Reading time 5 minutes

Prior to deciding on whether to breed a foal from your mare, you should consider the mother-to-be’s current diet and gut health in general, as that will have a decisive influence on the foal’s health for the rest of its life.

Why is the mother’s diet and intestinal health important for the foal?

Horses obtain most of their energy from the plant fibre cellulose, which is broken down in the large intestine by appropriate microorganisms.
Energy is released in the form of volatile fatty acids or their salts, i.e. propionate, butyrate and acetate. These are absorbed via the intestinal mucosa and channelled directly into the organism’s energy metabolism.
This makes the horse unique, among non-ruminating mammals. As most mammals obtain their energy from sugar/starch, protein, or fat, all of which are digested in the small intestine. Horses only require small amounts of these nutrients.

The gut is the mother of health

The focus of a horse appropriate diet is therefore the large intestine and the microorganisms living in it, which are referred to as the microbiome (or commonly known as intestinal gut flora).
They have a considerable influence not only on the nutrient utilisation, but also on the hormone balance, behaviour, and overall metabolism of the horse.

White Lippizzaner mares with dark foals in a meadow
Foals build up their intestinal gut flora in the first 4-5 months of life by regularly eating the mare’s faeces.
© Adobe Stock / Reimar

The intestine must be colonised first

Foals are born with a ‘sterile’ large intestine, they do not have an intestinal gut flora.
They must build a gut flora in the first 4-5 months of life by regularly eating their mother’s faeces.

Normally, around 50% of the dry matter in a horse’s faeces consists of microorganisms, the intestinal gut flora.
This means that the mother’s faeces contain a lot of microbiomes, which can colonise the colon of the growing foal after ingestion. It contains the microorganisms that the foal needs to be able to optimally utilise the feed it ingests in its living environment. This is because the composition of the microbiome always depends on the feed available at the time.

In nature, only a mare with a well-functioning intestinal gut flora that can obtain and utilise sufficient nutrients and energy from her feed intake is able to become pregnant and carry a foal.
Mares with a disturbed intestinal gut flora may still be able to fulfil their own nutritional needs but won’t come into season or conceive as they can’t produce enough energy or make enough nutrients available to nourish a growing foetus.

A mare with a disturbed intestinal gut flora will therefore not reproduce in nature and thus not pass the problem on to her offspring.
Only a mare with a healthy intestinal gut flora can conceive a foal and the foal will then adapt the identical microorganisms for its intestinal gut flora from its mother’s faeces, this will enable the foal to optimally utilise the food intake available in their living space.

After 4-5 months, the foal then has its own stable microbiome in the large intestine and thus becomes independent of its mother’s milk, as it can now obtain its own energy from the plant fibres in its roughage. This is the ideal situation.

Incorrect feeding of the mare = dysbiosis in the offspring

If the mare already has a disturbed intestinal gut flora or suboptimal intestinal flora, the foal will also ingest the wrong microorganisms from the mother’s faeces from day one, which will then colonise the foal’s large intestine.
The same applies if the foal must be given antibiotics in the first few months of its life. This leads to die off of the desirable intestinal microbes and colonisation of the wrong microorganisms in the large intestine, it is unlikly to be reversibel.

A mare with a disturbed intestinal gut flora will therefore not reproduce in nature and thus not pass the problem on to her offspring.
Only a mare with a healthy intestinal gut flora can conceive a foal and the foal will then adapt the identical microorganisms for its intestinal gut flora from its mother’s faeces, this will enable the foal to optimally utilise the food intake available in their living space.

Disorder of the intestinal flora cause long-term illness

In the long term, a disturbed intestinal gut flora always leads to excessive stress on the metabolism and therefore susceptibility to metabolic diseases. The health of the foal therefore begins with the health of the mother’s large intestine.
Only a mare that is (and has been) fed and kept in an equine appropriate manner and therefore has optimal gut microbial health in the large intestines is able to pass a healthy gut flora on to her foal.
This is essential for the foal’s life into adulthood and throughout its entire being.

..

Team Sanoanimal