Feed Weanlings Carefully to Support Growth, Reduce DOD

A forage-based, total mixed-ration cube fed free choice supported weanling growth rates without increasing DOD cases.
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True or false: Weanlings, which are growing like weeds as they begin their transition from foal to adult horse, need high-carbohydrate grain-based concentrates and restricted protein to avoid developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) and support speedy growth rates.

False! In fact, high carbohydrate diets in young, growing horses could contribute to DOD, whereas protein does not. Young horses expected to mature at 500 to 600 kilograms (1,000-1,200 pounds) gain up to 1.0 kilogram (2.2 pounds) per day in the first year of life, which makes careful nutritional balance critical for healthy growth.

Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, of the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick, separated fact from fiction pertaining to growing weanlings’ dietary needs in her presentation at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

Weanlings require sufficient protein, energy, and balanced minerals to support proper skeletal and soft tissue development as they grow. The faster the growth rate, the more critical nutritional balance becomes. In the past, excess protein was thought to cause DOD, but it turns out that high protein does not actually cause of abnormal growth. Rations with high levels of carbohydrates and improperly balanced minerals are the more likely culprit, said Ralston

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Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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