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Top Tips for Feeding Weanling Foals

Feeding weanling foals is an important consideration at this time of the year with most already weaned or about to be so.

We have already discussed feeding foals that are still under the mare and learnt how at six months of age, a horse can reach 84% of its mature height but only 46% of its mature weight. Foals will also increase their bone mineral content by about 10% between weaning and yearling stages.

Feeding during the developing stages of the horse’s life is a delicate balance and getting it right lays sound foundations for a sound and successful athletic career later in their lives.

The key areas to concentrate when feeding weanling foals on are good quality protein, for the amino acids required, and a perfect balance of vitamins and minerals. It is important to remember that the forage too must provide these elements. Feeding the best possible hay to the growing youngsters and pregnant mares will pay dividends in the longer term. Forage is the single most important part of the diet in any horse and weanlings are no exception.

When feeding weanling foals not destined for auction in the coming months, grass is the obvious forage choice. As the year progresses the grass quality will decline and all weanlings will need to be provided with hay or haylage. However, the sales bound weanlings are more stable based and so more dependent on good hay in the stable. This is easy to provide in theory but in practice many yearlings are slow to eat the hay or haylage provided. This may be due to the mainly grass diet that has been available to the mare and foal before weaning and that the foal has not developed an appetite for hay.

In cases of foals having a particularly low hay intake other options should be explored, haylage instead of hay, increased turnout, grass brought to the stable or alfalfa chaff added to the sweet feed. When feeding weanling foals it is essential to prevent low fibre intake as it can cause digestive problems and the development ulcers or diarrhoea and weight loss. These foals also have a reduced ability convert their concentrate feed to energy and muscle, and so the expensive part of the diet is wasted.

Most foals are established on a diet of concentrate before weaning as they have been helping themselves to their mothers portions! Foals that are not frequently eating concentrate should be introduced to a mix or cubes before weaning. This will reduce stress at weaning, limit digestive upsets and reduce weight loss after weaning. Many foals are observed to “go back” at weaning time or lose condition. This is generally associated with the stress of maternal separation and the stress of adapting to a new environment and/or routine. Foals that have been happily stealing Mum’s Stud Cubes or Stud Mix should stay on the same diet for the first weeks of independence and then slowly introduce a higher protein source into the diet.  This can be achieved by gradually switching to Foal & Yearling Cooked Mix or by adding GROCARE Balancer to the stud diet. Do remember when feeding weanling foals, that the do not need the same quantity as mares!

Protein is the key nutrient for growth but it must be good quality protein. Generally weanling foals need about 18% protein in their diet to support growth. It is vital that the protein source in the feed provides the essential amino acids such as lysine for the correct growth rate in growing foals. Some of the later born foals or foals that have had a setback will benefit from staying on a higher protein diet, such as Foal Pellets, until seven to nine months.

Foal and yearling feeds are designed to provide a high level of protein, vitamins and minerals in small quantities. For the very best results weigh everything…… the feed scoop and the foal. Generally foal feeds are designed to be fed at about 250g per 100kg of foal. This means most foals should be getting just a half standard scoop, not buckets of feed. Overfeeding foals can have disastrous results. Inappropriate feeding can cause joint problems, OCD, wobbler syndrome and many other fatal and performance limiting diseases.

An imbalance in vitamins and minerals can also cause life or career threatening problems in the development of foals. Feeds designed specifically for growing youngsters provide the right balance. To be absolutely sure of a balance in vitamins and minerals it is advisable to have samples of your hay analysed for mineral content. In Ireland in particular there are certain areas which have poor copper content in the soil/grass. Copper deficiencies are well documented to result in orthopaedic developmental diseases in foals and yearlings so it is worth investigating whether you are in a copper poor area.

The best policy for feeding weanling foals is to feed the individual. In any group, different animals may have different requirements if they are at different stages of growth. Group similar types of weanlings together. This will ensure optimum performance and efficiency of the feed. Grouping may or may not be based on birth dates as some foals may be quite forward while others take longer to mature. Regularly assess the groups, based on topline, general condition and any joint issues, the groupings may need to be changed at intervals.

If you have any questions concerning feeding weanling foals in general or managing the diet for specific issues please contact a member of our expert nutrition team.

  • Tags:
  • Horses
  • Feeding Foals
  • General Feeding
  • Nutrition Development in Foals