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How to Feed and Care for Mares and Foals
Dr. Martin Adams
This is a good time to review feeding and health care procedures for mare and foal and to plan some routine care for that new addition to your barn. Hopefully, you have had your pregnant mare on a good nutrition program. The mare must be in good body condition before foaling to insure proper ovulation and conception if you plan to breed her again after foaling. During early pregnancy, Legends® 14/14P and Triple Crown® 14% Performance Formula feeds are recommended for the mare.
During the last trimester (9 to 11 months of pregnancy) of the mare's gestation period, the majority of fetal growth occurs, with increased needs for energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Recommended feeds during this time are Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal and Triple Crown Growth.
The mare should have avoided endophyte-infested fescue hay and pasture for the last 60 to 90 days before foaling.
A routine deworming program for the mare should have been in place during pregnancy, including a dewormer given shortly before or after foaling.
The mare should also have had vaccinations for Rhinopneumonitis at five, seven, and nine months of gestation. Check with your veterinarian to keep updated on current vaccination recommendations for your area. Well-vaccinated mares will produce adequate antibodies that can then be passed on to their foals through the first milk or colostrum.
Antibodies are large molecules that are generally too big to be absorbed from the intestine. The newborn foal is able to absorb these antibodies through the lining of the intestinal tract that functions in this manner for the first few day of life.
However, bacteria can also be absorbed in this manner during this time. If the mare becomes dirty during foaling, try to brush or clean her prior to letting the foal nurse.
Remember that the foal's umbilical cord is another potential entry point for bacteria. This stump should be "dipped" or treated two to three times daily for the first few days to guard against umbilical infections.
For a totally normal and successful foaling, the foal must be able to walk and nurse, and the mare must pass the placenta or afterbirth completely. A general rule to observe is the 1-2-3 timeline.
The foal should stand within one hour. Most will be up and be active much sooner. If the foal does not stand within one hour, you should contact your veterinarian. Similarly, the foal should nurse within two hours of birth. If the foal is up and active but having trouble finding the mare's nipples, then more time can be allowed, but most foals will nurse within two hours.
The mare should pass the placenta within three hours of birth. This is the most variable part of the timeline. Some mares will take six to eight hours to pass their placentas, but most will be done by three hours. If it has been 24 hours and the mare has not passed the placenta, contact your veterinarian.
Once the foal begins nursing, you should see passage of the meconium or manure that has been in the foal's digestive tract while it was a fetus inside the mare. This material can vary from soft and yellow to hard and black.
The next step is to have the foal's immunoglobulin (IgG) or antibody levels checked about 24 hours after birth. This is a good time for an examination of both the mare and foal. The veterinarian will examine the mare for any signs of birth-related trauma, and to see if her reproductive tract is healthy and capable of carrying another foal to term if you plan to have her bred again.
The udder and the amount and quality of milk of the mare will also be evaluated by the veterinarian. Mare's Match® Milk Replacer is available for foals without adequate milk supply from the mare.
A simple examination of the foal will include checking eyes, mouth, heart and lungs, limbs, joints and muscles. Blood will be drawn for an IgG test. This test measures the amount of antibodies that the foal has absorbed from the mare. This level is a result of both how much IgG the mare produces and how much and how well the foal absorbs it. If the levels are high enough, the foal is considered protected against those diseases the mare has been vaccinated against or exposed to. If the levels are low, the foal is at risk and it is at a much greater risk of contracting an infectious disease. If a normal blood antibody level has not been achieved by a week of age, the foal must have these antibodies injected into it's bloodstream.
Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal and Triple Crown Growth are the recommended feeds for the lactating mare. Feeding rates of 0.75% to 1.25% of body weight (7.5 to 12.5 pounds daily for a 1,000 pound horse) are usually adequate, depending on the amount and quality of hay or pasture fed.
After the first three months of lactation, milk production will decrease and the mare's feeding rate can be reduced to 0.5% to 1% of body weight (5 to 10 pounds of feed daily for a 1,000-pound horse).
The amount of feed should be adjusted according to current body condition. Maintain a higher feeding rate if the mare needs more weight, and reduce the mare's feeding rate if she is too fat.
Foals should be dewormed initially at two to three months and then dewormed monthly until they are a year old. If the mare has been well-vaccinated prior to foaling and the foal had good antibody levels, you will not need to vaccinate your foal until it is five to six months old, but check with your veterinarian for a vaccination schedule and recommendations for your area.
Allow the foal to start eating feed at one month of age. Also, provide access to good quality hay at this time. Feed the foal one pound of Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal or Triple Crown Growth per month of age or per 100 pounds of bodyweight (two pounds of feed daily for a two month old or 200-pound foal) for the first three months, if the mare produces a normal amount of milk. Increase the amount of feed to 1.0 to 1.5% of body weight (3.5 to 5.25 pounds of feed daily for a 350-pound foal) after the first three months until weaning, adjusting the amount of feed according to desired growth rate and hay quality.
When your foal is consuming at least four pounds of Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal or Triple Crown Growth per day, it can be successfully weaned.
After weaning, you can continue feeding Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal or Triple Crown Growth until the horse reaches one year of age, if grass hay is fed.
If some alfalfa hay is fed or good pasture is available, you can switch to Legends 14/14P or Triple Crown 14% Performance Formula. Feed Legends 14/14P or Triple Crown 14% Performance Formula at a rate of 0.75% to 1.5% of the weanling's body weight (3.5 to 6.75 pounds daily for a 450-pound weanling) and provide good quality hay.
Again, adjust the amount of feed according to desired growth rate and body condition. Wait one month after weaning before switching the weanling to Legends 14/14P or Triple Crown 14% Performance Formula to maximize the growth rate. If hay quality is known to be poor, continue feeding Legends 16/16P Mare & Foal or Triple Crown Growth until one year of age.
The 1-2-3 timeline for successful foaling
1. The foal should stand within one hour.
2. The foal should nurse within two hours.
3. The mare should pass the placenta within three hours of birth.
Martin W. Adams, Ph.D., is Nutritionist and Sales Manager, Horse Feed Sales, Southern States Cooperative, Inc.