During the first 8 months of pregnancy in the maiden or broodmare (without foal at foot), the nutritional requirements do not vary a great deal in comparison to those normal maintenance levels. Little or no additional nutrition is required.
Feeding in the late stages of pregnancy
From month 8 onwards, there is rapid foetal growth and approximately 60-65% of the foetal weight is developed in the last 90 days of pregnancy. This is when the energy and protein requirements go up, as well as the mare’s requirements for certain minerals such as copper and zinc. Providing a diet with around 13-15% protein should be supplied during this time. It is essential to meet the nutritional requirements during the last trimester of pregnancy for the benefit of both the mare and the unborn foal. Failure to do this can at times cause lactation to be affected and the foal may be subjected to reduced birth weight. It is wise not to include high percentages of starch in the mare’s feed ration while pregnant, as this has been known to contribute to the unborn foal having a weakened skeletal structure.
The mare can produce up to 3% of her body weight in milk, which is rich in energy. This can vary from mare to mare depending on her natural ability to produce milk and is influenced by energy intake from food consumed and water availability. Required feed intake rises from the stage of initial colostrum production to the end of the first three months of lactation. There is also a greater demand for protein in this period. Other nutrients that are important during lactation are calcium and phosphorus as a deficiency can result in reduced milk output.
Using a feed such as our Pure Stud which has been designed specifically for mares in the late stages of pregnancy and their foals is beneficial as these will account for their nutrient requirements.
Feeding the foal
The foal must receive the correct amount of energy and nutrition as an imbalance can result in problems that can affect the rest of its life. One of the most important things to ensure is that the foal receives the mother’s colostrum within the first 8-12 hours of being born. This contains vital antibodies which will help protect the foal from infectious diseases. The mother’s milk will be the primary source of nutrients and energy for the next 3 months, although within that time the foal will start to explore other types of feed.
It is not until the mare’s milk supply begins to drop off after around 3 to 4 months, that the foal will need to have a supply of alternative feed other than good grass. This feed needs to give the foal the correct balance of energy, vitamins, nutrients and minerals, ensuring a steady growth rate and an adequate supply of everything a growing foal requires. It is more beneficial that a foal grows slower for a longer amount of time, in comparison to a fast growth rate in a short amount of time.
At around 6 months, the foal is usually weaned and this can cause several problems in terms of diet. There is a lot of stress put upon the weanling in terms of dealing with separation from the mother, and this can have an effect on appetite. Feed management should be kept constant as any change of feed at this time can add to stress on the weanling.
It is important to ensure that from birth to weaning and then on into its first year, the foal is not receiving too much energy through starch. Oversupply of carbohydrates and energy in the diet can lead to growth disturbances.
It is crucial that throughout feeding, the foal is supplied with good quality forage, their body condition is checked regularly to assess growth rate, high starch feeds are avoided, and vitamins and minerals are supplied to support growth and development.
Checklist for feeding foals
- It is crucial that the foal receives its mother’s colostrum within 4-12 hours of birth.
- For the first three months, milk should provide the majority of your foal’s nutritional requirements. But they can explore other food.
- After three months, their diet will naturally change from milk to forage. You must ensure this is complemented with a nutritionally balanced hard feed.
- After six months your foal should be successfully weaned. As their dependence on their mother is reduced, ensure they are given a consistent diet, as they may be feeling unsettled.
- Avoid too much starch in the first year as excess carbohydrates can lead to growth disturbances.
- Check your foal’s condition regularly to assess the growth rate.
Get your foal used to feeding from a bucket while they are still with your mare. This will make feeding during weaning easier.