Yearlings Benefit Research

The sale of 20 Virginia-bred Thoroughbred yearlings on Oct. 15 directly benefited equine research endeavors. Not only were the horses fund-raisers, they also were products of the studies their sale supports. The yearlings were residents of the Virginia Tech Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MAREC), a research and teaching facility located near Middleburg, Va.

Wendell Cooper, VMD, is responsible for the operation of MAREC and for the care and maintenance of the animals. According to Cooper, this ninth annual sale was the most successful, grossing $82,000. The sale topper was a filly out of a Secretariat mare which sold for $27,000. All funds go into the operating budget.

"The yearlings enter a variety of different professions after the sale," said Cooper. "Some of the horses race, but a majority of the horses are used as hunters, jumpers, show horses, and pleasure horses," he added.

Nutrition is the major topic of investigation at the MARE Center, although reproduction and behavior are other current research topics. Graduate students work at the MARE Center for a master's or doctorate degree. Their studies involve 40 broodmares, 25-30 of which have foals every year sired by one of the two stallions at the facility.

Of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture's 12 outlying research centers, MAREC is the only facility with an equine focus. Paul Mellon, the late philanthropist and horseman, donated the 420-acre farm in 1949. After 40 years of cattle research, Mellon funded the transition to equine research.

Janice Holland, PhD, PAS, a research associate at MAREC, explained that a major focus of the facility recently has been the development of a fat supplement for broodmares. Research diets are high-fat, high-fiber feeds, at around 11%-13% fat.

"We've tried various fats such as corn oil, and we are very happy with that," Holland said. "We follow the mares through gestations, noting their weight gain, especially in the last trimester. After the foals are born, once a month, we radiograph their left front cannons, evaluate bone density and growth, and take extensive measurements."

When the foals are weaned, they stay on the same type of diets as their dams, and they are monitored closely until their sale. Blood samples are taken monthly and tested for hormones related to growth, diet, and vitamin and mineral levels.

Holland explained the benefit of the fat studies. "When the pasture is high in water content and soluble carbohydrates, there is (usually) a growth slump in foals. It's been noted everywhere. Our (foals on high-fat, high-fiber feeds) keep their body condition better, so you don't get a big compensatory growth later in the year. We attribute that to the fat."

For more information about MAREC, contact 540/687-3521 or visit

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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