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Ask the Veterinarian Help Your Foal Grow with Proper Nutrition


Q: What are your recommendations for feeding foals? When do they need to start getting their own grain, and how do we know how much to feed?

A: 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 have a profound affect on its health and soundness for the rest of its life.

It is normal for foals to begin sharing a few bites of their dam’s hay and grain as early as a week old. However, by eight to ten weeks of age, mare’s milk and a few bites of mom’s dinner may not adequately meet the foal’s nutritional needs, depending on the desired growth rate an owner wants for a foal. As the foal’s dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and forage, your role in providing the proper nutrition increases in importance. Following are guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help you meet the young horse’s nutritional needs:

1. Provide high quality roughage (hay and pasture) free choice.

2. Supplement with a high quality, properly balanced grain concentrate at weaning, or earlier if more rapid rates of growth are desired.

3. Start by feeding one percent of a foal’s body weight per day (i.e., one pound of feed for each 100 pounds of body weight), or one pound of feed per month of age.

4. Weigh and adjust the feed ration based on growth and fitness. A weight tape can help you approximate the foal’s size.

5. Foals have small stomachs, so divide the daily ration into two or three feedings.

6. Make sure feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, energy and protein. Most quality commercial feeds that are marketed for mares and foals will be nutritionally balanced for a growing animal.

7. Use a creep feeder or separate the foal from the mare so it can eat its own ration.
Try to avoid group creep feeding situations, since herd dynamics come into play at a young age and could cause certain foals to get more or less than they need.

8. Remove uneaten portions between feedings.

9. Do not overfeed. Overweight foals are more prone to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).

10. Provide unlimited fresh, clean water.

11. Provide opportunity for abundant exercise.

12. Don’t forget the mare’s nutrition! During heavy lactation, many broodmares begin to lose condition and will put energy towards making milk instead of maintaining their own health. Keep your mare at a healthy weight all year so that she can provide good nutrition to this year’s foal and be in optimal shape for rebreeding.

The reward for providing excellent nutrition and conscientious care will be a healthy foal that grows into a sound and useful horse. Talk with your equine veterinarian for more information about providing proper nutrition for your foal.
This article is partially reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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