Feeding Foals through Weaning

Feeding Foals through Weaning

Appropriate feeds for foals and weanlings have 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar, along with amino acid, mineral, and vitamin fortification.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Properly preparing the foals to be weaned can make the process much easier for everyone, and part of that preparation includes setting up a successful feeding transition for the foal.

Make certain the foal is consuming at least one pound of feed per month of age of a concentrate designed for foals and weanlings (so, if a foal is four months of age, it should be consuming at least four pounds of feed per day). Appropriate feeds for foals and weanlings have 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar, along with amino acid, mineral, and vitamin fortification.

By the time the foal exceeds two months of age, the milk produced by the dam is not sufficient to maintain adequate growth. So the foal should be creep fed, if possible, as not all mares allow the foal to eat grain with them. And remember: The day you wean the foal is not the day to change feeds. Creep feeding the foal on the same feed it will continue to eat after weaning is a great way to keep one point in their life consistent through the process.

The foal should also have access to high quality forage, loose salt, and fresh, clean water.

The following management practices should be in place before the foal is weaned:

  • Make certain that the foal has been vaccinated for appropriate diseases according to your health care plan. Vaccination is a stress on the animal, so you do not want to do this at the same time you wean the foal.
  • The foal should also be dewormed prior to weaning.
  • The foal should have been handled, taught to lead, and have had its feet trimmed.
  • Have a plan in place for the actual weaning process. 

Monitor the new weanlings closely and increase feed intake, as needed, to maintain growth, weight, and body condition. Some weanlings become a bit pot-bellied and look a little rough following weaning. This is frequently due to inadequate concentrate intake and too much forage. The cecum is not fully developed in the weanling, so it cannot digest forage as efficiently as an older horse.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition.

Reprinted with permission from The Feed Room, by Nutrena.

About the Author

Roy A. Johnson, MS

Roy A. Johnson, MS, is an equine technology manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition. In his role, he is responsibile for the development of horse feeds for U.S. business, including feeds for Nutrena, ACCO, Agway, and private label brands. A former professional horse trainer, farm manager, and horse judging coach, Johnson was an assistant professor in the Agricultural Production Division at the University of Minnesota-Wasecae before joining Cargill. Johnson has also participated in a successful Thoroughbred racing partnership.

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