Feeding the Growing Horse

The young growing horse achieves about 86% of its mature height and 46% of its mature weight in the first 6 months of life. Growth in these early stages results in the laying down of new tissues which result in bone, tendon, ligament, muscle etc. The foal’s diet needs to supply sufficient nutrients to meet this growth. A young suckling foal will meet its requirements providing the mare is well nourished.

  • Some foals may need additional feed as milk production diminishes (typically after 3 months of lactation)
  • Gradually introduce the foal to concentrate
  • Creep feed separately from mare to control intake
  • Feed specific products which require a low feed intake – high concentration of protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Gain Foal Weaning Pellets contain milk based proteins which are both high in quality and easy for the developing foal to digest

As the foal develops, forage will become an increasing part of its diet. Energy, protein and amino acid intake have the greatest impact on the growth and development of growing horses. A source of good quality protein is essential to ensure proper bone and muscle formation.

Rapidly growing and heavy topped foals can be those most prone to the onset of Developmental Skeletal Problems (DSP) which includes conditions such as physitis and osteochondritis dissecans. Careful monitoring of stock is necessary to ensure a steady even growth curve is achieved in the first year in particular.

  • Promote a moderate steady growth rate, particularly avoiding periods of low growth followed by periods of rapid growth (commonly referred to a ‘compensatory growth’
  • Diets should contain adequate but not excess energy
  • Calcium and phosphorus ratios should be maintained ideally Ca: Ph 2:1
  • Maintain adequate intakes of minerals including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese etc.
  • Provide an opportunity for sufficient but not excessive exercise
  • As there is a genetic link to Developmental Skeletal problems avoid breeding mares to stallions that have produced a number of foals with DSP (this information is not available across all breeds)
  • Studies have shown a link between the glyceamic index of the diet and the onset of OCD in particular
  • Consult with your farrier, vet and a feed nutritionist if you have concerns over DSP in your foal/weanling

Premium Stud balancers such as Gain StudCare 32 pellets have a role to play in the diet of heavy topped youngstock or those showing signs of the onset of Developmental Skeletal problems as they supply the optimum level of nutrients without excess calories.

Gradual introduction of concentrate feed will help to reduce the stress of weaning at any age; once a foal is weaned it is important that it has a quality source of lysine and threonine in their diet. While these nutrients are limiting for proper growth they are not the only nutritional need of the foal. Sufficient quantities of minerals and vitamins are essential for proper development and health. These also need to be in balance with one another. Commercial feedstuffs are designed with these critical balances in mind.

Joanne Hurley is a nutrition specialist with Gain Horse Feeds. She holds a Masters in Animal Nutrition and Production from UCD. She is based at Gain Horse Feeds Office in Bridge Street, Portlaoise, Co Laois and can be contacted on 087-7958573 or by email at jhurley@glanbia.ie

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