If you have a mare that is due to foal this spring/summer then you need to be thinking about how you are going to feed her and her unborn foal over the next few months and then forward in to the crucial lactation period.

Over an eleven month gestation the nutritional needs of the mare vary greatly. Feeding strategies during the last three months of pregnancy (final trimester) and the first three months of lactation are crucial to the development of the foal and for the health and rebreeding potential of the mare.

The goal is for the mare to be in fit, but not fat, condition for every stage, so regular condition scoring is of great importance. It is also crucial that no matter how little or great the amount fed that the mare’s requirements for protein, minerals, vitamins and trace elements are always met.

Late gestation

Whilst the pregnant mare does not have any greater requirement’s than usual during the first two thirds of pregnancy; during the last trimester of pregnancy (from nine months to foaling), the nutrient requirements of the foetus and, therefore the mare, increase dramatically.

During these last three months the foetus will gain 60% of its final birth weight and be growing at a staggering 350-450g/day!

A point also to be aware of is that 90% of foetal bone development takes place during this period so calcium and phosphorus requirements also increase dramatically. Compared to early gestation, energy and crude protein requirements increase by up to 20% and 30% respectively.

Even if your mare is a very good doer some sort of supplementary feeding will be necessary, and stud balancers or mineral supplements designed for breeding mares are ideal for the good doer. Now would be the time to consider using specialised stud feeds & supplements.

Feeding for the future

Many ‘stud feeds’ are formulated with thoroughbreds in mind so ask advice before selecting which feed would be best for your mare and unborn foal’s situation.

There are coarse mixes, nuts and balancers on the market that are designed to be fed at lower levels but still provide all the important nutrients (protein, calcium, phosphorous, vitamins & trace elements etc) which would be more appropriate for good doers.

You can also use your usual feed and just top up with a stud balancer or premix at this crucial time, this is often an easier option all round. There are a few good reasons for starting to feed your mare at this stage (apart from the obvious increased nutrient needs of the foetus).

During the later stages of pregnancy the digestive capacity of your mare can decrease due to the sheer size of the foal and uterus restricting space. Her intake, therefore, will be lower which means that what she does eat needs to be nutrient dense and this is where hard feeding comes in.

Also it gives the mare time to adjust to the new feeding system gradually before lactation is upon her. Remember all changes should be made gradually; the last thing you want is colic in a heavily pregnant mare.


The first three months of lactation impose the heaviest nutrient demand on the mare, who is eating for maintenance of herself and milk production. Peak milk production happens at 2-3months after birth at approximately 3% of body weight and nutrient requirements increase dramatically.

Energy and crude protein requirements increase by 75-100% whilst calcium and phosphorus requirements increase by three-fold and two and a half-fold respectively.

Also remember that water is very important for lactating animals, they cannot produce milk without it!

Lactation feeding

Please remember not to feed any more than 2kg per feed (preferably less) and the more feeds that can be fed per day the better. If your mare is thin going into lactation there will be very little improvement you can make whilst she is producing milk.

Everything she gets above maintenance will be partitioned towards milk production. If milk production and maintenance use up more energy than your mare is taking in then she will start to milk off her back, which basically means she uses her own body reserves to make up for the shortfall in nutrition.

If she loses a lot of condition during this time you will almost certainly encounter rebreeding problems.

Condition scoring therefore becomes crucial during this phase. In late lactation (from four months onwards), the mare’s requirements drop considerably as milk production drops. At this stage any extra feeding can be cut by half and then dropped away gradually to weaning.


Milk provides nutrients for the foal but shouldn’t be relied upon entirely. The dry matter of milk is high up to 12 hours after birth and then drops significantly. In fact it has been shown that from one month after foaling the energy intake from milk becomes inadequate and that protein is very much low for the majority of lactation.

It is therefore advisable to start to creep feed from about a month old to ensure that the foal is receiving all the goodies it requires.

If your mare is on the thin side it will also help her as the foal will start to drink less milk the more feed it consumes.

As with all feeding, don’t overfeed foals and youngsters as this can lead to bone development problems, but this is a whole other subject on its own so please seek advice.

Feeding the brood mare is not a complicated business. Condition scoring is important and feeding should be adjusted accordingly to avoid over-feeding in pregnancy and under-feeding during lactation.

If in any doubt as to what feed(s) would best suit your mare and foal please do speak to a qualified nutritionist.