Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Prioritising brood mare care critical to securing a healthy crop of foals

Carrying out a clear routine of crucial husbandry issues during your animal's middle pregnancy can mean difference between abortion or healthy offspring

During winter, breeders must ensure that broodmares get adequate food, which is usually based on good quality pasture or forage, and often supplemented with concentrate feed
During winter, breeders must ensure that broodmares get adequate food, which is usually based on good quality pasture or forage, and often supplemented with concentrate feed
Mares should not be allowed to become overweight, an annual dental check is in order, routine foot trimming should be kept up to date
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

For those who have decided to breed their mares this year, we are now in a fairly quiet time. After the hectic foaling, breeding and weaning periods, the broodmare's middle pregnancy is, thankfully, a fairly non-eventful phase.

However, there are some key husbandry issues that breeders need to keep on top of. These include the mare's de-worming routine, vaccination, teeth, feet and nutritional needs.

The average equine pregnancy lasts for 340 days, but individual pregnancies can vary from 310 to 374 days.

Most vets agree that mares can be ridden gently up to days 200-230, or the seventh month of pregnancy. Gentle exercise helps to keep the mare fit, which will be an advantage when it comes to foaling time.

Exercise during the last four months of the mare's pregnancy should be light and for mares that live outdoors, their natural grazing behaviour is enough exercise for them.


Choose a wormer that can be safely used on pregnant mares. Some brands cannot be used on broodmares at all, while others can only be used at a certain stage of pregnancy.

Remember that the usual grassland and feeding management practices can also be used to minimise the worm burden.

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Infectious diseases can cause abortion so it is critical to have vaccinations kept up to date. Consult your vet for advice on your vaccination schedule.

Vaccination against influenza and tetanus is essential, while the mare should be vaccinated for equine virus abortion (Herpes virus I & IV) at five, seven and nine months of pregnancy.

Equine herpes virus can cause respiratory disease, severe loss of form, abortion and paralysis. It can remain dormant and be reactivated by stress factors such as transport, competition or breaking.


Routine foot trimming should be kept up to date and your mare should be seen by a farrier every six to eight weeks. Mares with broken or cracked feet, long toes, flat soles and weak heels can become lame.

According to Teagasc, most mares can be kept without shoes but those with bad feet may require shoes in front. Hind shoes should not be put on to prevent injury to other broodmares or foals.

The mare's feet should be picked out regularly, which will allow you to assess her foot condition and also prevents stone bruises. The mare should be able to support the added weight of pregnancy without undue pain or distress.


An annual dental check should be scheduled to allow the dentist to correct any problems. Teeth problems mean that the mare cannot make the most of her diet, which is essential when she is carrying a foal.

Stressful dental procedures should not be carried out in late pregnancy.


During winter, breeders must ensure that broodmares receive adequate food, which is usually based on a good quality pasture or forage, and often supplemented with a concentrate feed.

For the last three or four months of pregnancy, the mare should be on a rising plane of nutrition to allow her to cope with the increased demands from her unborn foal. However, the mare should not be allowed to become overweight or obese as this causes complications at foaling.

According to the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, if the broodmare can maintain a moderate to slightly fleshy body condition on forage alone there is no need to feed her grain.

However, adequate mineral and vitamin intakes are imperative during gestation in order to maximise opportunities for sound, healthy foals.

If mares are receiving less than 2.5-3kg of a typical commercially prepared grain mix, then supplemental minerals and vitamins will need to be provided. Due to the fact that mares are usually in a critical period of gestation when pastures transit between seasons, it is beneficial to know how pasture nutrient content changes from month to month, especially in relation to calcium and phosphorus.

Excessive calcium intakes should be avoided during gestation, as they are associated with increased incidence of contracted tendons and toe-in conformation.

Excessive phosphorus intakes need to be avoided even if the calcium and phosphorus ratio is adequate, since they have been associated with increased orthopaedic disorders.

The use of organic trace minerals in the mare's feed during gestation has been proven to increase mineral stores in newborn foals and increases immunity.

Breeders should use the mare's body condition as a guide to how she is faring and adjust the ration accordingly.

Irish Independent