The healthier the mare, the healthier the foal; this statement certainly checks out since foals receive their nutrition from the dam. And it all starts with colostrum--the very first mammary secretions transferred from mare to foal.
How long does a mare produce colostrum and how much colostrum does a foal need?
The thick, yellowish fluid produced by a mare in the foal’s first days is rich in antibodies and nutrients and also full of protein. Mares produce colostrum for no more than 24 hours before their normal milk comes in, but this “liquid gold” is the only source of antibodies for a newborn foal. In fact, it can literally mean the difference between life and death since the foal’s own immune system isn’t yet mature. High levels of colostrum IgG via passive transfer (the most common antibody) are vital for a newborn’s health, and ideally, foals should ingest up to half a gallon of colostrum within the first 12 to 24 hours of life.
What happens if the foal doesn’t get colostrum?
Some mares have higher-quality colostrum (with higher levels of IgG) than others and this comes down to their own health. If the mare has nutrient deficiencies, is ill, or has poor gut health, her colostrum may not fully protect the foal, and according to researchers, poor colostrum quality is one of the primary causes of immunity transfer failure for foals.1
Optimizing New Foal Care: How can you ensure that your mare will have high-quality colostrum?
Nutrition is paramount for broodmares. For the first seven or eight months of gestation, mares do not necessarily need more calories, but they do require sufficient intake of high-quality forage (pasture or hay) as well as a source of essential vitamins and minerals. During the last three to four months of pregnancy, however, the mare’s energy requirements will increase. Providing high-quality, free-choice forage will help to add calories. While you don’t want to overfeed your mare, additional calories can be provided with concentrates, rice bran, or healthy fats such as flax oil. Always ensure that either loose salt or a salt block is available and that the mare has clean, fresh water available.
One caution for pregnant mares: avoid pastures or hay high in fescue which can be infected with an endophyte that causes prolonged gestation, difficult delivery, and lack of milk.
Another thing you may want to consider is adding probiotics to your mare’s diet since studies have shown that gastrointestinal microbiota play a crucial role in a horse’s nutrient digestion, as well as their overall health.2
One study showed that a supplement rich in live yeast increased IgG production in colostrum. In this study, researchers supplemented mares with the probiotic for the last eight days of gestation, finding significant improvement in both the initial IgG and persistence of IgG qualities of colostrum.1
Having healthy foals is important for any breeder, and it all starts with the mare. Prioritizing nutrition and adding probiotics may mean the difference between a strong, healthy foal and one that is prone to infection.
2Garber A, Hastie P, Murray JA. Factors Influencing Equine Gut Microbiota: Current Knowledge. J Equine Vet Sci. 2020;88:102943. doi:10.1016/j.jevs.2020.102943