Mare and Foal Nutrition

Q: Twice daily for three months I have been feeding my mare and her (now) 7-month-old foal four pounds of mare and foal feed, one pound of alfalfa pellets for extra calcium, and four pounds of whole oats soaked in warm water for an hour. They get free-choice good-quality brome hay.

For the first time since foaling, my mare's withers and loins have filled out with muscle and flesh, and she has lost the "hay belly" look. Her baby looks fabulous. I am wondering if this diet is meeting their nutritional requirements adequately, or if I should be adding in or substituting the alfalfa pellets for beet pulp for the extra calcium requirement because of the oats?

I want to keep my horses on the oats because of the great improvement in my mare's body condition. How much extra calcium in the form of alfalfa pellets or beet pulp should I give, and what would the weight ratio be?
--via e-mail

A: I'm glad to hear you have a healthy and happy mare and foal. Since you don't mention your mare and foal's breed, I am going to assume they are a light horse breed with a mature body weight of 1,100 lbs. I am also going to assume you will be weaning your foal soon, as the average age for weaning is between 4 and 6 months.

Let's start with the mare. Once she has the foal weaned, she will not need the mare and foal feed or alfalfa. It would be wise to discontinue this grain to help speed up her 'drying out' period; in order for a mare to stop producing milk completely, her feed intake must be reduced drastically. If she is not exercising, she should go on a pasture or hay-only diet. However, since it sounds like your mare has been a hard keeper in the past, you can keep a small amount of oats in her diet for a little added energy. Then, after she dries up you can slowly increase the oats until she starts maintaining a healthy weight. That will give her enough energy to maintain her body systems without adding excess energy, which would be used to produce milk.

As for the weanling, I would stick with the alfalfa and the mare and foal feed. However, I would not include oats or any beet pulp. Anything added to a commercially formulated horse feed throws off the formula's balance and, in this case, will dilute the protein, energy, and other minerals in the feed. Weanlings need a higher concentration of protein and minerals than any other class of horses, and it’s not a good idea to dilute rations.

Also, beet pulp is high in fiber and does not contain high enough concentrations of protein and calcium. I do recommend beet pulp in certain situations, but for adding protein I would stick with alfalfa. Oats are the cereal grain most commonly fed to horses. They are higher in fiber than most grains and not too high in soluble carbohydrates, unlike corn. While they are also higher in protein than some grains, they are too low in calcium for weanlings. If fed with good-quality grass hay, they can meet all the requirements for a mature horse up to light work (i.e., your mare after weaning).

In terms of amounts of each component of the weanling's diet, it is hard to say without knowing the specific nutrient content of your hay and alfalfa pellets and more specific details about the weanling. I will assume that you are using a mid-maturity brome hay and alfalfa. As long as the weanling gets about seven pounds of hay per day you could give him four pounds of the mare and foal feed and three pounds of the alfalfa pellets (or any other form of alfalfa hay, cubes, etc.) to make a nice balanced diet. However, again, this really does depend upon the nutrient content of your forages and the breed of your horse. Therefore, work with an equine nutritionist or contact your local state equine extension specialist for more help. You can also find more useful information about feeding horses on the Equine Science Center's website.

About the Author

Carey A. Williams, PhD

Carey A. Williams, PhD, is the Equine Extension Specialist and Associate Director of Extension at the Rutgers’ Equine Science Center.

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