Whether you are breeding a foal for the show ring or for the racetrack, getting it’s nutrition off to the correct start will be key to a healthy, sound and well-developed horse
When you welcome your new foal to the world the first task you will face is to ensure your foal receives adequate amounts of good quality colostrum. Foals are born without a fully developed immune system and are therefore susceptible to diseases and infections. Good quality colostrum is vital for the successful transfer of immunoglobins (IgGs) to build the foal’s natural defence system.
Research has shown that how the mare is fed in late pregnancy can directly impact the quality of colostrum she produces. One study showed mares supplemented with vitamin E in late pregnancy had higher colostrum IgG levels after birth, another study saw improved colostrum quality in mares supplemented with a yeast probiotic from day 300 during pregnancy compared to mares that were not. Supplementing with a good quality stud balancer such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Grocare Balancer is a useful way of getting a high plane of nutrition into your mare in a low feeding rate format. Feeding just 500g per day will supply excellent levels of vitamin E and yeast probiotics as well as key amino acids and essential vitamins to support superior milk production.
Following colostrum consumption, when it comes to feeding your new foal if the mare is fed correctly throughout her pregnancy, she’ll do a lot of the work for you. A foal’s stomach is small so it is normal to see them nurse frequently in the first few days of life. A healthy foal may nurse up to six times in one hour. A content foal will often sleep afterwards while a hungry foal will continue to puck the udder which may be a sign of poor milk production. Early lactation is a nutritionally demanding time for the mare so ensure she has a constant supply of clean fresh water and provide her with small, energy dense meals throughout the day.
Foals that have gotten off to a slow start or foals that are recovering from an illness may benefit from additional supplementary supports. A study comparing healthy foals to both septic and non-septic sick foals showed lower vitamin D blood levels in the latter. Foran Equine’s Friska Foal is a nice supplement to have to hand. It contains appropriate levels of vitamin D along with other key vitamins and can be given daily to support immunity in young foals or can alternatively be supplemented during periods during sickness or digestive disturbances.
For the first two months of life, mare’s milk should meet the foal’s energy and protein requirements. The small intestine will develop between birth to four weeks, allowing for efficient milk digestion.
It is normal to see foals picking at their dam’s feed when only a few days old, but creep feeding will become nutritionally important when the mare’s milk begins to decrease approximately three months post foaling. Creep feeding can begin earlier than twelve weeks if the mare’s milk production is poor or the foal is not meeting its desired growth rate. Feeding concentrates should be restricted to 500g per 100kg of body weight and can be increased to 1kg per 100kg body weight by weaning time. Overtopped foals will be more prone to developmental diseases so never allow them to become overweight. Getting the balance right when feeding youngstock can be challenging and getting it wrong can have a lasting impact on soundness and athleticism. Correct nutrition support can help your horse reach its full potential. Reach out to a trusted nutritionist for further feeding advice.