The days are getting shorter; the warmth from the sun is getting weaker, growing season is over for the time being. This means the nutritional value of the pastures are diminishing at an alarming rate - no more new growth 'til after winter, just standing hay in the paddock. Not a bad thing, simply seasonal, we are prepared for it and should know what to do if we have a broodmare, or two, or maybe a band of them. While we wait the obligatory 11 months until parturition for the mare to present us with a foal (or a crop of them), and we all wonder what colour it will be. Or if it will look like daddy or mum or even grandparent. Or it will be 'normal' and healthy. (- long time to wait isn't it?) A study at Michigan State University involving more than 500 births over a period of time was found that the gestation length for colts was 344.4 days compared to 342.2 days for fillies. The average gestation length was 343.3 days.) Around this time of the year, assuming the mare/s have been bred to ensure a nice early healthy foal around mid August to September (some may be a little later), we need to ensure the mare is receiving all the help she can get through a supplemental feeding program provided by us, as Mother Nature is unable to keep up with a pregnant horse's requirements. I have skipped the early pregnant broodmare and concentrated on the third trimester as it is really more relevant for us all in consideration of real time The third trimester of pregnancy is a critical time for the mare and foal growing at an alarming rate inside of her. (This is the fastest rate of development for an unborn foal, developing at about 1lb (450gms) per day, so they will in fact double their size during the last 3 months of gestation) And the mare's nutritional status can affect both the mare and the unborn foal in some of the following ways - Fertility; ability to recover from foaling and conceive again. Foal vigour at birth and the growth rate and soundness of the suckling foal. The quality and quantity of milk available to the newborn foal is affected though nutritional management of the mare - even before the foal is born. The foal' s immunity against diseases and its growth rate. The risk of diarrhoea in the foal Inhibited skeletal growth Risk of bone and joint diseases further on in the weanling and yearling. Marian Tischer, a researcher from Poland who studied embryo transfer foals, found that - "irrespective of genetic makeup, the ultimate height of the horse is decided by nourishment during gestation and less so by the milk capacity of the mare." Bearing in mind winter is upon most of us, it should be remembered that cold climatic temperatures will cause the horse to use up enormous amounts of energy to control body temperature, thereby using up fat reserves to release heat to regulate their body temperature in an attempt to keep warm. And it is normal to assume that as the fibre levels increase and the energy density decrease (due to the pastures drying out), the amount of feed required to meet energy demands will increase. And it can not be stressed enough; provide the mare with quality concentrates that are high in amino acids to ensure maximum utilisation of proteins. Lactation and growth of the unborn (3rd trimester) or newborn foal also increases the demand for protein, minerals, vitamin A, as well as energy. Energy requirements during the ninth, tenth, and eleventh months of gestation will have an increase of 11%(9th month), 13%(10th month), and 20%(11th month) respectively. Total daily feed intake by mares (hay/grain/concentrate mix) normally ranges from 1.5% to 3.0% of body weight. (with 2%-2.25% being the average) Once again, their daily feed intake depends on: The type and quality of hay or grazing available The crude fibre level Energy density of the grain or concentrate During the lactation period, the Ca and P needs are increased to new levels. However; if feeding pure lucerne to pregnant mares, (either fresh or prime cut) it has been shown to contain more calcium than is needed and it should be mixed equally with a lesser quality grassy hay, such as Rhodes grass or pasture hay. There are many excellent commercial feeds that are already balanced specifically for broodmares. They usually already have levels of vitamins and minerals added to them; but to be safe check the bag content label, and if there is no mineral/vitamin content associated with the feed, then a good quality premix mineral supplement will need to be fed. Folactin Red is a product I've seen used, however I have never used it, preferring to use a product researched by a Veterinarian and made for Australian conditions called Equilibrium Mineral Mix, at about 1/2 the price. A nursing foal, while on his mother, is drinking about 22% protein, 16% fat, and 58% carbohydrates. It is necessary to keep young foals on a high-protein and high-energy diet. As they get older their need for high protein will decrease, dropping to around 14%-15% level. Developmental orthopaedic diseases including physitis, OCD, and contacted tendons are problems most commonly associated with fast growing foals and the energy density combined with mineral imbalances of the ration apparently being named the culprit for these associated problems. These problems can be minimised simply by decreasing the rate of gain (decreasing energy intake) and by paying close attention to mineral balances, protein levels, and plenty of exercise for the youngster. It can also be minimised through proper nutrition of the broodmare whilst she is carrying the unborn foal. Remember, if the mare is on a well balanced diet in adequate amounts, (not overfed) the likely-hood of her producing a normal, well balanced and healthy foal are almost guaranteed, and that foal will further continue to grow into a healthy weanling, yearling, 2 year old and eventually adult horse. The most commonly reported health problems during the first year of life for foals are upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, and musculoskeletal problems such as angular limb deformity, contracted tendons, joint or tendon laxity, and epiphysitis. The majority of these problems can be avoided through the proper nutritional program for first, the broodmare, and secondly, carrying the feeding program forward and feeding the young growing horse accordingly. A lot (not all) of owners simply do not take care of their broodmare/s well enough. There has been a lot of money spent on the purchase of the mare, the preparation and travel expenses of getting her to a stallion, vet checks, pregnancy tests, injections etc. and yet they bring them home and turn them out in the back paddock and forget them until it's near foaling time. Then the mare is bought to nearby quarters and 'kept an eye on' until she foals down. Not anywhere good enough for an investment that size. The mare is an asset. Simply because she is not workable or showable during her pregnancy does not mean she is not a productive member of the mob. She is about to present you with either a good saleable item (in the form of a foal) or another member that can become breeding stock, or a nice riding gelding for yourself or for sale. The broodmare is an important part of your program, and to keep her fit and healthy we must accept the fact she does need her teeth floated periodically, she does need worming on a regular basis, she does need her feet attended to and trimmed regularly, and most important of all - she does need to be fed on a well balanced and nutritionally sound diet to ensure she produces a good healthy foal. There's been too much time, effort and money gone into having a failure simply through neglect. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if any further information is required, simply email me - only too happy to oblige! HAPPY FOAL WATCH EVERYBODY!
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