Having given your mare the best possible care during pregnancy to ensure both the well-being and health of her and her unborn foal, it is important to continue this post-birth. Keeping your mare in optimal health will show in her colostrum and continuing milk quality and production, providing her foal with the best start in life.
You can split your mare’s nutrition plan in two parts – gestation and lactation. During the gestation period you are looking to support the mares nutritional needs so she can supply the foetus in utero with all that it needs. Nutritional requirements will vary greatly throughout the gestation period – read more about feeding the pregnant mare here.
In the last few weeks of gestation, we actually must start to consider feeding for the lactation period and at this stage we are specifically thinking about colostrum quality! Feeding to optimise colostrum quality during these last few weeks will give your foal the best possible start in life. You can read more about maximising colostrum quality here.
When considering the most appropriate feeding regime for your mare we must think about various factors including age, condition, breed, husbandry and any medical problems such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), that the mare may have.
The restricted grazing and the early foaling dates associated with thoroughbred breeding limit the levels of nutrients that mares would usually get from grass, in particular vitamins, so these mares will have different needs to a pony cob foaling in May, when fresh grass is usually widely available. Some mares are also just poor milkers and may need extra support to boost the quality and quantity of milk being produced.
Whilst the mares feeding regime will inevitably vary the foals will not – it is simply milk, milk, milk! Foals are almost entirely dependent on the mare’s milk for the first month of their lives, and milk continues to make up the majority of a foals’ diet up to six months of age. Creep feeding may be introduced and the need for a milk replacer may be required in some situations, read more about the nutrition of foals here. Maximising the quality of the mare’s milk throughout this time sets the foundations for a long and sound athletic career for the foal.
The overall diet of your mare while she is lactating will consist of forage, concentrate feed and supplements. Your mare may have conserved forage e.g., hay or haylage, or she may be on fresh grass. Forage intake should be maximised to ensure you are supporting gut health and avoiding gastrointestinal upset. Concentrate feed should supply essential nutrients, including high quality protein and high specification vitamins and minerals. Deciding on the type and amount of concentrate to provide will vary according to your mares individual situation, to learn more about feeding concentrate to your mare during lactation read here. Supplement use will vary according to the amount and quality of concentrate feed being given, the age and general health of your mare, whether she is stabled or turned out and other health factors already mentioned such as EMS.
Specific supplements may help you to improve your mares milk quality and quantity. There are a lot of products on the market and it can be difficult deciding what you should be giving to your mare.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in mares milk so there is no wonder her demands increase two-fold during lactation, providing additional sources of this mineral is advisable to maximise milk production and avoid the inevitable problems a deficiency could cause.
Calcium is the fundamental building block for skeletal development and conformation in foals and young horses, and also plays a key role in muscle and nerve function. Calcium works together with phosphorus, and the two must be in the correct ratio of Ca:P 2:1 for healthy growth.
Cal-Gro is specially formulated for pregnant and lactating mares and provides the perfect ratio of calcium and phosphorus, as well as other key nutrients needed for optimal milk quality and foal growth:
When faced with a situation where the intake of concentrates is limited e.g. you have a mare in very good condition and you are concerned for her weight, you may need to reduce concentrate feeding and focus on forage intake instead. A predominantly forage based diet is an excellent option for a “good doer” mare when lactating, but it is only appropriate if you are providing appropriate nutrient supplementation alongside it to ensure the essential nutrients, that forage lacks, are being provided.
Mares milk is naturally low in several minerals and as a result the in-utero foal stores some minerals, such as copper, in their liver ready for use after parturition. It remains very important to supply the mare with key minerals to meet her own demands and to ensure the maximum amount possible is passed to the foal.
Chevinal, is a highly palatable vitamin, mineral and amino acid liquid supplement. It provides a wide range of key nutrients to support your mares milk production and quality including –
Omega-3 fatty acids are another essential component in milk. They cannot be produced by the body, so must be included in the diet, but they are only present in low levels in conserved forage and grain concentrates. Increasing oil intake in a lactating mare’s diet can improve the fatty acid content of their milk, supplementation therefore improves the quality of milk and supports the foals own immune health and development.
Kentucky Karron Oil provides a superior source of quality essential omega-3 fatty acids, in a highly bioavailable format, it is a great choice to support milk production and immune health. Supplementing the mare’s diet with oil also increases her energy intake, another vital factor for optimal milk production.
If you have a mare with poor appetite it can be difficult to get her eating enough feed to meet nutrient requirements for optimal milk production, this can have a detrimental impact on her own condition and general health and wellbeing. With these mares, providing B-Complete can help support and promote appetite. B-Complete is a highly palatable B Vitamin supplement with a prebiotic included. When forage intake has been reduced because of poor appetite, then it is likely that the mares own gut health will be negatively impacted and the production of B vitamins reduced, supplying them in the form of B Complete will restore optimal levels for a lactating mare.
If you’re looking for any advice on how to improve a mare’s milk, why not get in touch with one of our equine nutrition experts.