By Josie Hahn

 

mare for web

Prepare your mare for breeding season early. Photo by Breanne Hill

The horse has become a domesticated animal. It’s easy to think of them only in terms of living in our barns and pastures, relying on us to dictate and keep their feeding, vaccinating and breeding schedules. But in truth, the equine body still operates best when it is in sync with the natural rhythms of Mother Nature, and this is especially true for the broodmare.

If you’d like to increase your mare’s chances for conception this breeding season, pay attention to her diet and adjust her nutritional needs to mimic how she would be eating if she were left to fend for herself in the wild. These eating “seasons” can manipulate a mare’s body into reproductive progression and give you an idea of when she will be best prepared to conceive. This, in turn, will help insure that she settles into a pregnancy with as little trouble as possible.

To begin with, during late fall and early winter, wild horses begin to experience a shortness of food due to the falling temperatures and dying vegetation. This causes mares to tap into their stores of body fat for energy. Their weight begins to decline and continues to do so as the days become shorter and colder.

A wild mare’s nutritional losses will be apparent until spring appears. With it comes warmer temperatures, more sunshine and, of course, a renewal of available vegetation. The mare has plenty to eat again and, instead of fighting for survival, her body can prepare for reproduction.

Many experts believe that this increase in food and warmth helps mares better settle into pregnancy. Several breeders have taken this philosophy to heart and choose to manipulate their mares’ environments and feeding schedules in order to duplicate conditions in the wild and achieve a higher conception rate.

Preparing domesticated mares to be in this gaining condition during breeding should begin 60 to 70 days before conception is attempted. It is not unusual for mares to need to lose 60 to 100 pounds (preferably no more than one pound a day) during this time in an effort to experience a wild horse’s “winter” and get into proper breeding condition.

The general recommendation is that the average 1,000-pound mare be maintained on no less than 10 pounds of good quality hay per day. The idea is to get the mare to a state where she is free of excess deposits of fat along the backbone, around and over the shoulder and under the skin, and there should be a light indention in the rib area where two or three ribs will barely be visible.

Do not let your mare become lighter than this, both for her health and because of the length of time that would be necessary to return her to a positive nutritional condition for breeding. Remember, it is not possible to turn the nutritional state of a mare around overnight, and she will continue to loose weight for approximately two more weeks after the beginning of a diet of increased nutrient intake.

Once a mare has reached her optimum “winter” state, you must begin to bring her into “spring.” Ideally, she’ll need to gain back the lost weight at a rate of about a pound a day. If pastures have not yet begun to produce, supplemental feeding of hay will be necessary.

Individual mares will vary greatly in the amount of feed required to gain weight at this rate, but as a rule of thumb, gradually increasing up to 15 pounds of hay a day, and 6 to 10 pounds of grain a day should provide the proper ration for the average 1000-pound mare.

The transition from “winter” to “full spring” should prompt your mare’s body to become biologically ready to reproduce, and this will increase her chances for a successful pregnancy when it’s time for her to be bred.

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