Nutrition plays a key role in supporting the health and fertility of mares and stallions, as well as growth and development in foals and youngstock. Although diet is not the only piece of the puzzle, it’s one that you can influence and deserves close attention.
Ideally provide forage ad lib
Total daily intake in mares and stallions prone to weight gain should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of bodyweight (dry matter) per day – speak to a nutritionist for more advice on this. Choose soft hay/ haylage for foals.
Aim to maintain a body condition score (BCS) of 5-6/9 in mares and stallions
- Aim to assess the mare’s body condition 3 months prior to the breeding season to allow any necessary changes in diet to be made gradually.
- Mares with a BCS of <5 are slower to cycle, have reduced conception rates and may need more cycles to conceive. A low BCS has also been associated with incomplete ripening of ovarian follicles in addition to an increased risk of abortion in early gestation.
- Allowing mares to reach a BCS of 6/9 prior to foaling can help to buffer excess weight loss during lactation.
- Obesity increases the risk of joint strain, heat intolerance, certain types of colic, laminitis, insulin dysregulation and reduced fertility.
- Excess mammary fat may lead to reduced milk production and in turn, reduced growth rates and/ or compensatory growth post weaning.
- Foals born to obese mares may show an increase in low grade inflammation, reduced insulin sensitivity and be at an increased risk of developing osteochondrosis as yearlings.
Energy (calorie) requirements vary between individuals
Stud balancers are small nutrient dense feeds which due to the low feeding rate, provide a concentrated source of protein, vitamins and minerals alongside minimal levels of calories, starch and sugar. This makes them the ideal option for rapidly growing foals and good doers that don’t require the high level of energy (calories) provided by traditional stud feeds.
Restrict starch intake
If additional energy (calories) is required, consider feeds containing low or restricted levels of starch to support digestive health and reduce the risk of unwanted excitability. High starch diets increase the risk of conditions such as gastric ulcers, tying up, laminitis and developmental orthopaedic diseases (DOD’s).
Not all stallions require a stud feed
Provided they are in good body condition and receiving an appropriate balance of nutrients for maintenance and any work, stallions covering only 1 or 2 mares per season will not require any changes in feed.
Choose a specific stud feed or balancer for mares in late gestation and lactation
Did you know, over 60% of foetal growth occurs in late gestation? Unless the mare has a foal at foot, a specialist stud feed is not required for the first seven months and changes in feed are un-necessary provided the mare’s diet is balanced and she continues to maintain a healthy (BCS). Depending on the mare’s energy (calorie) requirements, gradually introduce a stud feed or balancer in month eight and continue to feed throughout lactation. Whilst lactating, mares require more energy and protein than a racehorse in full training, they don’t always need a significant increase in feed – remember balancers are the ideal way to provide essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals without excess calories.
Introduce foals to a suitable feed early
Foals will generally begin to nibble the mare’s feed at around two weeks of age. By four-six weeks, nutrient requirements have already started to exceed what the mare’s milk can provide. In fact, milk is low in copper and zinc, so foals rely primarily on liver stores for the first month. By three months of age increasing nutrient requirements are coupled with a drop in milk production and quality, by which time the foal should be well established on a suitable ration of feed or balancer.
Avoid increasing feed to make up for lost growth post weaning
Weaning is a stressful time and a loss of condition and interrupted growth is common. However, increasing feed to make up for lost growth may increase the risk of DOD’s. Establishing foals on a suitable ration of feed and forage prior to weaning helps to maintain nutrient intake, support appetite and develop confidence in eating independently, all of which can help to maintain feed intake and support growth.
Take care with supplements
Some vitamins and minerals can be harmful to any horse if consumed in excess but may pose greatest risk to pregnant mares and foals, so speak to a nutritionist before adding any supplements to your feed. Supplements containing iron and iodine (including seaweed) should be avoided and particular care needs to be taken when feeding selenium too. Some herbs are also unsuitable for pregnant and lactating mares.
Provide access to fresh water at all times
This one may sound obvious, but did you know that water requirements in lactating mares increase by around 30%? It’s also important to make sure that foals can reach water troughs/ buckets!
For more advice on feeding mares, stallions or youngstock contact the SPILLERS Care-Line - 01908 226626.