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Weaning Foals: Nutritional StrategiesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 23, 2017

In many parts of the world, foaling season has arrived; yet in other regions, weaning has commenced. As we know, weaning can be stressful, frequently resulting in temporary periods of decreased weight gain, diarrhea, and potentially suppressed immunity. The likelihood of developmental orthopedic disorders, such as osteochondritis dissecans, increases if weanlings aren’t fed properly during this transition period.

According to the National Research Council (NRC), foals gain an average of 0.8 kg/day. To meet the dietary needs of rapidly growing young horses, owners often offer diets composed of both forage and concentrate. Other owners, however, try to achieve adequate daily weight gains by offering only forage.

In devising nutritional management strategies for your weanlings, consider the following:

  • If offering forage only, the forage needs to either meet or exceed the NRC’s recommendations for growing foals in terms of energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus. This is a lot to ask of any forage, even alfalfa (lucerne), according to Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research (KER), as generally forages do not contain sufficient lysine for optimal growth. “Weanlings generally require a concentrated feed or a balancer pellet for maximal nutrition. Choose a feed specifically formulated for young horses and manufactured by a reputable company,” she said.
  • Routinely assess your weanling’s weight and height using either a tape-measure technique or an electronic scale. “Although this might seem like overkill to some breeders, extreme accelerations or decelerations in growth can hint at a problem,” remarked Whitehouse. “Many Thoroughbred farms routinely weigh and measure their foals, tracking growth monthly in an attempt to head off problems before they become monumental and difficult to treat.” Foals that grow too quickly, for instance, might be prime candidates for skeletal problems.
  • Forage analysis should be conducted to ensure adequate and balanced mineral intake. Not sure how to do this? Contact a KER nutrition advisor for a free consultation today.