It should go without saying that we need to hold broodmares in the absolute highest regard. Without them, we wouldn’t have our trusted trail partners, the pony that teaches every kid in the barn how to Add More Leg, or the record-busting performance horses that make our jaws drop when we see them go. In order to keep our mares healthy and to set foals up for a lifetime of success, it’s critical to ensure you have a balanced broodmare nutrition program from day one of gestation.
There are two key elements for a successful breeding program.
- Manage body condition and weight closely
- Ensure proper supplementation of nutrients
For optimal reproductive success, mares should be kept at a body condition score between a 5 and a 7. In the first five months of pregnancy, a broodmare’s energy and nutritional requirements are not significantly different from an open mare. As she progresses throughout gestation, these requirements gradually increase until foaling. When her foal hits the ground and she begins lactating, her energy demands increase dramatically—almost double her needs for when she is open!
What does this mean for feeding? Throughout the majority of gestation, most broodmares thrive on hay or pasture, along with a ration balancer or vitamin & mineral supplement. However, in the later months, it’s important to consider the limitations of her physical gut capacity. As logic dictates, a growing fetus will take up more and more room. For some mares, there comes a point in her pregnancy that the hay that she is willing and able to consume is not enough to meet her energy demands. In this instance, we need to find a way to increase the energy density of her diet to better match consumption with calories. The same conundrum applies during lactation—most mares cannot physically consume enough forage to meet the increased energy demands.
What is the best way to increase calories without increasing volume?
- Use a more energy-dense forage source. The most common way to accomplish this is by transitioning to a grass-alfalfa mixed hay. I like alfalfa for broodmares because it contains more energy, more protein, and more calcium than grass hay—all components they need more of. In a pasture setting, it is a bit more typical to find grass and clover together. Now, you can’t instantly establish a pasture of course. However, if you have one field that contains more clover than others, you may want to reserve it for your broodmares.
- Introduce a broodmare feed. These may be labeled as a “mare and foal” formula or as a growth formula. Growth formulas are designed to provide the increased energy and nutrients a mare requires. Depending on your mare, she may or may not need the minimum amount prior to foaling out. However, most mares will need added feed during lactation, and it is easier and faster to increase that feed quickly if she is already adjusted to it prior to foaling.
- If she needs the minimum amount of a growth formula for her weight, you can transition her fully from a ration balancer to the growth formula.
- If she doesn’t need the minimum amount, keep her on a ration balancer and a few pounds of growth so that her system is adapted to the growth feed and it can be increased quickly once she begins lactating.
Note: A general rule of thumb for combining balancers with other products is that if you are feeding half of the minimum of the other feed, feed half of the required amount of balancer. For example, if the minimum is 6 pounds for a growth feed and 2 pounds for a ration balancer, and you are feeding 3 pounds of growth feed, add 1 pound of balancer.
Let’s put this into an example. You have an 1,100-pound Quarter Horse mare that is generally a moderate keeper—prior to breeding her, she was fed hay and a balancer during the off-season and a performance feed during the show-season.
A feed program for this mare might look like:
- For the first eight to nine months of gestation, feed free choice grass hay with two pounds of our ration balancer.
Caveat—some broodmares may not need free choice hay. If she is overweight, limit her hay to 1.5 – 2% of her weight.
- In the last two to three months, transition to free choice mixed hay with two pounds of our ration balancer.
- During the last month (or sooner, depending on her condition), start adding a few pounds of a growth formula to the two pounds of balancer to prepare her hindgut for the feed she’ll need during lactation. Our growth formula is available both as a pelleted and a textured product.
- Once the foal is born, you may need to feed upwards of ten or more pounds of growth in addition to free choice access to forage. This can be tapered down as weaning approaches, based on her condition and any plans to breed her back.
Note: You do not need to feed ration balancer in addition to the growth formula at this point.
- Once her foal is weaned and her milk supply wanes, your mare’s energy requirements will return to baseline and you should transition her back to the balancer.
What about nutrients? Don’t a broodmare’s nutritional requirements also increase during pregnancy and lactation?
You are absolutely correct! Most notably, protein, calcium, and vitamin A requirements increase with pregnancy, even relative to her increased energy requirements. The best way to ensure optimal fetal development and maintain mare health is to feed an appropriate product at appropriate rates. Well, that’s a little vague. What it comes down to is the fact that the mare has X nutrient needs that need to be packed into Y amount of hay + a commercial product. Depending on her caloric needs, a ration balancer or a growth formula may be appropriate.
Looking for the right products for your broodmare? Check out our Ration Balancer and Growth formulas. Growth is available as both a pelleted and textured product, depending on both your and your mare’s preferences. All of our feeds are made with premium, locally sourced ingredients, chelated minerals, and probiotics for optimal health! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions here—I’m happy to help you put together a feeding program!
I normally sign off by telling you to go ride your horse. I don’t think that quite works in this situation—how about this: Go give your mare a scratch from me and tell her how much you appreciate her. I’ll see you at the barn!