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The Importance of Mare Nutrition during Pregnancy

It’s safe to say that there a very few things less cute than a baby horse. Full of vibrancy and curiosity about the new world they inhabit, foals generally make every day a little better. Getting a mare to deliver one of these bundles of joy is easier said than done, and just like in human mothers, pregnancy nutrition is key to a healthy delivery and the long-term health of the foal.

Recent study results suggest that mare’s gestational nutrition can have effects far more long-term than previously thought. So long-term, in fact, they can even impact the foal’s future performance.

“Mare nutrition during pregnancy has been linked to development of the joint disorder OCD (osteochondritis dissecans is one of the most common developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses) and may also play a role in the foal’s metabolism later in life,” explains EnviroEquine’s consulting equine nutritionist Dr. Clair Thunes.

Energy needs during gestation increase to approximately the same level as if the horse were in light work. This can generally be met with high quality hay fed in large quantities. However, key nutrients such as copper, zinc and vitamin E are typically lacking in hay based diets and this has implications for the foal. Additionally, the trace mineral profile of the forage is unlikely to be ideally balanced and this can lead to one mineral competing with another for absorption causing deficiencies even though there may be enough of each mineral present in the diet.

“It is very important that not only does the diet provide adequate amount of each mineral but that the overall profile of the diet is balanced,” states Thunes. “Copper is necessary for collagen formation which is the foundation of bones, tendons and ligaments and zinc is a component of more than 100 enzymes. It is important that mares are fed enough vitamin E during late gestation to insure that adequate amounts get passed to the foal in colostrum.”

Another key point is that stores of copper and zinc must be built up in the foal while in utero because mare’s milk is very low in these minerals. Therefore the foal will not receive notable amounts of the minerals after birth until it is eating a substantial amount of solid food at around 4 months of age.

Because copper and zinc tend to be low in most forages which can lead to deficiencies and imbalances, it is a good idea to provide a supplement that will work with the forage to provide additional copper and zinc throughout the pregnancy and improve the ration’s overall mineral balance. This is particularly important for last trimester mares because this is when elastic connective tissue and collagen formation is occurring rapidly in the foal which is the main component of the developing bone matrix.

For easy keeping mares that contain condition on forage alone the addition of Enviro Equine’s EveryDay Balance will provide the necessary additional nutrients to insure a balanced diet that meets the needs of the mare and growing foal.

Professional broodmares with back-to-back pregnancies or those who are not such easy keepers may not maintain body condition on forage only diets. “Mare’s must be seen to gain weight in the last trimester. The foal will be growing rapidly during this period regardless of whether the mare is gaining weight or not” says Thunes. “A mare that is not seen to be gaining weight during this period will be losing condition to insure growth in her foal and once born will lack the condition necessary to support a strong lactation.” To avoid this scenario, these mares will need the addition of more energy dense feeds to their ration.

This is the time to carefully select a commercial feed designed for broodmares. “Pick carefully and read feeding instructions thoroughly,” Thunes cautions. “There is some evidence that foals born to mares fed concentrated feeds may have higher incidence of OCD risk at six months of age. However, feeding concentrates in the late trimester allowed the mares to maintain their body condition compared to those fed hay only.”

The Enviro Equine products GastroBalance, GastroBalance Plus and ElectroBalance all provide supplemental sources of copper and zinc and can be used alone or in combination with your current commercial feed. EveryDay Balance, GastoBalanc, ElectroBalance utilize performance minerals from Zinpro®. These versions of copper and zinc are amino acid complexes meaning that the mineral is attached to a single amino acid to aid absorption. In bioavailability trials, Zinpro Performance Minerals continually showed improved bioavailability values in comparison to other sources.

GastroBalance, GastoBalance Plus and ElectroBalance also provide a source of bioavailable silica. Research has shown that mares supplemented with bioavailable silica have higher levels of silica in their milk. Racing Quarter horse foals receiving bioavailable silica have been shown to remain injury free for longer once training and racing.

Bottom line? Enviro Equine products can significantly help your broodmare to support her foal’s future developmental health.