Sales Prep Part 1: Skeletal Development

Nichola Reynolds BSc, MSc,
Connolly’s RED MILLS – Nutritionist (UK North)

The quality and condition of your yearling’s bone health starts in-utero; at birth, foals have 17% of mature bone mineral content.  By 6 months, a horse can have reached 84% of its mature height, gaining another 10% by the time you are showing at the yearling sales.  Playing catch up with any aspect of your yearling’s development is undesirable; therefore, the nutritional management of the mare and foal play a key role in determining skeletal health later in life.

Growth plates (physis) are something we hear lots about, they are an area of proliferating cells and an expanding cartilage matrix, which is eventually mineralised becoming bone at different stages as the skeleton matures.

“A balanced approach to a yearling’s diet is best, aiming for consistent and steady growth rates from birth, paying particular attention to the weaning and sales preparation period.”

As always, providing an excellent quality forage will help to maintain gut health and should form the base of your yearling’s diets.  Providing a concentrate feed with high quality protein is essential, as protein is responsible for the collagen matrix upon which minerals are deposited.  Adequate energy supply from your forage and hard feed is required for bone growth, but excessive levels of energy should be avoided.  Minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese and magnesium are vital for bone and cartilage development. Vitamins A, D and K are equally fundamental to bone health.

All Connolly’s RED MILLS stud feeds contain high quality protein, with excellent levels of lysine and the unique RED MILLS Pro Balance vitamin and mineral package.  Traditional cereal based prepping diets such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Prep Mix or Premier Yearling Cubes are ideal feeds for yearlings during this phase.  If a low starch diet is required, particularly for youngstock with a genetic predisposition for developmental orthopaedic disorders (DOD), the Connolly’s RED MILLS Horse Care range is recommended.

Additional supplements can also help support healthy skeletal development, particularly during sales prep. Foran Equine Cal-Gro is an expertly designed, bone health product providing optimal nutrients to support skeletal development.  Supplementation with copper, which plays a crucial role in collagen formation/ turnover may also be beneficial.  Foran Equine Coppervit and Copper-Max Paste are two excellent products designed to supply bio-available copper.

Without strong, healthy skeletal development to support the ever-growing musculature of your yearling, their future potential athletic performance will undoubtedly be compromised.  Giving significant consideration to your youngstock’s skeletal development from gestation to sales will pay dividends to both their health and sales potential.

Additional articles:

Sales Prep Part 2: Conditioning Muscle & Topline

Sales Prep Part 3: Coat Condition

Sales Prep Part 4: Behaviour and Temperament


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Nichola joined the RED MILLS UK team in 2016. She previously worked for seven years with Europe’s only licensed equine plasma producer in the UK where ...

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