Although the foetus only gains about 35% of its foaling weight in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, a well balanced diet will provide nutrients that can improve the health of the foetus and assure normal development. Early pregnancy often coincides will the availability of energy rich grazing, excessive weight gain in early gestation is undesirable therefore control grazing where necessary. In late pregnancy the foetus begins to develop rapidly; Digestible energy requirements increase only by about 15% at this time, however, protein and mineral requirements increase to a greater extent since the foetal tissue being synthesised is quite high in protein, calcium and phosphorus. Trace mineral supplementation is also very important during this period because the foetus stores iron, zinc, copper and manganese in its liver for use during the first few months after it is born. Feeds that contain Bioplex® or protected trace minerals will deliver these nutrients more effectively versus those containing only inorganic minerals.

Mares in late pregnancy are often overfed in an attempt to supply adequate protein and minerals to the developing foal. If the pregnant mare becomes fat during late pregnancy, she should be switched to a feed that is more concentrated in protein and minerals e.g. Gain StudCare 32 pellets. This will restrict her energy intake while ensuring that she receives adequate quantities of other key nutrients.

After foaling, the mare’s milk is the main source of nutrients for the growing foal and her nutrient requirements increase significantly during lactation. During the first three months of lactation mares produce milk at a rate equal to about 3% of their body weight per day. This milk is rich in energy, protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins. If she does not receive adequate nutrition during this period she may dip into her own body reserves and lose condition. Therefore, the mare should be fed appropriate concentrate such as Gain Stud Cubes or Gain Coarse Stud Mix in conjunction with good quality forage to meet these increased requirements. Later foaling mares or those foaling at a time of peak grass growth may be fed a high specification, low calorie concentrate such as Gain StudCare 32 pellets or Opti-Gro Cubes.

Joanne Hurley is a nutrition specialist with Gain Horse Feeds. She holds a Masters in Animal Nutrition and Production from UCD. She is based at Gain Horse Feeds Office in Bridge Street, Portlaoise, Co Laois and can be contacted on 087-7958573 or by email at jhurley@glanbia.ie

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