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Early-Weaned Foal: Nutrition ConsultationBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 21, 2016

A concerned horsewoman called Kentucky Equine Research (KER) advisors about an unhealthy three-month-old foal. The foal was in her care at a rescue. Though not an orphan, the colt was recently weaned from his dam, as the mare had a litany of health concerns, including ambulatory issues, which kept her from properly caring for the foal. At the time of weaning, the foal was eating a small amount of the mare’s concentrate and hay at each feeding in addition to nursing. At about the same time, a large donation of concentrate, a 10% protein coarse feed, was made to the rescue. The foal was offered this feed as well as hay and haylage once weaning occurred.

The foal seemed to do well on the diet for about two weeks but then became ill, scouring badly with an elevated temperature. A vet stabilized the foal, managing to reduce the fever, and suggested a milk replacer for nourishment in addition to the forage being fed.

The caretaker balked at the milk replacer, worried that the foal no longer had the necessary enzymes in his gastrointestinal tract to properly digest it. Concerned, the owner sought a second opinion from Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor at KER.

Once Whitehouse gathered all of the facts, including the nutritional specs of the milk replacer, she concluded the replacer would, indeed, be an appropriate feed for the colt. Before dispensing her advice to the foal’s caretaker, though, she contacted coworker Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with KER, to ask for other suggestions in addition to the milk replacer.

“I think this milk replacer pellet was an excellent idea, as it contains high-quality protein sources, something the colt probably has not had since he was weaned,” Crandell said. “The milk source in the recommended product is whey, and foals have no problem digesting whey. I would definitely give the foal some of this pellet, working it into the diet gradually.”

Crandell further advised to combine the milk replacer pellet with an appropriate concentrate up until the colt turned six months old, and then he could be removed from the pellet entirely. Many commercial concentrates are available for young growing horses, so finding one would not be difficult. Specific strategies can be implement for weanlings in need of weight gain.

The caretaker of the weanling followed the recommendations of both the veterinarian and the nutrition advisors at KER, and the colt made a complete turnaround. Now healthy and strong, the weanling should have no adverse effects from the couple weeks he spent in nutritional limbo.

“Long-term nutritional deficiencies can be harmful to the well-being of young horses,” explained Whitehouse, “but health blips like this colt experienced are part of growing up. He should have no residual consequences.”

The colt experienced a speedy about-face due in part to the caretaker’s vigilance, Whitehouse continued. “Keeping a close eye on young horses, especially those that have been compromised in some way, will help catch problems before they become monumental.”

The KER nutrition advisors are available to help you. Start the process now!