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Feeding Weanling Horses for a Smooth Growth PlaneBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 12, 2014

Keeping a smooth, steady plane of growth in young horses is desirable because skeletal problems are somewhat more common in foals that have growth slumps or sudden weight gains. For this reason, it’s important to minimize stress and keep newly weaned foals from experiencing a decline in condition. Foal managers can help weanlings maintain their development by planning their care before, during, and after weaning.

Before foals are weaned, a process that usually occurs when the young horses reach four to six months of age, they should have been introduced to concentrates, either by creep feeding or by allowing the foals to share the grain given to their dams. The feed should be formulated for growing horses so that lysine and other amino acids are included at the proper level for optimal growth. The inclusion of soybean meal usually fulfills this requirement.

During weaning, stress levels should be kept as low as possible by maintaining established routines for turnout, feeding, and handling. Managers should monitor weanlings for depression, loss of appetite, and signs of infection or illness. Use of the weanling’s regular grain and forage should continue. Weaning is not a good time to change feeds, check teeth, give vaccinations, or otherwise add excitement to the routine.

After weaning, the weight of each weanling should be monitored and feed adjusted as needed. Weanlings that become too ribby might need an extra meal each day, while those that tend to get too heavy may need to be switched to a balancer pellet that provides essential nutrients without adding calories. Weighing all weanlings weekly is a good method of assessing whether weight gain is progressing smoothly or if adjustments to the rations should be made.

Weanlings should be managed as individuals because each one will have a slightly different pattern of growth and development. As with older horses, weanlings should always have access to water, salt, and plenty of room to exercise.