La Sard
Dnes je: 30. 11. 2021 svátek má: Ondřej
 
NUTRITION - FOALING, LACTATION

The smell of pre-spring bedding, a stuffy stable, the quiet jangling and contented breathing. When waiting for a new member of the herd and of the family too, who at first resembles a wet drunken spider more than a horse, this sort of surrounding can repeat itself until chronic lack of sleep settles in. Nobody else except the mother-to-be knows the time or the day. For most of them foaling is a highly private matter in which nobody, particularly humans, has any business, let alone interferes. And so she likes to choose the moment when the curious, worried and excited human is conveniently nowhere near. Not even when you're convinced that the love between the two of you is mutual. You just can't see into melons and mares.

Foaling, one of the most magical moments in the lives of horses and people, is an important milestone which brings many changes. And some of the most important ones are the significant changes in nutritional needs and therefore the necessity of re-thinking the diet.

The foaling and post-foaling period is one of the most important times in the foal's development and the dam's life. Immediately after giving birth it is necessary to check the size of the placenta and to see if it is complete. In case of incertitude it has to be stored away a seen by a vet as soon as possible. Even a small bit held in the mare's uterus means serious problems for her linked with severe inflammation of the uterus followed by sepsis (blood poisoning). That is often fatal for the mare, unlike for a cow.
The placenta also needs to be removed from the mare's reach so prevent her from eating it. The placenta does contain large amounts of effective substances and minerals is an easily absorbable form, furthermore wild herbivores also often eat it for safety reasons, so that a predator isn't informed of easy prey. Nonetheless the risks of digestive problems after consuming the placenta in standard breeding facilities are too large to let the mare fulfil this instinct.

After a successful birth the first priority is suckling. The foal MUST DRINK IN THE FIRST TWO HOURS after foaling. Even in the case of the mother's death, although it might seem unethical to some, it is necessary to milk her for the colostrum and administer that to the foal in a bottle or with a syringe. The reason is the rapid reduction of the small intestine mucous membrane's capacity to absorb imunoglobulins (protein with antibodies) from the first milk, and these are vital to the development of the foal's immunity system.
In the vast majority of cases however nature is good and powerful. The foal stands up within three quarters of an hour or an hour and is capable of standing for at least a little while. It also starts looking for mum's teats straight away, often firstly between her front legs. Less patient carers may help, but nature knows best and can help herself.
The colostrum, or first milk, differs from mature milk primarily in its significantly higher content of nutritional and effective bodies, it's thicker in consistency, yellow and bitter-salty. It also has slightly laxative effects that help pass the protective content of the foal's intestine - the meconium. That is black in colour and is the foal's first "poo". It is recommended to check during the first day that the foal has passed it to make sure that its bowel is passable and functioning properly.

During the first three days the colostrum gradually transforms into mature milk which is white and slightly sweet in taste. The quality and amount of the produced milk can be found out using the foal. If it's fresh and happy, everything is most likely as it should be. The first scare comes between the foal's seventh and eleventh day of life when it suddenly gets diarrhoea. There is nothing to worry about, it is a common physiological phenomenon. A mare on heat produces milk of different composition and the foal's digestion reacts to it by passing diarrhoea. For a breeder of a healthy mare after a smooth foaling this is a sign that he can have his mare covered again.
If we just realise how high the production of milk is and add the demands for proper ovulation and new gestation, we can appreciate how significantly the mare's diet must change.

Average milk production of mares at 500 kg:
Month of lactation 1 2 3 4 5 6
Production of milk in l 14,8 17,4 17,8 16,7 15,7 12,7

From the table it is clear that the mare is a very powerful producer of milk. Furthermore, her udder is nowhere near the dimensions of a cow's udder, actually it doesn't look any bigger than that of a goat. The reason is that the foal suckles in very short intervals almost incessantly 24 hours a day. Any separation a heavy psychological stress for both the mare and the foal and it can also cause complication in the secretion (production and passing) of milk.

Lactation is nutritionally the most demanding period of mare's life that is equalled only by intensive physical work of race horses. The nutrition must reflect this fact. The foundation is, as always, good-quality fodder. Ideally, that is taken care of with good pasture or at least unlimited access to good-quality hay or haylage. Hard feed, unlike during gestation, is not only symbolic. Balanced feed mixes made for this category are good, for economical reasons or orthodox conservative breeding traditions the classical diet - oats, barley, bran and so on - is also a commonly used. Because the performance of the mare is really at its peak, the amount of hard feed must correspond. A mare weighing 500 kg will eat 5 to 8 kg. Of course this amount cannot be given all at once, but in doses of a maximum of 2 kg. The mare uses up the most nutriments at the peak of lactation, in the second and third month of the foal's life. At this time, albeit a qualitatively and quantitively sufficient diet, she loses some weight. If the reduction in weight is more than 25 to 30 kg it is necessary to find the cause and remove it.
At the end of lactation, when weaning off the foal, we must sharply cut the amounts of hard feed to prevent further production of milk and inflammation of the udder (mastitis). Limiting the consumption of water, recommended by some breeders, is too stressful for the organism and is unsuitable.

Apart from drinking milk, its only, later main, source of nutrition, the foal begins to inspect and taste everything that his mum eats. As a curious youngster it tastes also things mum would never eat, therefore it is necessary to remove everything the foal could lick, suck, chew and swallow out of its reach. On the other hand, the seemingly disgusting coprophagy (eating of excrements) is important and useful because the foal is filling its digestive tract with necessary micro flora (bacteria, yeast, fungi, viruses and protozoa) that has been verified by mum's intestines.
If the mare has enough milk and the foal is growing well and gaining weight, it doesn't need to receive any special feed. However, for reasons of gradual adaptation to solid feed, the foal needs to have access to what the mare is eating. Either to the through, if the foal can reach into it and the mare isn't chasing it away, or to its own little bowl. When being weaned, a healthy foal should put on about 180 kg from its birth, therefore it must gain a kilo every day.
Ing. Miroslav Drásal



  
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