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Colostrum Quality: Nutrition of Mares KeyBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 19, 2015

Foals should stand and nurse within one hour after birth. Vigilant foaling attendants consider their duties incomplete until the foal has lapped up colostrum, that life-saving golden elixir. Foals depend on colostrum rich in infection-fighting antibodies, called immunoglobulins or IgGs, and other important ingredients to thrive in the first days of life.

“Visually, good-quality colostrum is yellow to gold, thick, and sticky, whereas poor-quality colostrum is watery and more white or opaque,” advises Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., Kentucky Equine Research nutritionist.

Feeding broodmares appropriately during gestation and keeping them in optimal body condition, not too fat or thin, during pregnancy certainly play important roles in the quality of colostrum. That said, other dietary factors also impact colostrum quality, and scientific evidence supports the use of several supplements to boost colostrum quality:

1. Vitamin E. Mares fed a grain mix containing 80 IU/kg vitamin E per day were supplemented with an additional 160 IU/kg of vitamin E. Within two weeks of foaling, the mare’s circulating levels of IgG were significantly increased. In addition, presuckled colostrum of vitamin E-supplemented mares also had significantly higher IgG levels than unsupplemented mares. Nursing foals had blood concentrations of IgG, IgM, and IgA, all different and important types of immunoglobulins, that reflected those of the ingested colostrum.

2. Omega-3 fatty acids. In one study of supplementation with 454 g of a marine-derived omega-3 fatty acid [with 10.4 g of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 8.6 g eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) per mare daily], supplemented mares had increased levels of DHA both in their bloodstreams and milk. Those increased levels of EPA and DHA were mirrored in the foals up to three weeks postpartum.

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3. Supplement with yeast. As previously reported, one group of researchers reported that supplementing pregnant mares with live Saccharomyces cerevisiae ss. boulardii CNCM-1079 increased IgG levels in colostrum.

Crandell adds, “Plan early what kind of feeds or supplements you want to offer your mare because the nutritional status of the mare can impact the health of the foal for months before parturition.”

In addition to diet, don’t forget to ensure your mare is properly vaccinated and is housed in the environment where the foal will be born several months before parturition. These tactics will ensure the colostrum is rich in immunoglobulins that will protect the foal against avoidable diseases (e.g., rabies, encephalitides) and disease-causing organisms that exist in the foal’s birthing environment.