Proper feed for successful horse breeding


Feeding affects the fertility of the broodmare

Fertility disorders may be caused by infections, climate conditions or stress. However, inadequate or improper feeding can also lead to fertility problems (late oestrus, lack of ovulation, miscarriage).

The horse's oestrus is influenced by the duration of light and the season. The mare’s oestrus begins starting in April or May, with the lengthening of the days. The best time for oestrus to begin and for a successful covering is in spring and early summer. If the mare is covered at this natural time, foaling can also occur during the grazing period.

The mare should be in good physical condition at the time of covering so that oestrus is not delayed and she is able to conceive. She should be neither overweight nor underweight. The energy intake of the broodmare should therefore be within the maintenance range for light work. If underweight, feed should be adjusted for weight gain at least 6-8 weeks before cover. An adequate supply of minerals is also important for the mare’s fertility.

Nutrient and energy supply according to need during pregnancy

A horse's gestation period ranges between 323 and 350 days. If the energy and nutrient supply is not adequate, the mare may miscarry in the early pregnancy stage, as the embryo is not yet connected to the uterus during the first eight weeks, and during this time is nourished via secretions from the uterus. The embryo therefore reacts quite sensitively to environmental influences and nutritional shortages experienced by the mare. In the further course of the pregnancy, the mare's organism will try to compensate for nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to weight loss in the mare and a prolonged pregnancy. Nutrient deficiencies (e.g. calcium, iodine, selenium or copper) can also negatively influence the vitality of the foal and the quality of the beestings (first milk of the mare, or colostrum).

Feeding the mare too much energy, however, may lead to an embryo not being rejected in case of an unwanted twin pregnancy. If the twin pregnancy continues, both foetuses are usually miscarried (aborted) or the foals are stillborn or born weak.

A natural feeding according to need is especially important for successful breeding. The mare should be fed an adequate amount of high-quality base feed, in the form of hay or AGROBS crude fibre products like Pre Alpin® Wiesencobs, Pre Alpin® Wiesenflakes, Pre Alpin® Aspero, Pre Alpin® Compact and AGROBS AlpenHeu. Poor feed quality will be particularly evident during the pregnancy’s final stage.

This can cause colic or cause the mare to miscarry. In order to meet the demand for all important minerals, we recommend the use of our AGROBS Naturmineral as a supplement, or for mares that have plenty of fresh grass available, AGROBS Weidemineral-Cobs. AGROBS Seniormineral is also ideal for covering the increased needs of the mare during pregnancy and lactation. AGROBS Seniormineral can also be fed to foals as soon as they are able to eat feed on their own. Its essential amino acids are beneficial to both mare and foal. Foals gain in size and weight especially during the last trimester of gestation. This in turn means that the mare’s energy and nutritional requirements will increase during this stage of pregnancy (beginning with the 7th month). During this stage, its requirements for protein, calcium and phosphorous are greater than its need for energy. Higher levels of these nutrients should therefore be provided. At this point, you can start feeding your horse supplementary feed. However, it is important that the mare is properly nourished at the time of foaling in order to avoid difficulties.

What should be considered shortly before, during and after birth

Before foaling, it is advisable to reduce the amount of the mare’s feed so that the gastrointestinal tract is not under strain during birth. However, under no circumstances should the mare be completely deprived of feed. Wait about three days after foaling before increasing the amount of feed.

Afterwards, feeding can be adapted slowly to the mare's increasing energy and protein needs. It is particularly important to observe the behaviour (appetite) and digestion of both mare and foal.

The proper nourishment for the nursing mare

Milk production depends on the needs of the foal. If the mare does not consume enough energy and nutrients (negative energy balance), this will have a minimal effect on the quantity of milk but the mare will lose weight. A sufficient amount of good quality base feed or AGROBS crude fibre products should be provided during lactation. AGROBS Kraftpaket, AGROBS Fetura, AGROBS Luzerne+ and AGROBS Luzernecobs are well suited as supplemental feeds to cover these increased protein and energy requirements. AGROBS Kraftpaket is a special combination of meadow grasses and herbs, lucerne and whole maize plants that delivers valuable amino acids, ample beta-Carotene, vitamin E and easily-digestible starches. A lack of essential amino acids will reduce the yield and protein content of milk, resulting in weaker foals. AGROBS Seniormineral provides sufficient calcium, trace elements and essential amino acids during this stage. The dam should have free access to a salt lick during this time or salt should be added to the feed to ensure an adequate supply of sodium.

The annual loss of approx. 8% of foals is mainly due to faulty diet and poor hygiene.

The mother's colostrum is the first food that the foal receives. Colostrum supplies the foal with nutrients as well as protective antibodies which will safeguard it from infections (passive immunisation). The foal is dependent on a sufficient supply of colostrum in the first weeks of life since it is not yet able to produce these antibodies independently. At least 4-6 weeks before foaling, the dam should be brought into the environment in which the birth is to take place and the foal will grow so that her body will begin to produce these stable-specific antibodies.

If the dam cannot raise her foal due to death or illness and there is no nurse mare available, the only option remaining is to rear it by hand. Proper feeding and hygiene are of particular importance here. The foal must receive sufficient colostrum in order to be protected from infections during the first days of life. If the foal can no longer receive this from its dam, then it must be provided with a nurse mare or fed preserved mare's milk. The later milk can then be substituted with so-called milk replacer. Motherless foals should be offered supplementary food and roughage from the third week of life onwards.

Foals raised by their dams will begin to playfully eat hay starting in their second month of life; this or AGROBS crude fibre products should be provided in adequate quantity. After the foal has begun eating solid foods in the middle of the second month of life, you can start giving it a feed concentrate such as AGROBS Fetura or AGROBS Kraftpaket. The foal should also be given a high-quality mineral feed, for example AGROBS Seniormineral.

Weaned foals

In nature, foals remain with their dams for up to 9 months, whereas in a breeder's care they are usually weaned by the time they are 6 months old. However, when weaning occurs will depend on the foal's individual stage of development and feeding. After weaning, a foal often lacks the high-quality protein found in its mother's milk. Products containing lucerne, for example AGROBS Luzernecobs, AGROBS Luzerne+ or AGROBS Kraftpaket, help overcome this shortage of protein. They can also be used to cover the foal's energy requirements when pastures no longer provide sufficient energy, especially in high summer. AGROBS AlpenGrün Müsli is also suitable for young weaned foals. If the newly-weaned foal needs an increased supply of energy, we recommend feeding it AGROBS AlpenGrün Müsli along with high-quality crushed or flaked oats. A supply of base feed, supplementary feed and mineral feed according to the foal's requirements is extremely important for its development and to avoid health problems later on.

Optimum care for the stallion.

Outside the breeding season, stallions need about the same level of nutrients and energy as other horses that do light work. Their feeding should be based on sufficient quantities of roughage, in the form of hay or AGROBS crude fibre products. A mineral feed like AGROBS Naturmineral or, during the grazing season, AGROBS Weidemineral-Cobs will also provide a steady supply of minerals, trace elements and vitamins. AGROBS LeichtGenuss is a good option for stallions that are good doers. During the breeding season as well as a few weeks before, the stallion’s energy supply can be increased through the use of a feed supplement such as AGROBS Kraftpaket, AGROBS Luzernecobs, AGROBS Luzerne+ or AGROBS AlpenGrün Müsli. The quantity and type of supplemental feed is primarily dependent on the horse (good doer versus poor doer) as well as its temperament, performance and use in breeding. It is also recommended that breeding stallions be fed AGROBS Seniormineral during the breeding season, as their mineral requirements during this time are similar to that of heavily pregnant mares.

Meyer H., Coenen M.: Pferdefütterung. Enke Verlag Stuttgart, 2014    
Dietz O., Huskamp B.: Handbuch Pferdekrankheiten. Enke Verlag Stuttgart 2006 


Dr. med. vet. Katharina Boes
April 2015 ©AGROBS GmbH 

(* The references refer to the technical content of the text and not to the product recommendations.)