Feeding the Older Broodmare

23rd October 2019

Broodmares are often staying in breeding a lot longer these days and are often having more foals over the course of their lifetime. This is partially due to advances in science, along with better veterinary care meaning horses are staying healthier for longer.

Keeping a broodmare in the best state of health is crucial in ensuring she is able to conceive and carry a foal to full term. The first thing to ensure is that the broodmare is at an optimal body condition to conceive. Ideal body condition score is 3 out of 5, or 5 out of 9. If horses are below this, then horses are less likely to conceive as they will be more than likely receiving a decreasing plane of nutrition. The mare needs to be receiving the correct energy balance (intake the same as output) and be in an increasing plane of nutrition to stand the best change of conceiving.

PROTEIN QUALITY

Although all broodmares have an elevated protein requirement from approximately 5 months of gestation onwards, and more so during lactation; it is important that the quality of protein within the diet is assessed as well as the crude protein content. Providing the correct levels of the first limiting amino acids lysine and methionine is often a good place to start when trying to improve quality of protein in an equine’s diet.

Older broodmares will still have the same elevated requirements of a younger broodmare, however their ability to digest and utilise that protein may not be the same. It’s even more crucial in these cases that we provide digestible quality sources of protein to ensure requirements are met and lean muscle mass is maintained.

DENTAL ISSUES

Older horses in general are more prone to dental issues. When this is occurs in broodmares, it can become difficult to meet fibre and calorie requirements easily.

Utilising soluble high fibre feeds and softer more digestible fibres such as dried grasses and sugar beet may be a way of meeting physiological fibre requirements and maintaining energy intake. using partial forage replacers may also be an appropriate option in some cases where preserved forages or grass are not consumed easily by the horse.

FIBRE INTAKE AND GUT SUPPORT- INCREASED RISK OF COLICS AND DIGESTIVE ISSUES

As mentioned above, it is vital that a horses’ fibre requirement is met on a daily basis (a minimum of 2% of bodyweight per day in dry matter). This is not only important from a physiological perspective to support gut motility, but insufficient fibre intake can pose a risk to the gastrointestinal system. Inadequate fibre intake can lead to lack of stomach acid buffering and instability of the hindgut microbiome; leading to increased risk of digestive disturbances, which older broodmares are more prone to also.

Maintaining a healthy gut microflora population is essential in ensuring optimal health and fibre digestion and subsequent energy conversion.

Supplementing the diet with pre and probiotics can support a more stable and healthier hindgut microbiome. Look out for feeds that include MOS and FOS (prebiotics), and live protected forms of yeast (probiotics).

CALORIE INTAKE

The energy requirement for a broodmare in early lactation is similar to that of a horse in heavy work. Therefore, we need to ensure that they receive adequate energy through their diet to support growth and development of their foal and maintain a healthy body condition throughout pregnancy & lactation. If horses lose considerable weight during lactation then this makes it a lot more difficult to adjust their diet to get them back to a healthy body condition, especially if the plan is to recover and get them back in foal for the next breeding season.

It is also worth bearing in mind the environment that the older broodmare is in. Older horses are less tolerant of extreme weather fluctuations and are less able to thermoregulate than their younger counterparts.

Aim to maintain a broodmare at optimal body condition throughout pregnancy and lactation, if a broodmare is overweight during pregnancy then it important that we don’t quickly restrict diet, as this could negatively affect the growth and development of the foal she is carrying. So starting and ending pregnancy at an ideal body condition is the most ideal option to avoid any sudden dietary changes.

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