Nutrition For Brood Mares

Feeding your brood mare is a science, not an art. How can you make sure she gets the nutrition she needs to raise healthy foals?

Feeding your brood mare is a science, not an art. In general, feeding mares is not a complicated process. Horse owners need to monitor mare body condition year-round and feed appropriately based on body condition and phase of reproduction. Overfeeding during gestation and under-feeding during lactation are serious problems that can affect foaling development and reproduction. A high-quality feeding program is needed to have your mares conceive and produce a foal every year. The two biggest challenges in feeding mares are preventing them from getting fat while regulating their body condition to insure optimum conception rates.

Once a filly has been weaned successfully, their nutritional needs will vary as they grow. Remember that horses must be introduced and accustomed to feed gradually. As your horse grows, observe its characteristics and feeding patterns and adapt to it. Make sure you know the approximate weight of the horse to judge its growth rate. Always make sure you have plenty of clean water available, and keep the food and water containers clean. Learn the peculiar eating patterns of your horse and become accustomed to meeting it's needs. Make sure you are always aware of your horses temperament, appetite, and alertness. These are signs of a happy, healthy horse.

Specific Dietary needs vary on the individual mare as well as the age of the mare. Pay attention to your horse when changing their diet. A healthy horse appears relaxed, alert, and content. Your horse should also have a good appetite, normal feces and urine. Make sure that you get to know the temperment and behavior of your horse and learn how to respond to her needs.

If any of these characteristics are missing, your horse may not be properly fed or cared for. Early embryonic death is associated with improper nutrition. Poor nutrition has also been known to make mares susceptible to reduced stress resistance (risking more injuries) and increased chance of disease.

Common Mistakes in Broodmare Nutrition

- Feeding too much protein and energy during gestation.

- Underfeeding minerals and vitamins during gestation.

- Underfeeding protein and energy during lactation.

- Not increasing protein and energy during lactation.

- Not giving mares adequate minerals and vitamin A during gestation.

Following the nutritional guidelines below will help you avoid making these mistakes.

Two to Three Year Old Mares

Maiden mares from 2 to 3 years old require slightly higher levels of protein; calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A than do mature horses fed a maintenance ration.

Mature Mares

When mares retire from strenuous performance careers, change their diet pattern slowly from a high energy, high concentrate diet to a less energy dense feed. Gradual change will decrease stress and prevent digestive disorders. Eventually, you will need to put these mares on a maintenance ration or on a ration to prepare them for breeding. Mature mares that are not bred may be kept on a maintenance ration, since they are under very little nutritional stress and tend to gain weight easily.

Feeding the Bred Mare

A special feeding program for pregnant mares needs to be tailored to maintain the horse in fit condition. Regardless of the amount of feed consumed, horse owners still need to ensure the horse's nutrient needs for protein, minerals, and vitamins are met. In addition to added nutrient requirements, make sure you give your horse an extra supply of water for the duration of her pregnancy; she¡¦ll need it!

First 2/3rd of Pregnancy

Because fetal size does not increase much during this time, the pregnant, non-lactating mare¡¦s nutrient needs are not different from those of the mature horse at maintenance You can feed a pregnant mare a maintenance diet during early gestation. Make sure you observe your mare carefully. If the mare¡¦s condition fluctuates, she may need more or less feeding. In addition to her weight, observe her temperament. If she seems happy and alert, she is probably on a good diet. If she loses her condition or gains weight, you may need to increase or decrease her feeding levels.

Last 3 Months of Gestation

The fetus increases its weight by 1 lb/day during the last 3 months of gestation, accounting for 2/3 of fetal growth. Therefore, requirements for energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus increase greatly. Recent research suggests that mares fed to gain weight during pregnancy will do a better job of raising a foal and have enhanced rebreeding efficiency. This effect may be because post-partum weight loss is minimized, which results in higher conception rates in lactating mares. However, if the mare is overweight, do not give her any additional feed beyond what she needs for maintenance during this period.

Feeding the Lactating Mare

Lactation can be physically stressful for your mare. The lactating mare¡¦s nutrient needs are greater than those of any other class of horse are. (With the possible exception of the horse in intense training.) During this time the mare must recover from the stress of pregnancy, produce milk and re-breed. The lactating mare has an increased requirement for water, protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus. A normal, healthy mare will produce about 3% of her body weight in milk per day, during the first 3 months of lactation and 2% in late lactation. This means a 1000 lb. mare will produce roughly 30 lb. of milk per day during early lactation and roughly 20 lb. per day during late lactation. Failure to meet the mares¡¦ nutrient needs during lactation will have more effect on her body condition than on milk production. However if the nutrient deficiency is extreme, milk production and re-breeding efficiency will both decrease. Most recent research indicates that the composition of the milk produced will not change with dietary change.


Remember that your horse may have special needs. Just like a dog or cat, growing horses have different needs than mature horses. Check with your feed company to find out what different feed mixes are available for a horse your age. Also ask your vet for recommendations of feed content. If all else fails, you should know your horse best. If she seems hungrier than normal, perhaps you should give her more feed for the day. She may, after all, be eating for two soon.

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