Correct nutrition is key in all developmental and growing stages of the foal, not only in the early stages of life, but also throughout the gestation period.
The Nutrient Requirement of Horses produced by the National Research Council considers breeding as a state of work. It is important that appropriate changes to diets are made to meet the increased requirements throughout the breeding season.
A breeding stallion is expected to expend nearly the same amount of energy as a performance horse in light work. Owners are urged to regularly record the condition score of both the stallion and mare. Entering the breeding season, the stallion should be in a moderate to fleshy condition score of 2.5 -3. A similar score for mares has been seen to enhance fertility, the nutritional status of the mare before conception is vital, as over weight or underweight mares are at risk of lower conception and foaling rates.
New Thinking in Feeding
Research is beginning to propose a change in the feeding patterns of pregnant mares. Until recently, industry professionals divided the mares’ gestation into two distinct parts. New thinking however has proposed dividing these nutritional periods into 8 distinct stages.
Originally the third trimester was considered to be the most important stage of development, and as such increased feeding was considered standard practise. After seven months the foetus begins to develop quickly, with two-thirds of development occurring during the last few months of gestation. Studies have now shown that nutrition is important for not just maintaining body weight and foetal growth, but for nutritional expenditures caused by the creation and maintenance of gestational tissues i.e. placenta (non-foetal tissues). New recommendations suggest nutritional changes during mid gestation, to support these non-foetal tissues, including increased protein intake, raised 5 to 8% above maintenance. Increased energy, calcium, phosphorus and high-quality protein should also be provided at this time.
Trace mineral supplementation must be adequate for the foetus to store iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. These minerals will sustain growing for the first few months as the foetus will not receive sufficient amounts from the mare’s milk.
What is Essential in the Diet?
Broodmare’s should be ideally 3- 3.5 on a condition score, receiving at least 1.5 – 2% / body weight of a high-quality forage per day. Underweight mares may struggle to provide sufficient nutrients for the growing foetus, which can subsequently lead to delayed growth or contribute to developmental orthopaedic diseases. Alternatively, overweight and obese mare’s often struggle with parturition, with higher rates of dystocia recorded. There is also an increased risk of insulin sensitivity in the foal and decreased colostrum quality.
It is essential therefore to provide adequate vitamin and mineral supplementation, this can be done by either a balancer or a fortified feed. Bluegrass Stamm 30 balancer contains high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, formulated to provide a fully balanced diet without excessive calories making it ideal for pregnant mares with higher condition scores. The Bluegrass Stud range offers both a mix and cube, both fortified in high quality ingredients designed to promote steady foetal growth whilst providing the key nutrient requirements. During late pregnancy additional calories can be supplied to a diet of good quality forage and fortified feed via a stabilised rice bran (Equi-Jewl) or vegetable oil.
Vitamin requirements are higher during gestation, selenium and vitamin E are essential for providing immunity to the foetus. A study found foals of mares receiving 3mg of selenium and 1,600IU of vitamin E each day, compared to 1mg of selenium and 800IU of vitamin E, had higher antibody levels. It was proposed this could contribute to reduced risk of afterbirth retention.
Top Points to Consider:
1) Routinely carry out condition scoring throughout the breeding season and gestation,
2) Ensure the vitamin and mineral requirements are met,
3) Avoid over feeding,
4) Consider energy requirements during late pregnancy,
5) Speak with one of the experts at Bluegrass Horse Feeds if you have any questions,