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Mare and Foal feeding


A pregnant mare needs a great deal of extra nutrients to be able to produce a healthy and strong foal. Once the foal is born the feed schedules for mare and foal might show deficiencies. The last months of gestation and the first two years after birth are important for the physical development of the foal. In this period, the quality of the bones, the formation of the muscles, the development of the digestive system and the sensitivity to diseases are determined. A maximal development of the animal in this period requires many building substances e.g. nutrients. When a mare does not work (and is not in lactation) in the first months of pregnancy a good maintenance ration is sufficient to meet with the requirements. However the last three months of gestation, feed requirements increase with 50%. From the eighth month onwards there is an increased need for minerals (amongst others, calcium, copper, zinc, manganese and phosphor, each of them in the right proportion to one another), vitamins (A , D3) and especially high-quality proteins. It is therefore important to supply the mare a ration rich energy and with sufficient high quality proteins.


All of these building substances are key to a prosperous growth of the young animal. Apart from these building substances, the foal needs still more for optimal growth. When the foal is born, it will be immediately confronted with germs in its environment. For this reason, during the last months of the gestation the mare should stay in the box or in the paddock where the foal should be born and where it will spend the first period of its life.

In this way, the mare will produce antibodies (immunoglobulins) that are adapted to the germs in the environment. In order to increase the resistance against diseases as much as possible, the mare should be vaccinated and dewormed in the last three months of gestation. The protective substances will also be present in the colostrum of the mare and give a higher protection to the foal. During the first fortnight the foal actually produces barely any or no immunoglobulins. Consequently, this is the most vulnerable period.


With respect to the birth turns out alright the foal will drink with its mother. The colostrum contains all necessary substances. However, it is possible that the foal receives insufficient colostrum of good quality due to a lack in milk production by the mare or other circumstances. The veterinarian is able to verify the immune status of the animal by determining the level of immunoglobulins (Ig) in the blood of the foal. It is important that this examination is done within 24 hours (and at the utmost 36 hours), because if there is something wrong the foal will need supplementary or replacement feed. If the foal did not receive the colostrum from the mare contact your veterinarian as soon as possible! This is necessary because shortages in those first crucial hours have negative consequences for the immune system and the further development of the foal. Freeze dried colostrum from other mares or artificial milk replacers for horses can bring help for these problems.

Because regularity in feeding times is very important for foals it is advisory to follow the feeding schedule on the packaging of the artificial milk.

It happens more and more frequently that - whilst everything looks alright - breeders give a small amount of freeze-dried colostrum (often in the form of paste) to the foal. This preventive measurement is done to increase the resistance in the first fortnight and in this way it promotes the prosperous development of the foal. Freeze dried colostrum should also be fed during the first 36 hours, since the greater the amount of immunoglobulins the foal absorbs, the stronger the defence against germs will be.

Lactating mares

lactation period, the mare has a higher requirement than during gestation. The milk production will reach approximately its maximum level in the 10th week. It can amount to 18 kg per day in this period. Besides the produced quantity of milk, the quality of the milk is also important.

The quality is influenced by the condition of the mare. The milk of a mare in poor condition will contain less fatty material and crude proteins than milk of a fat mare. These fatty materials and proteins supply energy and material for cell growth.

The need for proteins of a high biological value, as well as for calcium, phosphor, zinc, manganese, vitamin A and vitamin D3 increases. To meet the increased requirement, the mare needs an energy rich ration during lactation, with amongst others, a high percentage of vegetable oils and high-quality proteins. Further the mineral- and trace element requirement should be met. The basic food mostly consists out of a breeding mix. Besides providing the correct quantity the mutual proportions have also to be in balance.

An example of a feeding schedule for a 500 kg mare is presented in the table below (Note: horses with different weight have different requirements!).


The foal has to learn how to eat concentrate from the 1st month onwards. This can be done by providing the foal small amounts of concentrate gradually. In this way the digestive system is adapted to concentrates in the diet. In addition, introducing concentrates in the foals diet facilitates weaning. An optimal feed schedule for a foal depends on factors such as race, lineage, nutrition (quality), housing and constitution. In practice we mostly start from mean values. Research has shown that foals up to an age of 12 months can efficiently use high energetic feeds (a lot of fats and proteins). After this period the caretakers should pay attention that the animal does not get too fat and thus bones and joints that are still in full development are not too much under stress. From 12 months of age onwards the foals should be given less concentrate in order to slow down the growing speed. This reduction can be compensated by giving more roughage and extra minerals/vitamins to favour bone formation.


The nutritive need increases with 35% during the last 3 months of gestation. Therefore an energy rich ration should be given in the last three months of gestation.

From 1 to 3 months after birth 10 kg breeding mix. In the first month of lactation possibly half a kilo of breeding mix can be replaced by half a kilo of artificial colostrum of soy to achieve sufficient weight of crude protein.

From 4 to 6 months after birth 8,5 kg breeding mix and in the weaning period 4 kg. Besides this, also approx. 4 kg of hay every day.

From 4 to 6 months after birth 8,5 kg breeding mix and in the weaning period 4 kg. Besides this, also approx. 4 kg of hay every day.

During weaning it is wise to switch over to the maintenance ration (diet) so that the milk production decreases and udder inflammation can be prevented.



Milk-production mare (kg-day)

artificial colostrum when mare gives no milk litres/day number of feeds

Concentrate/roughage/supplements (per day)

1st day9-103-5(5-12)If desired: colostrum preparation

2 weeks105-8(5-7)No supplementary nutrition

4 weeks148-15(4-5)1 kg starter

6 weeks1615(3)1,5 kg starter

8 weeks1715(3)2 kg starter

10 weeks1815(3)2,5 kg starter

12 weeks1615(3)3 kg starter + 2 kg hay

14 weeks1415(2-3)" "

16 weeks1210-12(2)" "

18 weeks1110(1)" "

20 weeks910(1)" + 2,5 kg hay

22 weeks810(1)" "

24 weeks710(1)" "


6-8 months10(1)2 kg starter, 2 kg breeding mix, 2 kg hay; increase to:

8-12 months---5 kg breeding concentrate, 3 kg hay, 100 g CAVALOR protein

12-24 months---2 kg breeding concentrate, hay unlimited, 100 g CAVALOR protein

12-24 months---2 kg breeding concentrate, hay unlimited, 100 g CAVALOR protein

24-30 months---1,5 kg breeding concentrate, hay unlimited, 100 g CAVALOR protein

30-36 months---1 kg breeding concentrate, hay unlimited, 100 g CAVALOR protein*

If light work is done with the horse at an age less than 36 months (e.g. carry a saddle) more concentrate should be given. At the age of 36 months the feeding schedule of adult horses can be applied to the foal.

Growth rate

In the development of the foal differences in growth rates occur. Differences in growth rate due to feeding management are caused by the protein/energy ratio in the feed, the mineral level in the diet and the method of feeding. Small differences in growth rate are normal. Experienced breeders take care that the switch over in rations is carried out gradually. By this method the horse will develop to a young horse in a more balanced way. Balanced nutrition reduces the risk on bone problems.

During normal development of a foal there are two characteristic periods of growth stagnation, around the 3rd month and round the weaning period. At weaning the foal is at risk because it leaves the familiar surroundings of the mother and switches over from mother's milk or artificial colostrum to concentrate. The digestive mechanism of the foal has to adapt to this new situation. There is even a chance of malnutrition. To adapt the foal to a concentrate diet it is recommended to feed the foal from the 1st month onwards gradually more and more concentrate. Special concentrates ('foal starter') are commercially available which are especially composed for young horses. The concentrate should be well digestible, for example with flaky grains, and very palatable so that the foal likes to eat it. The "foal starter" should also contain milk products, being the most important source of nutrition at this age. A percentage of soy should make sure that no weaning diarrhoea occurs.

Source : Cavalor Equine Info Center