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Broodmare Feeding for Digestive Health and Bone Growth

by Dr Clair Thunes PhD Nutrition
Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET
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Feeding a good prebiotic to brood mares has a number of potential benefits for both the mare and her foal. Prebiotics are food ingredients that support the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Common prebiotics fed to horses include yeasts and yeast fermentation by-products, mannanoligosaccharides, and certain fructooligosaccharides.

The equine digestive tract is a major component of the horse’s immune system and the transition to foaling and lactation can be extremely stressful. The gut bacteria interact with the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract and from there impact both local immunity at the gut level but also system immune response. Changes in diet, especially increases in amounts of concentrate feed as often happens after foaling in order to support lactation, causes shifts in the bacterial population to occur. This destabilization of the gastrointestinal environment increases the risk of pathogenic bacteria proliferating and reduced feed utilization. Combined with the overall stress of foaling these insults can negatively impact a mare’s immune system.

If gastrointestinal health is compromised inflammation may occur both in the gastrointestinal tract and beyond. GastroBalance Plus granules and paste supply both live yeast and other prebiotics to help maintain a stable gastrointestinal environment and strong gastrointestinal lining to resist the effects of stress and support the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to help insure a healthy inflammatory response. OmegaBalance is a rich source of plant based omega-3s from Camelina oil that can be fed in combination with GastroBalance Plus.

As a result of supporting a stable gastrointestinal environment the live yeast contained in GastroBalance Plus has been shown in research to improve feed utilization, specifically the digestion of organic matter. Both the yeast and the sodium aluminosilicate clay in the GastroBalance have, in other species, been shown to increase the length of the villi in the small intestine. Villi are small fingerlike projections that serve to increase the surface area resulting in more area from which to absorb nutrients. With better feed utilization and nutrient absorption, not only do feed costs go down but milk production in mares goes up. Strong milk production means robust foals.

Acting to stabilize and strengthen the gastrointestinal tract is not the only way that GastroBalance Plus supports mares and in turn their foals. This product is a rich source of silica and silica has an important role in the development of new bone helping in the calcification process. While this element in the environment is bountiful, being a major component of sand, it cannot be absorbed when in this form.

In addition to helping with calcification, silicon has a major part to play in forming the collagen matrix. A good matrix is vital to preventing bones from being brittle. Therefore adequate silica in an absorbable form is vital to young growing horses. Research has shown that feeding silica in the form of hydrated aluminosilicates to racing Quarter horses dramatically decreased injury rates.  These horses were able to train and race further before injury. Mares supplemented with hydrated alumino silicates have higher levels of silicon in their milk and serum which may in turn help support bone health in their foals.

Supporting your broodmare with good nutrition is not only an investment in her wellbeing but also in the health and longevity of her foal.

Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine Dr. Clair Thunes is passionate about her profession—one that she decided upon at the age of 14. After earning a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Edinburgh University, and a Master of Science in Animal Science and a PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Thunes went on to found Summit Equine Nutrition LLC an independent consulting company in 2007. An experienced nutritionist and accomplished scientist, Dr. Thunes understands the vital role that nutrition plays in managing horses today. Most importantly, she believes in making nutrition accessible to everyone and removes the guesswork so that owners have the peace of mind that their horse’s diets are optimal for maximum health and peak performance.  Her clients include all horses from competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics to retired pasture friends, mules and miniature donkeys. She writes a weekly online commentary for and her nutrition articles have been published in noted publications including: The Horse, Equine Wellness, Trail Blazer, Horse & Rider and The Horse Report. Besides consulting she teaches equine nutrition and equine exercise physiology in the Animal Science Department at UC Davis and equine health at Cosumnes River College.  Clair continues to be involved with The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. and she is currently the Regional Supervisor for the Sierra Pacific Region.

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