"My mare’s due to foal at the end of the winter... "

"My mare’s due to foal at the end of the winter, she’s currently being fed hay and a concentrate feed, and is regularly turned-out in a paddock without grass, I don’t have the possibility of grass turn-out. What supplements should I give in order to improve the quality of her colostrum?"

The Reverdy answer

It is vital that the new-born foal rapidly drinks (within 12 hours following birth) his mothers’ colostrum. Indeed, at birth, the foal's immune system is immature. This means that it is not yet able to fight effectively against pathogens. Colostrum is the “first milk” of the dam and composed of:

  • High concentrations of nutriments that are necessary to the new-born foal. Colostrum is thus richer in vitamins (notably those that are unable to be transferred effectively through the placenta, such as vitamins E and A), minerals, trace-elements and omega 3 fatty acids, than milk.
  • Complex sugars, called oligosaccharides, their role is to feed and stimulate the bacteria of the intestinal microbiota. Correct development of the foal’s intestinal microbiota is in effect an essential element in the fight against intestinal diseases.
  • Antibodies, that the foal is able to absorb in the vast majority within the 12 hours that follow birth. After 24 hours, the foal’s digestive system will no longer pass these molecules. Maternal antibodies will play a part in helping to protect the foal from pathogens during the first three months of his life.
  • Immune cells and molecules (called cytokines) favouring the development, the maturing and/or activation of the foal’s own immunity cells. These cells and molecules are undoubtedly absorbed rapidly after birth.

Which supplements can be given to a mare during the last month of gestation to improve the quality of colostrum?

  • Beta-carotene: Spring grass is particularly high in beta-carotene, which is the precursor of vitamin A. In the normal course of events, mares foal at the end of spring, thus they have had access to a grass very rich in beta-carotene, which plays a big part in reproduction, in the quality of the mare’s colostrum, as well in the foal’s immunity, growth and development. As beta-carotene cannot easily cross the placental barrier, colostrum is therefore the principal source for the new-born foal. Supplementing mares with beta-carotene in the 2 weeks that precede foaling leads to an increase of beta-carotene concentration in colostrum and in foals’ plasma1.
    We thus advise feeding a measure of REVERDY CAROTENE during the last month of gestation.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is also present in large amounts in fresh grass. It is however deteriorated in preserved fodder and cereals. This vitamin plays an important part in the immune function. Supplementing pregnant mares in natural vitamin E during the 4 weeks that precede foaling increases antibody as well as vitamin E concentrations in the blood of foals for at least for the time between their first feed of colostrum and the age of 3 days old2.
    In consequence we advise supplementing mares with a single measure of REVERDY NATURAL E in addition to REVERDY CAROTENE, or 2 measure of REVERDY NATURAL E in the absence of supplementation with REVERDY CAROTENE.
  • Beta-glucans: Beta-glucans are the cells walls of yeast that have the property of actually being able to stimulate the immune system (see January’s article). In the mare, intra-muscular injections of beta-glucans during the 4 to 6 weeks preceding foaling increased the number of antibodies present in colostrum and boosted the immune system of foals3. In the horse, no research has been undertaken on the effects on colostrum quality following oral supplementation of mares with beta-glucans. However in pigs, supplementing gestating sows with beta-glucans improved the health, as well as the development of the intestinal barrier in piglets.
    We advise supplementing mares with 1 measure of REVERDY IMMUNE during the final month of gestation.
  • Live yeast: : If every study undertaken on the effects on colostrum quality when orally supplementing the mare with live yeast at the end of pregnancy has not shown the same results, two French studies have demonstrated that daily supplementation with 7g of live yeast increased antibodies numbers in colostrum4, 5. Furthermore, it has been shown that supplementing mares with 7g of live yeast during the last week before foaling improved the texture of foals droppings during the first twenty days of life, and that these improvements were even more marked than when foals themselves were supplemented4. Improving colostrum quality in the mare, but also the texture of droppings thus has an important role in establishing a good healthy microbiota in the foal, which can notably participate in the fight against intestinal diseases in the foal.
    We therefore recommend supplementing the mare with 1 to 2 measures of REVERDY FLORA during the last months of gestation.

To find out more:

1. Kuhl, J. et al. Effects of oral supplementation with β-carotene on concentrations of β-carotene, vitamin A and α-tocopherol in plasma, colostrum and milk of mares and plasma of their foals and on fertility in mares. J. Anim. Physiol. Anim. Nutr. (Berl). 96,376–384 (2012).

2. Bondo, T. & Jensen, S. Administration of RRR-a-tocopherol to pregnant mares stimulates maternal IgG and IgM production in colostrum and enhances vitamin E and IgM status in foals. J. Anim. Physiol. Anim. Nutr. (Berl). 95, 214–222 (2011).

3. Krakowski, L. et al.. The effect of nonspecific immunostimulation of pregnant mares with 1,3/1,6 glucan and levamisole on the immunoglobulins levels in colostrum, selected indices of nonspecific cellular and humoral immunity in foals in neonatal and postnatal period. Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 68, 1–11 (1999).

4. Betsch, J. et al. Etude de la cinétique de l’installation de la flore du poulain et effets d’une levure vivante administrée à la jument ou au poulain nouveau-né. in 40ème Journée de la Recherche Equine 16–25 (Institut Français du Cheval et de l’Equitation, 2014).

5. Le Treut, Y., Betsch, J.-M., Sacy, A. & Chevaux, E. Effet d’un supplément nutritionnel riche en levures vivantes (Florequin®) sur la production d’IgG dans le colostrum de jument. in Congrès de l’Association Vétérinaire Equine Française (2013).