Broodmare nutrition - Feeding for every stage

Nov 06, 2023

By Grey Parks, ProTrition Equine Nutritionist
Did you know that feeding your new foal begins before your mare is even bred? This time of year, it is tempting to turn both open and bred mares out onto the “back 40” and provide little to no feed to supplement late summer and early fall pastures. While most average- to good-quality pastures will provide ample digestible energy (calories) for a mare that isn’t lactating, pasture alone is unlikely to meet the animal’s mineral requirements, even if she is open. A well-balanced feeding program increases your odds of producing a healthy foal, and your program should change throughout the year to meet the mare’s changing nutrient requirements.

Open Mares and Early Gestation (Months 0-3)
Mares that are not bred for next year have nutrient requirements similar to other horses in little to no work. The primary goal with these mares is to keep them in a healthy body condition score to increase their fertility for the spring breeding season. We like to see broodmares just a bit fatter than is ideal for performance horses. While a BCS of 5 is ideal for working animals, broodmares should be kept at or just over a BCS of 6 for higher conception rates and sufficient body fat reserves to support their very high calorie requirements during lactation. If your mare is a maiden or did not have a foal this year and is already in good condition, 1-2 pounds per day of a ration balancer will supply all the vitamins, minerals, and protein she needs without adding significantly more calories to her diet. If you have just weaned a foal and your mare is thinner than ideal, a well-balanced growth feed will meet her nutrient needs while also adding calories to help regain the weight she has lost. In the first few months of pregnancy, the fetus is very small and doesn’t require significantly more nutrients than the mare herself needs for maintenance. However, a well-balanced diet is still critical to support healthy development. These mares can be fed similarly to open mares.

Mid Gestation (Months 4-7) and Late Gestation (Months 8-11+)
It is a common misconception that a pregnant mare’s nutrient needs don’t increase until the last three months of pregnancy. In reality, her requirements start gradually increasing around month five. Therefore, even though her calorie needs don’t significantly increase until after foaling, the nutrient density of her diet becomes more and more critical as each month passes. Easy keeping mares may stay on a ration balancer throughout their pregnancy but should receive 0.5-1 pound per day more in mid-to-late gestation than in early gestation. Harder keeping mares are “easier” to feed in this respect, because they can receive more total pounds of feed and will naturally consume more vitamins, minerals, and protein along with their calories. As the mare’s foaling date approaches, her requirements continue to increase, but her voluntary feed intake often drops. Replacing 20-50% of her grass hay with alfalfa is one way to increase nutrition without adding more pounds of volume of feed. A higher calorie, more nutrient dense concentrate is another way to do this. Mares should be removed from endophyte-infected tall fescue hay and pasture at 8-9 months of gestation to avoid fescue toxicosis. 

A mare in the first month of lactation has calorie and protein needs equivalent to a horse in heavy to very heavy exercise. After foaling, her ration should be gradually increased in both quantity and quality to support her through this high-demand phase of life. While the very easiest of keepers may maintain condition on grass hay and a ration balancer, most lactating mares should receive very high-quality pasture and/or alfalfa hay, along with a quality growth feed, to avoid excessive weight loss. This is especially important for those mares who will be bred back after foaling.

For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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