Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nutritional Support for Lactating Mares

Foals are eating machines that rely on their mother’s milk to help them grow and develop. If you’re not mindful, they can drain a mare of her nutrients leaving her in poor body condition. Mares can lose a significant amount of weight during lactation unless they receive adequate dietary support during this nutritionally demanding time.

The day a foal is born and begins nursing, the mare’s daily protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A requirements nearly double from her early gestation needs. These nutritional demands must be met in order for the mare to maintain body condition, recover from foaling and produce adequate milk.

My 20-year-old mare, Do It Stylish (a.k.a. "Dottie"), with her new foal the day he was born.

Milk production peaks about 30 days after foaling, at which time nutrient levels begin to decline. Less than 30 percent of the energy a foal needs is provided in the milk by the fourth month. A concentrated feed with added oils and high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals can help improve the nutrient content of a mare’s milk and provide an early growth advantage for the foal.

Adequate body condition is the single biggest factor affecting a mare’s reproductive efficiency. Thin mares have more difficulty becoming pregnant and run a higher risk for losing an early pregnancy than mares carrying more body condition. Investing in quality feed and gradually increasing a mare’s dietary intake during gestation and through lactation is a good economic decision overall.

While foals will begin eating dry feed as early as one week of age, mare’s milk is a foal’s primary nutrition source for the first couple months of growth. Quality nutrition is vital to helping the mare produce quality milk for her foal.

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