Feeding lactating mare correctly vital for its breeding future and young foal
Lactation places immense demands on the mare, both nutritional and physiological. During this time the mare must recover from the stress of parturition, produce milk to support the growth and development of the young foal and re-breed successfully.
In fact, the nutritional needs of a lactating mare are greater than those of any other class of horse, with the possible exception of the racehorse in full training.
If her feed intake is not increased to provide these nutrients, she will maintain milk production by using her body stores for energy, amino acids and minerals, causing loss of weight and loss of body condition as well as mineral losses. If the nutrient deficiency is extreme, milk production and re-breeding efficiency will both decrease.
Mares produce an average of 24lbs (10kg) or approximately 13.5 litres of milk daily during a five-month lactation period. This equates to more than 2,000 litres of milk over 150 days. Some mares can produce as much as 32lbs (15kg) of milk a day. The average amount of milk produced by mares in the first 22 days of lactation is 26.5lbs (12kg) per day. Production appears to reach a peak at 30 days and slowly declines after that.
In order to sustain this output, the protein and energy requirements of the mare almost double from early gestation to lactation. Requirements for calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium and vitamin A also increase greatly.
Compared to a performance horse, whose energy needs increase gradually throughout his training, the lactating mare's energy needs increase quite suddenly after foaling. (See Table 1).
In order to meet the mare's requirements during this period immediately post-foaling, it would be advisable to gradually increase her concentrate intake during the last week to 10 days of gestation, so that the mare is consuming close to the amount required for milk production by the time she foals. Suddenly increasing feed intake in the days immediately following foaling could lead to digestive disturbances.
The most-common mistakes made when feeding broodmares are overfeeding during early pregnancy and underfeeding during lactation. A lactating mare will usually consume 2-3pc of her body weight in feed (forage and concentrate) daily.