Bringing Up Baby

Your young horse is growing up. From birth to age two, a horse will achieve 90% or more of his full adult height. But growing up too fast can cause problems, including an increased risk of developmental orthopedic disease (DOD), which includes which includes several skeletal problems in growing foals.
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Your young horse is growing up. From birth to age two, a horse will achieve 90% or more of his full adult height. But growing up too fast can cause problems, including an increased risk of developmental orthopedic disease (DOD), which includes several skeletal problems in growing foals. To maximize growth while minimizing the risk of DOD, plan your young horse’s diet carefully. Consider the following factors:

  • Stage of development (weanling, yearling, 2-year-old)–The nutrient requirements for each age group are different.
  • Desired growth rate–Is there a set time when the young horse should be fit and sleek (if going to public auctions or shows), or can he be allowed to grow more slowly?
  • Availability and quality of feedstuffs–Different feedstuffs provide varying amounts of nutrients, so balancing the nutrients between forage and concentrates is important for the overall diet.
  • Feeding practices–Are horses grouped together or can you separate them to handle an individual’s needs?
  • Current body condition–Does he need to lose weight, gain weight, or is he growing just right?
  • Confinement–If he is confined to a stall, he needs less digestible energy than if he’s turned out.
  • Weather/climate–In colder climates, a horse requires more energy to deal with the weather, notes Laurie Lawrence, PhD, professor of animal science at the University of Kentucky.
  • Temperament–If a horse is very enthusiastic, he probably will need more dietary energy than a placid horse, says Harold Hintz, PhD, MS, professor of animal nutrition at Cornell University.

Creating an appropriate diet for any horse will depend on his individual needs. You can estimate general requirements based on values established by the National Research Council (NRC)1. However, with new nutrition research being done every day, consulting with your veterinarian and/or an equine nutritionist can help you develop a more tailored plan. In addition, Hintz says there are some good computer programs that can help you develop a customized diet for your growing horse.

Determining Energy

The first step in evaluating a diet is to determine the amount of digestible energy (DE) your horse needs–this is expressed as kilocalories (kcal, equal to 1,000 calories) or megacalories (Mcal), equal to 1,000 kcals. For an example of calculating DE, see “Providing Enough Energy” below.

Joe Pagan, PhD, owner of Kentucky Equine Research (KER), presented “Computing Horse Nutrition: How to Properly Conduct an Equine Nutrition Evaluation” at the 1995 KER Short Course. He said that there are major differences in how efficiently the DE from different feedstuffs is used by the horse2. Therefore, DE requirements can only be viewed as an estimate to be refined based on what is being fed

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Written by:

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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