weanlings in field

Q: When should I start introducing my foal to hay and grain to make the transition easier after weaning?

A:  This is an important topic to understand, because the goal for developing youngsters is for them to grow steadily to reach their genetic potential. The nutrition we provide them can certainly affect the quality and rate of foal development. For healthy development, foals should have access to a prescribed amount of a high-quality foal feed early in life. Feeding the foal dry feed early and continuing to provide the same feed they’re used to consuming after being weaned can help reduce the stress of weaning.

Suckling foals grow at a relatively rapid rate, often reaching 50% of their mature weight and 80% of their mature height by six months of age. This rate of development requires a steady supply of good nutrition.  During the first two to three months of the foal’s life, the primary nutrition source is mare’s milk.

Mares produce an incredible amount of milk—3 to 4% of their body weight each day. However, the mare’s milk production peaks at about two months of lactation and then steadily declines. Not only does milk production decline throughout lactation but also the content of important trace minerals in the milk. By the time the foal is two to three months of age, mom’s milk, along with hay or pasture, will fall short of meeting all nutrient requirements for optimal development.

Supplemental feeding of the suckling foal should make up the difference between what the mare’s milk is providing and what the foal needs to grow to his genetic potential. A good rule of thumb is to feed suckling foals 1 pound per month of age per day of a high-quality foal feed. For example, a 2-month-old foal should be eating 2 pounds of feed per day. Another way to figure this is to feed 1% of the foal’s body weight per day (1 pound per 100 pounds of body weight). If allowed free-choice access to supplemental feed, foals might over-eat and gain weight too fast, putting undue stress on immature bones and joints.

Feeding the mare and foal individually offers the most precise method of supplemental feeding the foal, and both mare and foal receive exactly the amount of feed they need. A creep feeder the foal can access but the mare cannot is an option for individual feeding.

When the mare and foal are fed together, the feeders should be at a height the foal can reach comfortably, and there must be plenty of space for both to eat at the same time. While this approach does not provide the control over intake that individual feeding would, feeding the mare and foal together can be a workable situation. The mare will eat faster than the foal, which prevents the foal from overeating. If the mare and foal are fed together, they must eat a feed balanced to support foal growth. Enough feed must be available to support the mare’s needs, plus the 1 pound per month of age per day for the foal.

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