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Feeding the Mare and Foal

Dr. Martin Adams

Recent equine research has shown that proper nutrition has positive effects on fertility and milk production of mares, and the growth and health of their foals. The first consideration for the mare is to have her in good body condition and a high nutritional plane. Mares are usually bred shortly after foaling, so the mare needs to be maintained in good body condition during pregnancy and after foaling to accomplish a successful breeding. Organic or proteinated copper, which is bonded to amino acids for more efficient absorption in the horse's digestive system, has been shown to increase conception rate in the mare. This is one reason that organic copper is used in Legends® horse feeds.

After foaling, the lactating mare has the highest nutrient needs of any class of horse except for a racehorse in heavy training. The mare in early lactation needs adequate energy to maintain body condition for breeding after foal heat, and for milk production for the foal. The addition of yeast culture has increased milk production in the mare and growth rates in young horses, according to several research studies. For these reasons, yeast culture has been incorporated into the formula for Legends Mare & Foal feeds.

Legends Mare & Foal is the recommended feed for the lactating mare. Feeding rates of 0.75% to 1.25% of body weight 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, but the amount of feed should be provided 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.

Start creep feeding the foal at one month of age. Also provide access to good quality hay at this time. Feed the foal one pound of Legends Mare & Foal per month of age for the first three months if the mare produces a normal amount of milk. Increase the amount of feed to 1% to 1.5% of body weight 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 Mare & Foal per day, it can be successfully weaned.

Legends Mare & Foal meets all the requirements of a high quality creep feed and more, with guaranteed lysine levels, high levels of essential vitamins and minerals, and additives such as yeast culture and organic trace minerals.

Foals are normally weaned at four and a half to six months. Milk production by the mare is usually sufficient to provide a desired growth rate for the first two to three months and then declines to a level that will not allow a desirable growth rate. Creep feeding not only allows the foal supplemental nutrients to continue an optimum growth rate from three months to weaning, but also provides a balanced diet to prevent developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) during the first three months by supplying nutrients deficient in mare's milk.

After weaning, you can continue feeding Legends Mare & Foal 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. Feed Legends 14 at a rate of 0.75% to 1.5% of the weanling's body weight and provide good quality hay. Again, adjust the amount of feed according to desired growth rate and body condition. Wait at least one month after weaning before switching the weanling to Legends 14 to insure fewer problems during the weaning period.

Martin W. Adams, Ph.D., is Nutritionist and Sales Manager, Horse Feed Sales, Southern States

©1997-2004 Southern States Cooperative, Inc., Reprinted from Mane Points magazine, April 2004, with permission of Southern States Cooperative, Inc.