Unlike humans, horses are 90% grown by the time they are two years old. Imagine a 2 year old in a 16 year old body…that’s what it is like in equine world. Knowing this fact should cause us to recognize that we have a lot of important nutrition to pack into those first two years of life. There are multiple key points in feeding your broodmares and babies that make a huge impact on their health.
First off, good nutrition for foals starts with good nutrition for the moms. For the first two months, a foal that is suckling gets all of its nutrition from the dam. For about the first third of pregnancy, the mare can be fed just like any other horse at its certain activity level. In the last two thirds of pregnancy, the rations should start to increase, as well as the protein, vitamins, and minerals that the mare is receiving. One of the worst things we can do as horse owners is to bring a mare into late pregnancy and have her in too low of a body condition score. However, even though the mare obviously needs more calories, it can still be very possible to overdo it on the grain. Grain should still be secondary when compared to forage. The mare’s rations, just like any other horse, should be more than half forage and the rest grain. Make sure the mare is being fed high quality protein sources with at least a 14% protein content in grain. Soybean meal is an excellent ingredient found in some horse feeds. Also, feeding high quality hay with alfalfa mixed in can be another great source of protein. When the mare begins lactating, this is when the nutritional demands are at its highest. They need even more energy than hard working performance horses! The mare is producing large amounts of milk, so its water intake will naturally increase. Make sure to always have plenty of water available to the mare. This is a basic horse care practice to do for any horse but EXTRMELY important for lactating mares.
As for the foal, before 2-3 months of age, its digestive system can’t handle creep feeds. Creep feeds should be introduced at 4-5 months old. To begin the weaning process at 4-5 months of age, cut down on the mare’s ration to reduce the milk production. For the foal, a good rule of thumb is to feed 1 lb of grain per one month of age per day. So if your foal is four months, feed it four pounds of creep feed a day. It is also important to make sure the foal is receiving at least a 14% protein feed.
So there you have it…feeding broodmares and foals in a nutshell. Of course there is more we could dive into as far as exact percentages of feed compared to body weight, but to avoid getting into a confusing and lengthy discussion, I recommend utilizing your feed company’s sales representative or nutritionist to help you develop ration sizes if you are at all unsure. Also, feed companies should also have the feeding recommendations on the tags. Just remember, skimping on feed and nutrition for your broodmares and foals to save a few extra bucks will cause all the money you put into breeding the mare in the first place go to waste. Take care of your mamas and their babies and they will take care of you!