A healthy foal will grow rapidly, gaining in height, weight and strength almost before your eyes. From birth to age two, a young horse can achieve 90 percent or more of its full adult size, sometimes putting on as many as three pounds per day. Feeding young horses is a balancing act, as the nutritional start a foal gets can profoundly affect its health and soundness for the rest of its life.
At eight to ten weeks of age, a mare’s milk alone may not adequately meet the foal’s nutritional needs, depending on the desired growth rate and owner’s wants for a foal. As the foal’s dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and forage, your role in providing the proper nutrition gains in importance. Following are guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help you meet the young horse’s nutritional needs:
- Provide high-quality roughage (hay and pasture) free choice.
- Supplement with high-quality, properly balanced grain concentrate at weaning or earlier if more rapid rates of gain are desired.
- Start by feeding one percent on a foal’s body weight per day (i.e., one pound of feed for every 100 pounds of body weight) or one pound of feed per month of age.
- Weigh and adjust the feed rations based on growth and fitness. A weight tape can help you approximate a foal’s size.
- Foals have small stomachs, so divide the daily rations into two to three feedings.
- Make sure feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, energy, and protein.
- Use a creep feeder or feed the foal separate from the mare so it can eat its own ration. Try to avoid group creep feeding situations.
- Remove uneaten portions between feedings.
- Do not overfeed. Overweight foals are more prone to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).
- Provide unlimited fresh, clean water.
- Provide opportunities for abundant exercise.
The reward for providing excellent nutrition and conscientious care will be a healthy foal that grows into a sound and useful horse. For more information about providing proper nutrition for your foal, talk with your equine veterinarian and ask for the “Foal Growth” education brochure provided by the AAEP in conjunction with Education Partners Bayer Animal Health and Purina Mills. Additional information is available on the AAEP’s horse health Web site.
Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.