Feeding Breeding Stock In Winter
Preparing for Winter Feeding for Breeding and Youngstock
By Katie Williams M.Sc. (Dist) B.Sc. (Hons)
During the spring and summer grass makes a significant contribution to the nutritional requirements of broodmares and youngstock. As the temperature drops and the grass quality declines, supplementary feed becomes increasingly important for providing the essential nutrients required for growth and development.
For mares that haven't reached the final trimester (third) of pregnancy, energy requirements may well be met by feeding plenty of good quality forage. However, her requirements for trace minerals and some vitamins are unlikely to be met by conserved forages such as hay and haylage as they contain much lower levels than grass. It is therefore advisable to offer these in the form of a supplement suitable for breeding stock such as Dengie Natural Vitality Performance Vits & Mins. For mares that are turned out a lick such as Dengie Field Lick, allows them to top-up on essential nutrients as required.
During the last trimester of pregnancy a mare's energy requirements are thought to increase by up to 20% to support rapid foetal growth. A staggering 60% of foetal growth occurs during this time so it is easy to see why a mare may require more feed to maintain her bodyweight and support the foal. At this stage the foetus is also accumulating stores of minerals to support it once it is born and growing rapidly. If these stores are not accumulated due to inadequate supply to the mare, congenital defects such as contracted tendons may occur. It is worth noting that a mare may cope with insufficient minerals in the diet for one or more pregnancies by depleting her own reserves but it is likely that at some point, the effects of a poor diet will become apparent and a problem occurs.
A mare's bodyweight should be monitored throughout pregnancy to ensure she doesn't become over or underweight as both extremes can limit milk production during lactation. If a mare's weight doesn't increase during pregnancy then she will actually have lost weight as the foal is likely to account for between 45-60kg of a 500kg mare's weight.
The most appropriate feed for a mare is usually determined by how easily she holds her weight which is often influenced by breed or type. Native breeds and other good-doers are less likely to require high energy feeds and so a stud specific broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement alongside a good quality fibre source such as Dengie Alfa-A Lite would be suitable. For mares that don't hold their weight very well a higher calorie feed is required. Traditional stud feeds can be used but these contain lots of cereals and so a feed that combines alfalfa and oil such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil, which provides just as many calories but without the starch and sugars, might be more appropriate for some mares particularly those that have had problems such as laminitis, ERS or are prone to over-excitable behaviour.
During the first 3 months of life a foal is likely to gain approximately 1kg of bodyweight per day. There are many factors that affect a foal's growth rate ranging from the weather to nutrition and weighing the foal every couple of weeks is a good way of monitoring their development. If bodyweight and age are plotted on a graph a curve will start to develop which provides a visual representation of how quickly the foal is growing. A very steep growth curve suggests the foal is growing rapidly whereas a flatter line indicates the foal isn't growing very much; either situation is likely to require dietary adjustments.
Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) is a major concern to anyone who has youngstock. Inappropriate nutrition is one of many factors including genetics, conformation and injury that can contribute to DOD. DOD is an umbrella term used to describe many orthopaedic problems in the growing horse including epiphysitis, angular and flexural deformities, OCD and wobbler syndrome. If the foal is born with the problem it is called congenital, whereas if it develops it later in life it is referred to as acquired.
Research suggests that high starch diets with insufficient mineral supplementation are the dietary link to DOD. One common misconception is that high levels of protein cause DOD, however there is no evidence to support this and some higher protein feeds that are low in starch such as alfalfa, often make a valuable addition to the diet of broodmares and youngstock.
Many foals are weaned in the autumn to give the mare time to regain any lost condition before her next foal arrives. Gradual weaning is a more sympathetic way to wean foals and can help to reduce the risk of weight loss and digestive disturbance. At 4 months of age the foal's digestive tract will already be changing from one that is dependant on a milk based diet to being able to digest fibre and extracting energy and nutrients from it. By now, foals should be copying their dams eating out of the bucket and becoming familiar with 'bucket feed'.This is also important in helping to minimise weight loss post weaning as introducing new feeds to an already stressed youngster is usually tricky.
Weanlings and Yearlings
Although the rate of growth slows as the youngster gets older, they still have increased nutritional requirements compared to an adult horse. They are also still vulnerable to DOD problems; the growth plates higher up the leg closing later than those lower down. It is important to provide essential nutrients at appropriate levels and so a source of vitamins and minerals designed for youngstock such as Dengie Natural Vitality Performance Vits & Mins should be used.