Raising a healthy foal involves closely monitoring their growth. This will help you make appropriate changes to their diet and management to support optimal development.

Foals grow quickly in the first few months after birth, reaching ~80% of their mature height and ~43% of their mature weight by just six months of age. This rapid growth rate makes foals susceptible to developmental and joint issues, which can impact their future well-being and performance in the long-term. [1]

Throughout the first year of life, it is critical to meet your foal’s protein, vitamin, and mineral needs without exceeding calorie requirements. Over-feeding increases the risk of developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs).

In the first couple of months, the mare’s milk is usually sufficient to meet a foal’s energy and protein needs. Properly feeding the lactating mare will ensure she produces enough healthful milk for the foal. [2]

Although foals begin nibbling at feed and forages as early as one week old, they generally do not need to eat feed and forages until two or three months of age. After six months, your foal’s diet will largely consist of forages and concentrates to continue to support their growth. [2]

This article will discuss growth patterns in foals, creep feeding, how to adjust their diet as they grow from weanling to yearling, and nutritional requirements at different ages.

Disclaimer: Raising a healthy foal requires working closely with your veterinarian and equine nutritionist. The hay and pasture composition used in the sample diets may be very different from your situation. Submit your foal’s diet to consult with our nutritionists throughout their early life.

 

Foal Growth & Development

One of the most important factors to consider when feeding foals is their growth rate. Foals that are growing slowly may need more energy in the diet from higher quality hay or other energy-dense options, whereas fast-growing horses may need restricted access to feed.

Another reason to pay close attention to the foal’s growth over time is to support joint health. Fast growth has been linked to joint issues in growing horses and developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs) including physitis and Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD). [1]

Factors Affecting Development

A foal’s potential mature body weight and conformation are largely determined by genetics or breed. [3][4]

How fast they develop and whether they develop to their genetic potential is affected by many factors, including nutrient availability, environmental factors, and management.

Nutrient Availability:

  • Feeding program
  • Month and season of birth
  • Pasture quality and availability
  • Gestational nutrition and health of the mare
  • Colostrum and milk intake

Environmental and Management Factors:

  • Freedom of movement and exercise level
  • Ambient temperature
  • Weaning and associated stress
  • Health history
  • Parasitism
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Mare Nutrition

Horses evolved with seasonal estrus so that the end of gestation and beginning of lactation aligns with the presence of fast-growing, energy-dense spring grasses.

This helps ensure that mares are meeting their energy and protein needs when they are at their peak. The mare can produce large volumes of milk with abundant pasture, and