We don’t have all of the answers when it comes to feeding young horses. A nutrition program that doesn’t promote–and possibly helps prevent–developmental orthopedic disease (DOD), including osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), is critical at this stage. Researchers now are steering away from the belief that excess protein is a major culprit in DOD, excess digestible energy now might be a possible factor.

Properly feeding a growing horse is a complex task in which the owner must provide adequate water, minerals, salt, protein, and a host of other nutrients. The nutritional requirements usually can’t be met by forage alone. Cereal grains and forages also might not provide the correct calcium:phosphorus ratio needed for proper bone development (more on this later).

Now, let’s look at what is known about feeding the young, growing horse, and what you can do with your nutrition program to avoid the problems that can arise.

Start At The Beginning

“My recommendation is to make sure you feed the mare well in late pregnancy in terms of trace mineral supplementation,” says Joe Pagan, PhD, president of Kentucky Equine Research (KER), a nutrition consulting company in Versailles, Ky. “If that was done, don’t be real concerned about trace mineral supplementation of the foal until he is 90 days old. Start to feed the foal fairly small quantities of a well fortified 16% protein grain mix (about one pound of feed per month of age, i.e. four pounds for a four-month-old foal) about a month before you’re going to wean him. I think there’s a risk of overfeeding the suckling foal in an effort to try to ensure it has adequate mineral intake.”

Jeff Pendleton, general manager for Hallway Feed Company, also emphasizes proper prenatal nutrition for the mare in her final months of pregnancy, especially when it comes to trace minerals, selenium, and vitamin E. Pro