When to wean
“If the weanling horse is one you’ve raised since birth, you have a lot of control over how well-prepared your baby is for weaning,” says Anna Pesta, PhD, an equine nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “Foals will show interest in feeds early on and, by about two months of age, their mother’s milk will no longer supply all the nutrients needed for optimum growth.”
To support smooth and steady growth, offer suckling foals about one pound of a properly-formulated foal feed per month of age each day, Pesta advises. For example, a 3-month-old would ideally be eating about three pounds of feed per day, in addition to milk and free-choice hay or pasture.
A weanling horse already accustomed to eating an adequate amount of dry feed will transition to life without mom much easier and maintain nutrient intake at a level that allows optimum growth. Knowing how to eat and having a safe friend to keep them company after weaning helps foals adjust to their new independence.
Best feeds for weanlings
It’s important to offer weanlings a high-quality feed specifically formulated for foals and young horses.
“Young growing horses have different requirements for protein, vitamins, and minerals than adult horses,” says Pesta.
To ensure correct muscle, bone, and tendon development, look for feeds with a proper balance of high-quality proteins, amino acids, calories, calcium, and phosphorus.
Feeds formulated for adults will not provide the necessary nutrients for your baby to fulfill their genetic potential and could even cause deficiencies and increase the risk of growth abnormalities. Additionally, an economy-type feed with a seemingly adequate amount of crude protein (14-16%) will likely not supply sources of protein that are easily digestible or provide the correct ratios of amino acids. Now is not the time to skimp on nutrients!
Track your weanling’s progress
Steady, consistent growth through weaning and to maturity can influence lifelong soundness. Periodically weigh your foal on a scale or properly use a weight tape to get an approximate weight, as well as a height stick to measure wither and hip height, advises Pesta.
“Generally, foals should reach approximately 50% of their mature weight and 80% of their mature height by six months old,” says Pesta.
Plotting your weanling horse’s height and weight over time should show a smooth, steady growth curve with no obvious peaks or valleys.
Monitor and adjust
“Prior to weaning, the foal is growing at a rapid rate of about 2 to 2.5 pounds per day,” says Pesta.
This growth gradually slows after the foal becomes a weanling—to about one pound per day as they approach 12 months of age.
“The ability of the weanling’s digestive system to digest forages also increases post-weaning, as does their daily forage intake,” adds Pesta. “Therefore, the proportion of the diet as feed may not continue to increase, and may actually decrease if forage quality is excellent.”
After choosing a foal feed, feed at least the minimum recommended amount to provide adequate amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Routine evaluation of body fat cover, especially the amount of fat covering the rib area, will help determine when adjustments in feeding rates should be considered.
Weanling horses are growing to their genetic potential when they are being fed a well-balanced diet in amounts to maintain slight cover so ribs aren’t seen but are easily felt.