The mare’s nutrition is the foal’s nutrition
A well-nourished mare is essential for developing a robust, healthy, energetic foal. But there are so many feed options on the market that finding one, formulated for these unique life stages, can be confusing. At the end of the day, you want to ensure you support your horses with the best possible nutrients.
Nutritional requirements of mares and foals differ from that of your average horse. While quality hay is always the cornerstone of the equine diet, there are some fantastic commercial feed options available specific to a mare and her foal. Certain feed supplements can also benefit this specific equine demographic.
Feeding the Pregnant Mare
The goal of feeding the pregnant mare is to support her health and the development of the growing foal.
During pregnancy, a mare’s energy and protein requirements will increase by 10% in early and 20% in late gestation.
This means she will need more calories, protein, minerals, and vitamins than before she was pregnant.
Feeding a high-quality, nutritionally complete diet that meets the mare’s increased nutrient needs is essential. The foundation of a nutritionally optimized diet should always be high-quality forage through grass-legume forage.
Additional nutritional requirements can be met by adding a specialized broodmare concentrate or balancer.
Pregnant mares also require supplementation with key vitamins and minerals, including copper and zinc. And without appropriate calcium and phosphorus supplementation, mares can lose bone density during pregnancy.
Many horses require additional supplementation with grain during lactation due to the high energy needs during this stage.
Equine Gestation: The Basics
Gestation lasts around 340 days; ideally, a mare should be in good body condition before pregnancy.
Research shows that a mare with a body condition score (BCS) between 6 and 7 has more successful pregnancies.
With adequate nutrients, slightly underweight mares can put weight on during early pregnancy. The energy requirements during late pregnancy and early lactation, however, are such that helping a mare gain weight during these periods can be challenging.
Although mares should maintain a healthy weight throughout the reproductive process, limiting sugar and starch is equally essential. Research shows that mares fed high-sugar diets have foals with higher insulin resistance rates.
Lactation is the time when a mare will have the highest energy needs. Nutritional requirements during this stage are almost 100% of those needed at the mare’s baseline. Without adequate nutrition, the mare will be depleted of nutrients. Deficits in the milk soon follow, and the foal will not get the full nutritional spectrum required for growth.
While foals who are only days old may attempt to nibble at a mare’s grain, they don’t yet have the enzymes to break it down.
Before 3 months, a foal’s nutritional requirements should come from milk. Thus the importance of ensuring that a mare’s dietary requirements are met. After 3 months, a foal’s digestive tract can begin to break down grain.
Grain concentrate designed for mares and foals should have 16% crude protein and key amino acids, including threonine, methionine, and lysine. The fat content should be between 6 and 10%.
Considerations by Feed Type
Good-quality hay is the basis of any horse’s diet. This also holds true during pregnancy and lactation.
Increasing the amount of high-quality alfalfa hay fed during pregnancy can promote weight gain, but be aware that it may not be enough. Mares generally need extra supplementation during lactation.
Feeding grain in late pregnancy may be a more effective way to help a mare maintain weight because she has less room in her digestive tract—thanks to rapid foal growth at this stage.
An average-sized mare will need anywhere from 17 to 29 pounds of hay per day at various stages in the pregnancy and lactation cycle to meet nutritional needs. In some stages, such as late pregnancy and early lactation, she will also require additional supplementation with grain.
For an average mare, the protein requirements before and in early pregnancy are around 1.5 pounds daily. Grain is one source of protein, as is hay. Getting your hay analyzed will give you information about its exact protein content.
Mares in late pregnancy and early lactation have the highest energy needs and, as a result, will likely require additional grain to maintain weight.
If you plan on breeding the mare again right away, it’s even more important to ensure she doesn’t lose weight during late pregnancy and lactation.
When looking for a good mare and foal grain, it’s best to find one specifically formulated for the needs of this group. Here are a few of our top choices.
Top Mare and Foal Feeds for Horses
Purina Impact Mare and Foal Horse Feed
- Key Features: Controlled sugar and starch to support a healthy glycemic index, high-quality amino acids, and optimum protein content.
- Point of Differentiation: Purina has been around since 1894, meaning the company has a long history of research backing its products.
Nutrena SafeChoice Mare and Foal
- Key Features: Contains probiotics and prebiotics to support digestive health, guaranteed analysis shows 16% protein and max 15% crude fiber, pelleted feed means more consistent nutrition
- Point of Differentiation: Nutrena feeds contain specific nutrients to support topline development.
Triple Crown Growth
- Key Features: Contains essential amino acids to optimize growth, provides high fiber in the form of beet pulp, contains around 15% fiber and protein.
- Point of Differentiation: Textured feed is also advertised as appropriate for breeding stallions.
If your mare is an easy keeper, you may opt for a ration balancer or other supplement instead of grain, especially in early pregnancy.
What are the best supplements for pregnant mares?
There are a few essential nutrients vital to proper foal growth. Selenium and Vitamin E, in combination, help with the musculoskeletal development of the growing foal. Certain areas of the country are deficient in selenium, which means that mares will need supplementation.
The recommended dosage of selenium is 1 mg daily. Read product labels for all feed and extra supplements to ensure that level is not exceeded, as toxicity can occur.
Vitamin E can be found in green grass but often breaks down the longer a bag of feed sits. It’s often wise to add extra vitamin E supplementation as it’s been shown helpful for immunity. And there have been no documented instances of toxicity.
It’s always wise to check with your vet before adding supplements because if your feeding regimen is complete, supplements might not even be necessary. In other situations, you can feed a supplement rather than a complete feed. Getting advice from an expert in equine nutrition can provide that extra reassurance that your feeding regimen is appropriate.
Farnam Mare Plus Gestation and Lactation Supplement
Formulated with calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and E to support mares during late pregnancy and early lactation.
Smart and Simple Vitamin E and Selenium Pellets
This combination supports immunity and musculoskeletal development and may be an option if you need to supplement selenium, but your mare is an easy keeper.
Platinum Performance Osteon
Contains specific nutrients to support healthy bone, tendon, and ligament development.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long should you feed a mare and foal?
Foals have a digestive system developed enough to digest feed at around 4-5 months of age. Significantly cutting feed to the mare, at this point, will cause her to produce less milk and help the foal to become more interested in other food sources.
Q: What is the best feed for a broodmare?
Some broodmares may have their nutritional needs met with good-quality hay and forage in early pregnancy. Towards the last part of pregnancy, a mare’s energy needs will increase in proportion to rapid foal growth, and extra calories in the form of grain may be necessary. Energy needs increase dramatically in early lactation.
There are several excellent broodmare feed options on the market. Purina, Nutrena, and Triple Crown all produce feed for broodmares.
Q: What should pregnant mares eat?
High-quality forage and hay always form the foundation of a nutritional program. Aside from this, a mare may need extra supplementation to support fetal growth. Select a feed formulated for broodmares and follow the package instructions for how much to feed your mare.
If you doubt your feeding program, always consult your veterinarian or an equine nutrition expert.
Q: Can you feed oats to pregnant mares?
Although oats can be a source of energy, they aren’t a balanced choice. Your mare will still need vitamins and minerals that can’t be obtained solely from oats.
Most nutrition experts recommend a complete feed or ration formulated to meet broodmares’ unique nutritional needs.
Q: What should I feed my nursing mare?
Many broodmare feeds are also formulated to support nursing mares. In many cases, you will need to feed more of it to support the high energy requirements of lactation.
Always follow feed package instructions for optimal results. And remember that mares need a continuous supply of clean water.
Mares and foals have special nutritional requirements that must be met for optimal health and development. Many excellent commercial feeds on the market can provide everything your mare and foal need.
It’s always wise to consult your veterinarian or an equine nutrition expert, however, to ensure that your feeding program is complete and adequate.
Nutrition for the Gestating and Lactating Mare (iastate.edu)
Nutritional Considerations for Foals at Weaning – Kentucky Equine Research (ker.com)
Nutritional Considerations For Broodmares | Oklahoma State University (okstate.edu)
Impact® Mare & Foal Horse Feed | Purina (purinamills.com)
SafeChoice Mare & Foal Horse Feed | Nutrena (nutrenaworld.com)
Pregnant Mares and Supplements – The Horse
Six Steps to Feeding a Pregnant Mare – Kentucky Equine Research (ker.com)
Feeding Broodmares and Foals – Horse Illustrated
Mare Plus Gestation and Lactation Supplement | Supplements | Farnam
Smart & Simple™ Vitamin E & Selenium Pellets (smartpakequine.com)
Osteon | Equine Bone Health | Zeolite for Horses (platinumperformance.com)
Feeding Broodmares in Late Pregnancy – Kentucky Equine Research (ker.com)