During a mare’s pregnancy, some significant changes happen that cause her nutrition needs to skyrocket. While bred mares should be fed a quality maintenance diet for the first half of their pregnancy, a maintenance feeding program just won’t cut it after the mid-way point of the pregnancy.
Since we cannot increase the feed intake drastically when the mare foals, she needs to be carrying some extra fat stores so she does not drop body condition drastically before we can bring her up to intake levels that fill lactation energy requirements. Mares should be at about a body condition score 6 when they foal so that they have sufficient energy reserves for early lactation as well as to maintain condition for re-breeding. If she is in a significant negative energy balance (losing body condition) she is much less likely to rebreed easily and carry the next pregnancy.
To bring a mare along properly in her nutritional journey, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but may not provide adequate amino acids and minerals.
- A ration balancer product or a feed designed for pregnant mares may be used from month 5 to about month 10 or 11 of gestation to provide the missing nutrients.
- A feed designed for broodmares and foals should be introduced prior to foaling, so that the mare is properly adjusted to the feed well before she foals. She is under quite a bit of stress immediately before foaling, so this is not the time to be introducing a new feed. This feed can then be increased after foaling to provide both the increased energy and the increased nutrients that are required for lactation, as well as providing nutrition for the foal when it starts to nibble on feed.
- Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available at all times.
- The mare should also be vaccinated properly before foaling so that her colostrum, the rich first milk, contains antibodies to protect the foal. Proper nutrition will also help immune response to vaccinations.
During lactation, a mare’s energy needs are easily doubled over her maintenance needs, and while a mare is producing milk for her offspring, her water consumption can exceed 50-100% that of a maintenance horse. Around 13-24 weeks after the mare has given birth, her milk production will begins to decrease, and the diet can start to be cut back slightly as nutritional needs are getting back to those of a normal maintenance horse.
Feeding the broodmare properly can help reduce the risk of developmental problems for the foal and help insure that the mare can be rebred in a timely manner to produce another foal the following year.