Hi there! Today, I want to talk to you about the unique nutritional needs of foals from birth to weaning. When foals are born, they weigh an average of 10% of their mature weight and stand at 60% of their mature height. This means that a tremendous amount of skeletal development has already taken place during gestation. The foundation of this development is primarily made up of protein, minerals, and water, all of which are supplied by the mother through her diet.

Over the first few months following birth, the nutrition of the mare will continue to impact the health and development of her foal. By six months of age, most foals will reach nearly 50% of their mature weight and 80% of their mature height. To support this growth and development, it is crucial to provide suckling foals with access to a nutritionally balanced full feed early in their development. Waiting until weaning to supply supplemental feed can slow their development and even increase the risk of developmental abnormalities.

Unique Nutritional Needs of Foals

When foals are born, they weigh an average of 10% of their mature weight and stand at 60% of their mature height. This rapid growth is due to the significant amount of skeletal development that takes place during gestation. This development is primarily made up of protein, minerals, and water, all of which are supplied through the mare’s diet. The nutrition of the mare during and after pregnancy plays a crucial role in the health and development of her foal.

By six months of age, most foals will reach nearly 50% of their mature weight and 80% of their mature height. This kind of growth and development requires a steady supply of good nutrition during the first two to three months of the foal’s life. The primary nutrition source for foals is their mother’s milk. Mares produce an incredible amount of milk, three to four percent of their body weight each day. Foals nurse approximately 70 times a day.

While milk is a great source of nutrition, it alone will not support optimal growth and development of the foal after the age of two months. Even with mare’s milk and access to lush pasture, foals still fall short in meeting their nutritional requirements for important nutrients such as protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals like copper and zinc. To properly support the foal’s growth and development, it is important to provide them with access to a nutritionally balanced full feed early in their development.

The Role of Mother’s Milk in Foals’ Nutrition

Mares produce an incredible amount of milk, approximately three to four percent of their body weight each day. Foals nurse an estimated 70 times a day. This frequent nursing is necessary for the foal to receive all the nutrients they need for growth and development. However, by the time the foal is two months old, milk alone will not be enough to support their optimal growth and development.

While mare’s milk is a valuable source of nutrition, it still falls short in meeting the foal’s requirements for important nutrients such as protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals like copper and zinc. Even with access to lush pasture, the combination of mare’s milk and pasture is not enough to meet the growing foal’s nutritional needs. Therefore, it is essential to provide suckling foals with a nutritionally balanced full feed early in their development.

Introduction to Supplemented Feeding for Suckling Foals

Delaying supplementary feeding until weaning can have potential risks for foals. Waiting until weaning to provide supplemental feed to the foal can slow their development and increase the risk of developmental abnormalities. Therefore, it is important to introduce supplemented feeding for suckling foals early on.

There are various good supplementary feeds available that can be cooked at home for suckling foals. These feeds, such as Purina Altium Growth Only 300 and Strategy GX, contain high-quality protein to supply essential amino acids like lysine. They are also fortified with the necessary vitamins and minerals in balanced amounts to support the foal’s development.

When selecting a supplementary feed for suckling foals, it is important to look for key nutritional content such as protein, minerals, vitamins, and energy. These nutrients are crucial for the foal’s growth and development, and a balanced feed will ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients.

Transitioning Foals to Supplementary Feeds

Foals will typically start showing an interest in feeds within the first couple of weeks of life. They may not initially eat a significant amount and are simply mimicking their mother’s behavior. However, as they get older, they will gradually eat more. The goal of transitioning foals to supplementary feeds is to make up the difference between what mare’s milk is providing and what the foal needs to grow to its full genetic potential.

A good rule of thumb for feed intake in suckling foals is to feed one pound of a high-quality full feed per month of age per day while the foal is still nursing the mare. For example, a two-month-old foal would be eating two pounds of feed per day. It is important to avoid free-choice feeding situations as foals can easily overeat and gain weight too quickly, which can put stress on their immature skeletons.

The ultimate goal of supplementary feeding is to support a smooth and steady growth rate through weaning. By feeding the recommended amounts of a high-quality foal feed, foals can be successfully weaned at four months of age. This approach is not only cost-effective for the mare owner but also ensures the foal’s nutritional needs are accurately met after weaning.

The Risks of Allowing Foals to Overeat

Allowing foals to overeat can have several risks and health implications. Factors that increase a foal’s risk of overeating include an exceptionally good milk-producing mare and free-choice feeding situations. Foals that overeat can begin to gain weight too fast and put undue stress on their immature skeletons.

Rapid weight gain in foals can have serious health implications, such as orthopedic issues and developmental abnormalities. It is important to monitor foals closely to ensure they are not overeating and adjust their feed portions accordingly. Providing a nutritionally balanced feed in the appropriate amounts is essential for supporting healthy growth and development in foals.

Ideal Feeding Routines for Mares and Foals

Feeding mares and foals individually is the most precise way to ensure they receive the exact amount of feed they need at each meal. This approach allows for tailored nutrition and prevents any foal from getting shorted on their portion. However, not all farms have the labor or facilities to feed mares and foals individually. In such cases, alternative feeding methods can be utilized.

Using a creek feeder that foals can access but mares cannot is one option for ensuring individual feeding. Another option is to group feed mares and foals together in the same trough, with careful consideration of the age of the foals. Group feeding situations should ideally involve grouping mares and foals by the age of the foal, allowing each to be offered feed in appropriate amounts for their age. Regardless of the feeding situation, the recommended one pound per month of age per day for suckling foals will support a smooth and steady growth rate through weaning.

Weaning Foals and Transitioning to Solo Diets

The ideal age to wean a foal is around four months of age. Weaning provides cost and nutritional benefits for both mares and foals. Once foals are weaned, mares can transition to a maintenance-level diet, which is often less than half of a lactation ration. Weaning also allows the foal to have complete control over their diet and ensures their nutritional needs are fully met.

Following weaning, feeding rates for foals should be gradually increased by an additional two to three pounds per day. Feeding rates for weanlings should take into consideration the recommended amounts in the feeding directions, the quality of hay or pasture available, and the developmental goals for the foal. Gradually increasing feeding rates allows the weanling to adjust to the new diet and supports their ongoing growth and development. Adjustments to the mare’s diet should also be made post-weaning to reflect their reduced nutritional requirements.

Monitoring and Adjusting Weanlings’ Diets

Monitoring the body condition of weanlings is the best tool for determining proper feeding rates. Proper growth in weanlings should ideally build bone first, then muscle, and then fat. If weanlings begin to gain excess condition and become overweight, it is important to gradually reduce their feed ration.

In certain cases, a concentrated ration balancer, such as Purina Enrich Plus, may be the right choice for weanlings on free-choice hay or pasture who are getting too fat while eating the recommended amount of a full feed. Choosing the appropriate feed and feeding at the recommended rates ensures that weanlings steadily grow to meet, but not exceed, their genetic potential for development.

Recognizing and Preventing Developmental Abnormalities

Poor nutrition in foals can lead to various developmental abnormalities. Common developmental abnormalities linked to poor nutrition include orthopedic issues, angular limb deformities, and contracted tendons. It is important to recognize the nutritional and behavioral signs that may indicate potential abnormalities in foals.

A balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients, plays a vital role in preventing developmental issues in foals. Providing a nutritionally balanced feed with appropriate protein, minerals, vitamins, and energy supports healthy growth and development. Regular monitoring of the foal’s condition and development allows for early detection of any potential abnormalities and the necessary adjustments to their diet.

A Final Word on Feeding Foals

Choosing appropriate feeds and establishing proper feeding rates are crucial for the growth and development of foals. Providing a nutritionally balanced full feed early in their development and gradually adjusting their diet as they transition to solo diets supports their genetic potential and prevents developmental abnormalities.

Consistent monitoring of a foal’s condition and development allows for timely adjustments in feeding rates and ensures their nutritional needs are being met. By following guidelines for setting and adjusting feeding rates, breeders and owners can support the healthy growth and development of foals. It is also important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for personalized advice and guidance on feeding foals.