Weanling Horse Diets: More Grain or More Forage?

High-carb diets can put weanlings at risk for developmental orthopedic diseases. Could these horses get by on high-forage, low-concentrate diets?

No account yet? Register


weanling horse diets
Nielsen said the study results show that weanlings can adequately digest a high-fiber diet and can, in fact, thrive on low-concentrate diets. But, he added, it’s critical to have hay analyzed and to choose concentrates carefully. | Photo: Courtesy Miki Yoshihito via Flickr
They might be small in size, but weanlings have substantial nutrient requirements to effectively fuel growth and development. Unfortunately, their bodies can make getting these nutrients challenging. They’re unable to fully utilize nutrients in forage until the incomplete microbial colonies in their hindguts develop. In the past, this concern led many to feed weanlings extra concentrates, but recent studies have shown that high-carbohydrate diets can put young horses at risk for developmental orthopedic diseases.

So can weanlings get by on diets high in forage and low in concentrates? Researchers tested three diets to find out.

A team from Michigan State University (MSU), in East Lansing, fed 24 Quarter Horse and Arabian weanlings three diets at 3.5% body weight:

  • A high-concentrate diet (High Con), with a 70:30 concentrate-to-roughage ratio;
  • An equal diet, with a 50:50 ratio; and
  • A low-concentrate diet (Low Con), with a 30:70 concentrate-to-roughage ratio.

“The grain and hay were combined into a pellet so that we were guaranteed horses were consuming the required ratio of hay to concentrate,” said Brian Nielsen, PhD, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, a professor of equine exercise physiology at MSU

Create a free account with TheHorse.com to view this content.

TheHorse.com is home to thousands of free articles about horse health care. In order to access some of our exclusive free content, you must be signed into TheHorse.com.

Start your free account today!

Already have an account?
and continue reading.


Written by:

Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as a certified equine acupressure practitioner. She also hosts a blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse. Once an avid barrel racer, she now enjoys giving back to the horses who have given her so much.

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

Has your veterinarian used SAA testing for your horse(s)?
67 votes · 67 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with TheHorse.com!