Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Blazer. Go to www.horsecoursesonline.com for more information. Contact Eleanor at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 689-6171. Be sure to visit Eleanor's web site at www.thewayofhorses.com
By Eleanor Blazer
A watched pot never boils.
Just like the fabled pot, waiting for a mare to foal will make you think it will never happen.
But turning your back on the simmering pot…or the gestating broodmare can lead to disaster.
Prior to being bred the mare's health and condition should be evaluated and adjusted if needed. After she is pregnant is not the time to make big changes. Take good care of that special broodmare. If she's good enough to breed, she deserves good care.
Her body condition score should be between a five and seven. This means you should be able to feel ribs when you press lightly on her side. There should be small amounts of fat deposits around the withers, the tail head, behind the elbows and along the backbone. The mare should not be thin or fat. For more about body condition score, click here.
The mare's nutritional requirements are the same as a horse that is not in foal. These requirements are based on the amount of work she is doing, her age, health and if she is nursing a foal.
The mare's diet should consist of plenty of good quality forage, a supplement or product that compliments the forage and makes up for the nutrients that are lacking in the forage, free choice salt and fresh water. She should have all her vaccinations up to date and be on a good de-worming program.
Don't breed her, turn her out to pasture and expect nature to take its course.
You may get a foal, but you want more; you want a healthy foal, able to reach its genetic potential. Looking after a mare is no different from any other activity, you only get back what you put in. It's the same with your mare, you're not going to have a healthy foal if you don't take due care.
During the first eight months of gestation things are pretty quiet. The fetus only does about 20 percent of it's developing during this time.
The last three months of gestation is critical. Things start heating up and the simmering is accelerating. The ignored pot can boil over.
Most of the fetal growth and bone development takes place during the last 90 days of gestation. The mare's nutritional requirements increase.
This is also the time of year when good quality forage is in short supply, in most parts of the country the weather is lousy and doing chores is a challenge. It's very easy to ignore the broodmare - but don't do it.
Vitamin and mineral requirements must be met.
Calcium, phosphorus, copper and zinc deficiencies during the last three months of gestation can lead to developmental orthopedic disease. Minerals must be in balance and provided at the proper levels. A good commercial product designed for broodmares and fed according to the feeding directions can provide these needed nutrients.
Research has shown trying to make up for nutritional deficiencies after foaling does not work. The mare must provide the nutrients to the foal while the foal is in utero.
During the last 90 days of gestation the mare's body condition must be monitored. An obese mare will have trouble foaling and tends to have smaller foals. A thin mare will produce weak foals and insufficient amounts of milk. When calories are decreased in an obese mare it is important not to decrease needed amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Make any changes to the diet gradually.
This is also the time to take the mare off tall fescue. Tall fescue is a popular grass used in hay fields and pastures. It can carry endophytic fungus (neotyphodium coenophialum). This fungus causes laminitis, abortions, prolonged pregnancy, thickened or retrained placenta, decreased or no milk, foaling problems; weak, sick foals and death.
There are endophyte-free tall fescue varieties available. You can have the hay field tested by your local agricultural extension office. This test must be done before the field is harvested. The safest thing is to not feed tall fescue.
11 months - it's a long time to watch a pot or broodmare. But the end result of a healthy foal out of your favorite mare is worth it. So, take the time.
For more about broodmare management, take the online course Equine Reproduction
taught by Dr. Jack Sales, DVM.
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