Foal nutrition

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The foals of today are the athletes of the future and if we want these athletes to perform to the best of their abilities it is important that they are provided with all the nutrients they require so that they can grow and develop fully to express completely their genetic potential and be great athletes you want. The nutrition of the foal starts from when it is in the mare’s belly, so it is very important that the mare is fed properly. 


Feeding of the Pregnant and Lactating Mare 

It is very important to know that the mare during the last 3 months of gestation increases its nutritional demand because, it is in this period when the foal inside completes its development and begins to grow to reach the size and weight it will have at birth. The mare for the above reasons should eat a diet that meets her nutritional requirements and that also allows her to store body reserves that will help her have a good milk production after foaling and that she can get pregnant quickly. 


If the mare receives an adequate feeding program during pregnancy and lactation, very important benefits can be obtained, such as the fact that the mare can get pregnant quickly after foaling and in this way we have another foal the following year, in addition, the production of milk will be optimal and the foal will be able to be adequately nourished during the first months, since during this period, the mare’s milk will be the sole source of food for the foal, and through it must receive all the nutrients it requires to fully develop. . 


Normally the pregnant mares are overfed and the undernourished lactating ones, the feeding of the pregnant and lactating mare is as important as that of the foal, and it also influences the presentation of the orthopedic development disease, it is necessary to avoid excess energy, vitamins and the imbalance of the other nutrients. 


Colostrum Importance 

Colostrum, is the first milk produced by the mare before foaling, is yellowish in color, creamy in consistency, is rich in energy, nutrients, antibodies or defenses and has laxative properties, therefore it is very important that the foal at birth, and before the first 8 hours of life have elapsed, ingest a sufficient amount (1 – 2 liters) of colostrum so that you receive the nutrients and energy necessary to live, because colostrum can make the difference between life and death. Colostrum is only produced before foaling and during the first hours after foaling, from the second or third day the mare will start producing normal milk that will cover the foal’s needs in full during the first two months, after these two months the nutritional quality of the milk begins to decrease, and approximately 3 months after the foal is born, the milk does not provide all the nutrients it requires, therefore it is very important that the foal receives adequate nutrition to avoid problems during its development. 


Foal Feeding 

The foal’s digestive system is not adapted for fiber digestion, on the contrary, the best source of nutrients for the foal is milk, the proteins of dairy origin are those that the foal digests and absorbs in a better way compared to forage proteins. The following table presents the percentages of grain and forage that a foal must consume to achieve proper functioning of the digestive system and optimal development and growth. 


Age of Foal  % de Grain in the Diet  % Foragithe Diet 
  0 –   4 Months*  70  30 
  4 –   6 Months  70  30 
  6 – 12 Months  60  40 
12 – 18 Months  45  55 
18 – 24 Months +  50  50 

* During the first 2 – 3 months the foal will only consume mare’s milk, from 6 – 8 weeks we can start a creep feed program in foals. 

+ In some cases foals start their training program between 18 – 24 months, the diet must adjust to their new life. 


Creep Feed 

The creep fed system in which only the foal has access to food, is a great help for foals to develop optimally, this system trains the foal so that at the time of weaning, it is used to eating solid food and not its growth stops, it also prevents more aggressive foals from consuming more food than some more shy foals. 


The creep feed system consists of placing traps to prevent the mares from having access to the foals’ food and in this way, they are the ones who consume their own feed. For what was mentioned in previous lines, it is important to remember that foals between two and three months of age should consume feed that meets their needs since the mare’s milk at this age decreases its nutritional quality, for this reason, It is recommended that the creep feed system be implemented between 6 to 8 weeks of age of foals, this will allow the foal to achieve optimal development with the lowest risk of developing orthopedic problems. 


Among other advantages offered by the creep feed system compared to traditional systems we have: 

  • Encourages growth (foals larger and heavier than those without the creep feed);
  • Decreases weaningstress;
  • Less weight loss atweaning;
  • Fewer problems with their new life (post-weaning) because they are already used to solidfood;
  • Lower risk of developing orthopedic diseases than foals that did not receive the creep feed, because the latter gain weight quickly after weaning when they start consuming grain and forage, which favors the development of orthopedic development problems.


It is very important to note that when using the creep feed system for foals, they must be provided with a special foal feed that is formulated and balanced to meet their nutritional demands. 


The key to proper development is a balanced intake of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as a good preventive medicine program. The amount of grain can be adjusted, but deficiencies or excesses of energy or other nutrient can result in a delay in growth or in potential metabolic problems such as orthopedic development disease, etc. 


Orthopedic diseases 

Orthopedic developmental disease known as DOD, is a broad term that represents a large number of clinical syndromes that affect the horse’s skeletal muscle system during growth and development, these syndromes include epiphysitis, osteochondrosis, angular deviations limbs, and even cervical compressive myelopathy or wobbler syndrome. 


In the opinion of many horsemen, trainers and breeders, protein is a magic ingredient in feed and they always seek to give their horses the highest protein feeds they find on the market, regardless of whether this is appropriate or can represent risks. Fortunately, research has shown that high protein diets are not directly related to DOD, and only pregnant mares in the last third and lactating mares in the first two months, as well as foals, have the highest protein requirements, but it is very important to remember that it is not only about the percentage of protein included in the feed, the most important thing is the quality of the protein, that is, that they contain the necessary amounts of the essential amino acids (Lysine, Threonine and Methionine) to cover the animal needs. 


A diet rich in energy (especially the one that comes from carbohydrates) accompanied by an inadequate balance of minerals can result in developmental problems. Calcium, phosphorus, copper and / or zinc deficiencies influence the presentation of DOD. Chelated minerals offer greater and better absorption than inorganic minerals, representing benefits in cartilage and bones, in healthy hair and in strong hooves. 


It is very important to remember that the nutrition of the foal begins from the moment it is in the mare’s belly, for this reason we must provide an adequate diet for the mare during the gestation, since in this way we will achieve a foal with the weight and Adequate development taking into account its breed and zootechnical function. Furthermore, the foal must receive the best feeding program so that it can express its full genetic potential. 


A well designed program balances the intake of energy, protein (amino acids), minerals and vitamins, it will produce the desired growth rate, the imbalances (deficiencies or excesses) contribute to developmental problems. 

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