Fetal Programming

Content Sponsored by Bluebonnet Feeds

If you have a pregnant mare or are considering breeding your mare this year, we’d like to take a moment to discuss a concept called fetal programming.

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I know this sounds like a term that belongs in a science lab rather than a breeding operation, but it's a concept that is incredibly important to the long-term health of your future foal.

Most people don’t realize a developing fetus can adapt to external factors while in the mother’s womb, and those adaptations have a life-long effect on the baby.

Research shows nutrition of the mother during pregnancy has a direct effect on her offspring later in life. Life-altering conditions such as impaired memory, hypertension and reduced immune function are just a few things that may be created by poor nutrition in the womb.   

Take a moment to consider how some of these conditions such as anxiety and impaired memory could affect your future foal. If a horse in training has impaired cognitive function, they may not retain the training lesson, and it may feel like you start over at square one every single day.

Anxiety or complete mental breakdowns in a horse are incredibly costly, especially when you consider how much you've invested in time, money, and training to get a horse to a certain level of competition. Few people realize that nutrition of the mother can play such a large role in the fetus’s life after birth. 

An all too common practice is to confirm pregnancy in a mare, then turn her out to pasture or place her on a hay-only diet for the next several months. During this period of gestation where the mare is “out being a horse,” the fetus may be in an "under-nutrition” state due to a lack of certain nutrients.

The common practice of starting a mare on grain just before (or shortly after) she gives birth creates a mismatch between pre and postnatal environment. When there is deprived nutrition during pregnancy followed by adequate nutrition after birth, catch-up growth occurs in the foal which may cause glucose intolerance, obesity and laminitis later in life.

As horse owners, we need to take responsibility for the mare’s nutrition program from the day of conception. We cannot continue to wait until the third trimester to provide proper nutrition to the mare. Bluebonnet Feeds recommends feeding your broodmares, donor mares, and recipient mares a fully fortified feed such as Intensify Growth & Development to ensure proper levels of protein, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins are available to the fetus from conception to birth.

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Tags: Mare and Foaling, feeding, nutrition, Proper feeding, The Bluebonnet Scoop, Bluebonnet Feeds, Horse nutrition, fetal programming, gestational nutrition