Feeding Yearlings: Sales PreparationBy Dr. Clarissa Brown-Douglas · December 20, 2011
Preparing a yearling for sale requires correct nutrition, conditioning, grooming, and fitness. Properly prepared yearlings will be fit (not fat), sound, and well-grown with shiny coats. Taking time and effort during the preparation can often mean the difference between an adequate yearling and a sale topper. When one prepares a yearling for sale it is important to understand the nutrient requirements of the horse and the critical balance between feed intake and exercise as they impact condition and soundness.
Yearlings do best on a 14-17% protein feed balanced for macro- and microminerals, fat, and water-soluble vitamins. Feeding rates for yearlings are extremely variable depending on growth history, skeletal size, individual metabolism, actual age, and quantity and quality of forage. In the preparation of sales yearlings, hard feed intakes range from 1-2 kg/day (2.2-4.4 lb) of a supplement pellet to 7 kg/day (15.4 lb) of concentrate feed. Always feed each yearling as an individual, paying careful attention to body weight, monthly weight gain, and body condition score and adjust feed intake appropriately.
A high-quality, high-energy hay is recommended for these horses as this will maximise the utilisation of fibrous feeds in meeting their energy requirements and decreases the amount of starch in the total diet. Using a high-quality, early-cut hay will help avoid the pot-bellied appearance from gut-fill that is often associated with consumption of a mature hay of high lignin content. However, if you have a short, fat filly that needs to lose weight, choose a lower energy grass hay or oaten chaff rather than rich lucerne (alfalfa) or clover hay.
Beside the base feed, there are a few tools of the trade that fall into the nutrition category. First, and most common, is the use of a supplemental source of fat. There are two main reasons to use added fat in the diet: to improve coat and increase energy (for weight gain). The manner in which the supplemental fat is provided in the diet comes down to personal choice, but in some instances it may be more practical to top-dress the fat source rather than use a fat-added feed as this will allow more flexibility from horse to horse. You can use vegetable oil, oil seeds (sunflower or flax are most common), or a commercial fat supplement such as stabilised rice bran to provide the desired fatty acids and calories.
The amount of supplemental fat that is appropriate to use depends on the individual animal. The improvement in coat quality is relatively simple, and can be achieved with a minimum of 60 g (2.1 oz) per day of vegetable oil or about 250 g of stabilised rice bran. Supplemental calories from fat can also be used to reduce the amount of starch that must be fed to achieve a specific energy intake. When you reach 5 kg (11 lb) of hard feed intake in the yearling, you should start to really consider the advantages of supplemental fat. Big, rugged, raw-boned yearlings can take as much as 750 ml (3 cups) of vegetable oil or 2 kg (4.4 lb) stabilised rice bran per day.
In addition to added fat, many prep and show rations will contain super fibres such as lupins, soybean hulls, and beet pulp. With high concentrate intakes and large meals, there is a real possibility of starch-overload diarrhea, colic, laminitis, and behaviour problems in the yearling. By using super fibres such as beet pulp in the feed, one can reduce the amount of starch that a horse has to consume while maintaining relatively high energy intake levels. These sources of highly digestible fibre are fermented in the hindgut and absorbed as volatile fatty acids, reducing the amount of starch that may enter the hindgut undigested. Hindgut acidosis is common in sales yearlings on high-grain diets. Ad lib hay should be fed and a hindgut buffer can be used as a preventative measure or to yearlings showing signs of hindgut acidosis, such as diarrhea, inappetence and stable vices.
Exercise programs should be similarly tailored to the individual. It is critical to understand that fit and fat are not the same, and that a lot of feed without an increase in the work program results in a horse with a patchy distribution of fat cover and who is more prone to disorders such as colic, laminitis, physitis, and behavior problems.
The development of the future racehorse starts during pregnancy and you should feed the developing foetus (via the late pregnant mare), foal, weanling, and yearling well before it comes time to embark on intense sales preparation. The job of preparing a yearling is made much easier if you are able to begin with a well-grown horse with a good appetite, condition, and coat.
Obviously, there many tricks of the trade for getting a well-grown yearling to the sales ring, but the important thing is to design a program and stick to it. Modifications may be necessary along the way to suit individual needs, but the critical aspect is daily attention to detail. One should not get caught in the trap of thinking that there is some magical feed ingredient, supplement, or injection that is going to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Quality genetics, sound nutrition and hard work will be more likely to pay off in the end. Remember, you are preparing a future athlete, not fattening a lamb for market.