5 Tips for Feeding Lactating Mares

5 Tips for Feeding Lactating Mares

Lactating mares have drastically increased nutritional requirements in order to keep themselves and their foals healthy.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Do you get tired just watching your new foal gallop around his pasture? Try supplying him with enough energy and nutrition to allow him to frolic and play all day! Lactation is one of the most physiologically demanding stages for broodmares. Their nutritional requirements increase drastically in order to maintain weight while providing nursing foals with enough critical nutrients.

Lactating mares have the highest nutrient requirements during the first three months of lactation. These requirements decrease as their milk production decreases—in both quantity and quality—during the fourth through sixth months post-foaling.

If a lactating mare's diet is restricted, she will sacrifice her own calorie, protein, and mineral stores for milk production. In severe cases an undernourished broodmare can suffer weight, muscle tone, and bone loss. Thus, it's crucial to provide lactating mares with enough feed to sustain both themselves and their growing foals.

Here are five tips for meeting mares' nutritional needs during lactation:

1. Go with Grain. Although high-quality hay and/or grass should remain the basis of the diet, in most cases forage alone cannot meet lactating mares' nutritional requirements. Grain products formulated for broodmares are designed to meet pregnant and lactating mares' nutritional needs. Follow the feeding rates suggested on the tag or bag corresponding to the month of lactation.

2. Split it up. Many mares in the first three months of lactation will require between 10 to 15 pounds of a commercial grain mix per day to meet their increased nutrient requirements. Dividing this into two or three meals per day can help reduce the risk of digestive upset and increase nutrient digestion and absorption.

3. Building Blocks. High-quality protein is vital to delivering essential amino acids to the foal. Thus, the mare's dietary requirements for lysine, the first limiting amino acid in growth and development, increase from about 38 grams per day in late pregnancy to 85 grams per day in early lactation for an average 1,100 pound mare. When choosing a grain mix, check the feed tag and ingredient list to ensure they include guaranteed levels of lysine.

4. Can I have some? Most foals will begin to nibble on their mare’s grain within weeks of birth and can easily consume up to four pounds each day by the time weaning approaches. You might need to increase the amount of grain you provide your mare each day to ensure she is still consuming enough to meet her needs. Otherwise, consider raising her feed tubs higher than the foal’s reach or providing creep feed for the foal.

5. Monitor body condition score. Monitor a lactating mare’s body condition frequently, and adjust her diet as needed. Aim to maintain pregnant and lactating mares at a body condition score of 6 to 7, and never less than 5, on the 1-9 Henneke scale. Should a mare's body condition drop substantially, her reproductive performance (for example, cycles per conception) might decrease. 

Take-Home Message

Lactating mares have drastically increased nutritional requirements in order to keep themselves and their foals healthy. Ensuring that your broodmare consumes enough calories each day will help foals start out on the right foot and help keep mares' bodies functioning optimally. 

About the Author

Kristen M. Janicki, MS, PAS

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen began her current position as a performance horse nutritionist for Mars Horsecare, US, Inc., and Buckeye Nutrition, in 2010. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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