Get Foal Nutrition Right From the Start

Your foal needs proper nutrition to get a jump on a healthy life. Here are some tips to ensure he receives it.
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pinto foal running in pasture
Ensure foals nutritional requirements are met to help him develop properly. | Photo: iStock

It is no surprise that nutrition plays an enormous role in the health of a foal. Meeting a foal’s nutritional requirements is necessary to ensure proper growth and bone development. Here are some tips on how to help ensure your foal receives proper nutrition right from the start.

Before Birth

Foal health begins with the mare. Ensuring your broodmare’s nutritional needs are met is critical. Calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals are all passed on to the foal while in utero, and later through the mare’s milk.

Remember:

  • Broodmares should maintain a body score of 5.5 to 6.5 (on the 9-point Henneke Body Condition scale) throughout their pregnancy;
  • Pregnant mares require more calories to maintain a good weight—they are eating for two!—so check regularly to ensure your broodmare is getting enough groceries;
  • Insufficient mineral intake could negatively impact the mare’s bone and liver stores; and
  • A lack of protein will cause the mare to lose muscle mass, typically first noticeable in the topline.

The First 24 Hours

It is vital that foals receive colostrum within the first 24 hours of life. Colostrum, or the mare’s first milk, provides the foal with protein and the antibodies that will enable him to fight off infections. Breeders should have access to a supply of frozen colostrum, in the event the foal is not able to suckle from its mother during this crucial time period.

The First 30 Days to Three Months

During this period foals consume milk about seven to ten times per hour; this should be the same whether the foal is drinking from its mother or from a bucket (such as in the case of an orphan foal). Drinking frequently helps to prevent digestive upsets like diarrhea and colic; foals should never go more than two hours without drinking;

Foals don’t require forage (hay and straw) or concentrated feed at this stage.

Be sure to keep an eye on the dam to ensure she is maintaining weight and able to produce enough milk to sustain the foal. If she’s getting thin, add more calories to her diet.

Three to Four Months

At this stage, foals can begin having forage and concentrated feed added to their diets. It’s advisable to test your hay and carefully select a concentrated feed in order to ensure all nutritional requirements are met.

Many foals prefer soft hay to coarse forage. Also, be sure to select a concentrate specifically for foals and young horses. These are formulated to provide the nutrients growing foals need.

Take-Home Message

Ensuring your foal receives proper nutrition will help him get a jump on a healthy life. Always contact a trusted equine professional, nutritionist, or veterinarian if you have questions or concerns about your horse’s diet or health.

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Written by:

Equine Guelph is the horse owners’ and caretakers’ center at the University of Guelph, supported and overseen by equine industry groups, and dedicated to improving the health and well-being of horses.

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