A Guide to Mare and Foal Nutrition and Care During Gestation

Courtesy Triple Crown Nutrition

Courtesy Triple Crown Nutrition

Courtesy of Triple Crown Nutrition

Nutrition for the fetus begins at conception. Specific nutrients are needed during early embryonic development for cellular differentiation, organ development and the growth of the endocrine, exocrine and skeletal systems. This necessary nutrition can only come from the mother. Therefore, during the first eight months of gestation, a mare needs maintenance rations containing a balance of protein, vitamins and minerals for herself as well as the developing fetus. This makes the use of high quality forages and feed concentrates and/or protein, vitamin and mineral supplements very important.

If the mare is an easy keeper and is maintaining good body condition, a protein, vitamin and mineral supplement should be used. For mares needing additional calories, forages and a high fat and fiber, low sugar and starch (NSC) concentrate feed are recommended. Low NSC feeds can reduce glycemic response and help prevent insulin resistance in mares, a condition that leads to obesity, and a propensity to develop laminitis and frequent colic.

The mare’s nutritional requirements change at eight months of gestation. Fetal skeletal growth begins to accelerate so energy and nutrient requirements of the mare increase greatly, particularly minerals such as calcium and phosphorus for bone development.

Fetal developmental disorders can be avoided in part by lowering the amount of starch in the mare’s diet, making high fat and fiber rations extremely important. In the last trimester, the mare should be placed on a higher nutrient ration that will also completely meet the nutritional needs of the foal through its first year of age. This management technique prevents the need to change feeds frequently (such as when creep feeds are used during the first few months of the foal’s life) and encourages more consistent growth rates.

Mares should have access to exercise by free ranging on pasture and be left outside as much as possible. Stress reduction plays a key role in the maintenance of pregnancy and minimizing human involvement in a pregnant mare’s daily routine reduces anxiety. Thirty days before foaling, mares should be acclimated to the foaling stall to build antibodies to pathogens in the environment, which will then be passed to the foal via colostrum. Mares should also be vaccinated for Botulism, Rabies, Eastern and Western Encephalomylitis, Rotovirus and Tetanus six weeks prior to foaling in order to build antibodies in colostrum that will protect the newborn foal from those diseases.