Feeding the Growing Foal

Start your foal out right to help avoid bone and tendon problems later in life.
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Start your foal out right to help avoid bone and tendon problems later in life.

Your foal’s growing like a weed at his dam’s side, and by all appearances, he’s healthy and happy. But you know how important it is to ensure that he’s receiving the right levels of nutrients and that he doesn’t grow too fast as you establish a feeding program; indeed, determining an appropriate diet for foals can be difficult. Scientists have done a wonderful job in determining the necessary nutrients for an appropriate rate of growth, but not all youngsters are created equal. Rates of metabolism vary, circumstances due to geography and weather conditions vary, genetics vary, the quality of milk varies from mare to mare, exercise varies, the quality of forage or pasture grass varies … the list goes on.

The challenge for foal owners is to establish a feeding program tailored to the needs of the individual or group. Close observation concerning the youngster’s ongoing development is highly important in determining whether growth goals are being met without causing problems with bone and tendon structure. This can get somewhat complicated when managing a group of foals, but it is highly important.

Robert (Bob) Coleman, MS, PhD, associate director for Undergraduate Education in Equine Science and Management and equine extension professor at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, tells us the period from birth to 18 months is critical for young horses’ growth. This is because they achieve 90% of mature height and almost that percentage of mature weight during that first 1½ years.

During that period of rapid growth and development the stage is being set for the young horse’s athletic future. An appropriate feeding program can result in a mature horse that is sound of muscle and bone and is ready for a vigorous life as an equine athlete. An inappropriate feeding approach can result in the development of orthopedic problems that can haunt the horse throughout his life. Problems of that type quite often result from overfeeding the weanling

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Les Sellnow was a prolific freelance writer based near Riverton, Wyoming. He specialized in articles on equine research, and operated a ranch where he raised horses and livestock. He authored several fiction and nonfiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse. He died in 2023.

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