairly standard management tool. A common practice is to put mares under lights in early December to help get mares cycling by mid to late February.  Breeding earlier than mid-February is not recommended as a short gestation period might result in a December foal and a very young yearling!  There are multiple lighting systems, but all deliver 16 hours of combined artificial and natural light.  While you can use a light meter to measure illumination, a common rule of thumb is that you should be able to comfortably read a newspaper in any of the stall or paddock area when the lights are on.  (Reading your backlit smartphone does not count!) One caveat is that if you have mares that are due to foal very early, you may want to avoid putting them under lights as this has been reported to shorten gestation a few days.  Again, you do not want yearlings that are only a few days old!

Body condition is also very important at this time of the year. If you have open mares that are below Body Condition Score 5, now is a good time to increase the plane of nutrition so that they are maintaining or gaining a slight bit of weight.  If they are over BCS 6, do NOT put them on a diet as a negative energy balance (losing weight) may interfere with normal estrus cycle.

Much of the country is having some unusually cold weather in late December 2017 and early January 2018. Mares that are experiencing cold weather need to have access to unfrozen water, loose salt and adequate quality forage, supplemented with a balancer or grain product to maintain body condition.

Proper veterinarian examination, artificial lighting and good nutrition can set the stage for a successful early breeding season

Artificial Lighting: Preparing for Early Breeding, Bradford W. Daigneault, M.S. University of Illinois/U.S. Department of Agriculture/Local Extension Councils Cooperating, November 2012 is a good article on lighting for reference.

Beware of Loss of Body Condition in Cold Weather

Cold weather, particularly below freezing temperatures and cold rains, requires that owners pay careful attention to their horses to make certain that the horses maintain weight thru the winter months.

First, make certain the horses are at least a body condition score of 5 or 6, meaning that the horses are carrying some fat cover over their ribs.  Body condition should be monitored by physical examination at least monthly as long hair can hide weight loss.  This is particularly important for older horses.  The horses should also be kept up to date on dental care and overall health care, including appropriate deworming.  It is a good idea to let horses go barefoot with proper hoof care during the winter.

Second, adequate water, above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, should be available at all times.  If water sources freeze, the ice should be broken at least twice per day.  Owners should NOT rely on horses eating snow for their water supply.  A 1200-pound horse will require 12-15 gallons of water per day during cold weather.  Having inadequate water available or water that is too cold for horses to drink comfortably may contribute to impaction colic.  A horse that does not have adequate water available will also decrease feed intake, which may lead to loss of body condition.  Salt should be available free choice, preferably loose salt rather than a salt block as horses may not lick a cold salt block.

Third, provide shelter from cold rains and wind.  Horses remain remarkably comfortable in cold weather if they are dry and have shelter from the wind.  Cold rains mat down the hair coat, reducing the insulation value of the hair and causing the horses to lose body heat. State regulations may dictate shelter requirements.

Fourth, feed more!  A horse’s digestible energy requirement increases for each degree below the thermal neutral zone.  Wind chill increases the energy requirement also.  Hay or high fiber products produce more heat during digestion than do grains, so adding extra good quality roughage to the diet is a good option.  Grain intake can also be adjusted to maintain the desired body condition, but needs to be adjusted gradually.

A 1200 lb. horse at maintenance requires about 17.7 Mcal (17,700 Calories) of DE for maintenance. Each degree C below Lower Critical Temperature (Anywhere from 5 degrees C or 40 degrees F down, depending on what the horse is used to.) increases DE requirement about 2.5%. (NRC, 6th Edition, page 10-11.)  Converting to Fahrenheit, each degree drop requires about 1.375%, so if the temperature drops from 10 degrees F to 0 degrees F, the DE requirement may increase 13.75% to 20.13 Mcal or 20,130 Calories.  This increase of 2430 Calories would require an additional 2.8 pounds of alfalfa grass hay to maintain body condition.  If the horse does NOT get the additional DE, the horse could lose a little over a quarter of a lb. per day.  If we have 3 months of cold weather, it is very easy for a horse to drop a full body condition score.  Shorter periods of extreme cold may cause more rapid loss of weight.

Proper winter care will help assure that your horse is ready for spring!

Ask the Expert: When to Blanket a Horse

Question: I’m confused about blanketing my horse during the winter. I grew up with horses happily housed outside and un-blanketed during the winter months. The horses had access to shelter. I’m now boarding my horse and everyone at the barn blankets their horse and thinks I’m crazy not to! The horse does have access to shelter while outside. Can you please give me some advise on blanketing during the winter?

Answer: Most horses are blanketed for various reasons (i.e. show schedules) or due to personal preference of the owner. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  • There is no shelter available during turnout periods and the temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F
  • There is a chance the horse will become wet (not usually a problem with snow, but a problem with rain, ice, and/or freezing rain during cold weather)
  • The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse has not been acclimated to the cold (i.e. recently relocated from a southern climate)
  • The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as days are becoming shorter. Horses begin to lose their winter coat, and start forming their summer coat, as the days begin to get longer. Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Author: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.