Growth of the Foal
A healthy foal will grow rapidly, gaining in height, weight and
strength almost before your very eyes. From birth to age two, a
young horse will achieve 90 percent or more of its full adult
size, sometimes putting on as many as 3 pounds per day.
Genetics and environment play significant roles in determining
individual growth patterns. Through research, we also know we can
influence a foal's growth and development-for better or worse-by
the nutrition we supply.
STRIVE FOR BALANCE
Feeding young horses is a careful balancing act. The interplay
between genetics, management and nutrition is complex. While we
can do nothing to change the genetic road map, we can alter its
course via proper management.
The nutritional start a foal gets can have a profound effect on
its health and soundness for the rest of its life. We can
accelerate growth if we choose. However, research suggests that a
balanced dietary approach which supports moderate growth is less
likely to cause developmental problems.
Some conditions which have been associated with rapid growth
Angular Limb Deformities
THE NURSING FOAL
One of the foal's first missions in life is to stand and nurse.
In doing so, it receives the antibody-rich colostrum which helps
protect it from disease. During the first weeks of life, the
mare's milk provides everything a rapidly growing foal needs for
sustenance. The burden then gradually shifts to other sources.
During lactation, a mare will produce an average of 3 gallons of
milk a day. But in order to do so she must receive ample feed and
Observe the foal's nursing habits. If it suckles for more than 30
minutes at a time, it may not be receiving enough milk.
Supplemental feed or milk replacer may be required.
Peak lactation generally occurs during the second and third month
of a foal's life. At this time a mare will need almost double the
amount of feed she required during her early pregnancy. In
addition to extra energy, her diet must include adequate protein,
vitamins and minerals to keep from depleting her own body
reserves. Increases or decreases in feed should be made gradually
over a 7 to 10-day period.
THE FOAL'S CHANGING DIET
As early as 10-14 days of age, a foal may begin to show an
interest in feed. By nibbling and sampling, the youngster learns
to eat solid food. Its digestive system quickly adapts to the
At 8-10 weeks of age, mare's milk alone may not adequately meet
the foal's nutritional needs. High quality grains and forage
should be added to the foal's diet.
It is essential the ration be properly balanced for vitamins and
minerals. Deficits, excesses or imbalances of calcium,
phosphorous, copper, zinc, selenium and vitamin E are of
particular concern in the growing foal. Improper amounts or
ratios can lead to skeletal problems.
FOAL FEEDING GUIDELINES
As the foal's dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and
forage, your role in providing the proper nutrition gains in
importance. Here are some guidelines to help you meet the young
1. Provide high quality roughage (hay and pasture) free choice.
2. Supplement with grain or concentrates beginning at about 4
weeks of age.
3. Start by feeding 1 percent of a foal's body weight per day,
(ie. 1 pound of feed for each 100 pounds of body weight), or 1
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 a foal's size.
5. Foals have small stomachs so divide the daily ration into 2-3
6. Make sure feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins,
minerals, energy and protein.
7. Use a creep feeder or feed the foal separate from the mare so
it can eat its own ration.
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.
Foals are commonly weaned at 5 to 6 months of age. Beginning
about the third month, the mare's milk supply gradually declines
and a natural weaning process begins.
To prepare the foal for complete weaning, its ration should be
increased over a 2-3 week period to make up for the nutrients
being lost in the diminishing milk supply. The mare's grain
should be reduced and/or gradually eliminated to further limit
Once it it no longer nursing, a 500-600 pound weanling should be
eating approximately 2.5% of its body weight in feed and forage a
Weanlings and yearlings continue to build bone, muscle and mass
at a remarkable rate. From weaning to two years of age, the horse
may nearly double its weight again.
Weanlings and yearlings benefit from a diet containing 14-16
percent protein. They also require readily available sources of
energy to meet the demands of growth and activity.
A good rule of thumb is to provide 60-70 percent of the ration as
concentrates and 30-40 percent of the ration as roughage-measured
by weight. The diet must also provide ample fiber to keep the
digestive tract functioning properly. Some of the new "complete
feeds" have the ration already balanced.
Weight gain and development taper off as the horse matures. As
growth slows, you will need to adjust the ration to approximately
1.5-2% of the yearling's body weight. The grain to roughage ratio
should also be adjusted so by the time the horse is a 2-year-old,
half of its daily diet (by weight) is coming from grain sources
and the other half from hay and pasture. Breed type, maturity and
level of activity will affect the horse's exact nutritional
TOTAL CARE & MANAGEMENT
Work with your equine practitioner to develop a total health care
plan for your foals, weanlings and yearlings. A regular
deworming, vaccination and examination schedule is essential to
ensure your foal is getting the care it needs.
Remember, vaccination and deworming regimens may vary depending
on regional factors and disease risks. Consult your equine
practitioner for exact recommendations.
Here are some other management tips:
Unless there is a medical concern, provide youngsters free choice
Avoid confining foals for more than 10 hours per day.
Use longeing, round-pen or tread mill work judiciously. Excessive
forced exercise can strain joints and limbs.
Never exercise a foal to the point of fatigue.
Keep your youngster's feet properly trimmed to foster proper bone
Provide a clean, safe environment with adequate shelter from the
Check the horse's surroundings and eliminate any potential
hazards such as loose boards, nails, wire fencing or equipment.
The reward for providing excellent nutrition, conscientious care
and a safe environment will be a healthy foal that grows into a
sound and useful horse.