How can you boost your mare’s health and fertility ahead of planning her covering?
Mares who are significantly over- or underweight are less likely to conceive so, if necessary, the diet should be adjusted, so that a mare is in good condition prior to covering. She should be maintained on a fully balanced diet, i.e. the recommended amount of a good quality compound feed or balancer, to support health, well-being and fertility up to and throughout the covering process and from conception onwards.
Why do broodmares need specifically formulated feed and at what stage do they need this?
Correct nutritional support for the broodmare is necessary from conception onwards, since the foetus is growing and developing from this point. Minerals are of particular importance in foetal development as are amino acids – the building blocks of protein, i.e. body tissue. The amino acid, lysine, for example, is essential and a deficiency will affect foetal growth, so a good quality stud feed or balancer must be fed, rather than a low energy or other ‘non-stud’ feed, which simply won’t be formulated to meet requirements.
What essential nutrients/ minerals are required to help support fertility and reproductive efficiency? Can correct feed help aid fertility in mares and how does this work?
In particular, Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for fertility in both sexes, as they are incorporated into cell membranes, so are important for healthy sperm and egg production. Other nutrients involved in fertility include the anti-oxidants, vitamins E and C and selenium, whilst beta-carotene and zinc, also have proven benefits for increasing fertility. All these nutrients should be supplied by a fully balanced diet, which is achieved by feeding the recommended quantity of an appropriate good quality stud mix, cube or balancer. Where fertility problems do occur, nutritional supplements with a sound scientific basis may be worth considering.
Are there differences in feeding different types of broodmares – e.g. warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, natives etc?
Just as at any other time in her life, the broodmare should be fed according to condition and bodyweight, so those who maintain condition well on forage alone may only need their diet supplemented with a specially formulated low calorie stud balancer, while those who need more calories to maintain condition, are better suited to a stud mix or cube. Whichever supplementary feed is chosen, it should be fed at recommended levels, according to bodyweight, in order supply a balanced diet and support correct foetal development.
How do you accurately weigh up how much to feed your broodmare through the different stages?
Always refer to the feed manufacturer’s guidelines to gauge how much to feed and, if you have any doubts, contact their nutrition team for tailored advice. Provided you have chosen a specially formulated feed for breeding stock, nutrient levels, when fed according to recommendations, will be sufficient to support the growing foetus and maintain the health and well-being of the mare. As with any other horse, the mare’s condition throughout pregnancy will dictate whether she needs additional calories from her stud feed.
Once lactating, a mare’s calorie requirements increase by as much as 44% and nutrients, such as protein, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin A, will be in particularly high demand. Feeding recommendations will therefore be increased accordingly and should be followed closely, while keeping a close eye on the condition of both mare and foal. If grass is good, this may provide sufficient calories and a stud balancer should be fed to provide the additional supporting nutrients. For mares who lose body condition during lactation, a stud mix or cube will be more appropriate.
Are stud balancers essential for broodmares and why?
Stud balancers, like other balancers, provide essential vitamins, minerals and quality protein at levels and proportions to meet the needs of breeding and young stock, but without the calories associated with a traditional stud mix or cube. This makes them ideal as the sole concentrate, alongside forage, for mares who are good-doers or maintain condition well on forage alone. They are also useful when less than the full recommended amount of mix or cube are fed, as they can be added to bring nutrient levels up to provide a fully balanced diet without unwanted calories.
What should I do if my mare doesn’t produce enough milk for her foal?
This can be dictated by the mare’s own genetics, so first ensure that her diet is providing all she needs for lactation and maintenance of body condition then, if a suckling foal struggles to maintain condition on mother’s milk alone, it can be given a milk-based foal creep feed, up to around three months of age. This will provide the necessary additional calories, which are not being provided by milk, as well as the required vitamins, minerals and quality protein to support correct and even growth.
How and when should you introduce your foal to a foal mix?
Foals very often start nibbling at hay and concentrates between 10 and 21 days of age and can be given a milk-based creep feed at this stage, if deemed necessary. By three to four months of age, the digestive tract will have matured sufficiently to deal with forage and compound feeds and it is wise to introduce an appropriate stud or youngstock mix, cube or balancer at this stage, so that the foal is well established on it prior to weaning.
This should be selected according to body condition, growth rate and limb conformation, with a stud balancer being ideal for the good doer, or more rapidly growing foal, and stud and youngstock mix or cubes more suited to those requiring a little more condition. Introducing this now will ensure that the foal is well established on his weaning diet prior to separation from the dam, thus reducing the problems of dietary set-backs post weaning.
How much feed do youngstock need in addition to ad lib forage (turnout) through the seasons?
There is often a reluctance to feed youngsters, particularly good-doers, for fear of causing growth problems. Protein is often still labelled as the culprit, despite research highlighting that excessive energy (calorie) intakes and insufficient vitamin and mineral support are the main precursors to growth problems. Monitoring youngsters’ growth rates and bodyweight, by using weightapes, weighbridges or growth charts, can act as a useful management tool for foals and yearlings and highlights those that may be growing above or below average, allowing early adjustments to be made to the feed and management programme.
Youngsters’ requirements for nutritional support is at its greatest up to around 18 months of age, so it is important to follow feed manufacturers’ guidelines to ensure a fully balanced diet and even growth rates. Specially formulated stud balancers are particularly useful where horses maintain condition well on forage alone, but if there is any doubt, contact a feed company helpline who can help develop feeding programmes tailored to forage quality and individual youngsters’ needs.
For more information on equine nutrition for breeding, go to the Baileys Horse Feeds website: www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07885 065531.