Neonatal foals get virtually all their nourishment from their dam for the first few weeks of life, and a large percentage of their nutritional needs for several months also come directly from the mare.
A major concern with young performance horses is the high incidence of skeletal injury. Young, growing horses transferred from pasture to stalls prior to yearling sales or commencement of training may be predisposed to injury.
Your foal was born healthy, nursed well, and grew as expected until about three months of age. Then, he just seemed to slow down. What could be the problem?
A number of factors influence the growth rates of foals. Availability of adequate nutrients is important to maximizing, or at least optimizing, growth. The required nutrients change as the animal grows and the growth rate changes.
There are two nutrition resources for feeding horses of all ages: the National Research Council (NRC) and German Society of Nutrition Physiology (GIE). Both organizations attempt to provide sound nutritional information, yet in some instances differ widely in their recommendations.
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.
Nutrition of foals is important in minimizing the occurrence of skeletal disease as horses grow and mature. Two studies conducted by researchers from Animal Health Services in the Netherlands analyzed the effect of supplementing young foals with minerals or a placebo.
A foal’s digestive system changes as it matures based on its diet. As foals incorporate more forages and concentrates into their diet, the hindgut continues to develop, becoming populated with microorganisms that function to break down and ferment ingested fiber.
Many horse farms have had an occasional foal that is born with, or eventually shows, problems with proper skeletal development. However, if a farm sees these problems in more than just a few foals each year, there may be some particular genetic predisposition, horse care practice, environmental factor, or nutritional element, either for mares or their foals, that is out of line.
The formation of functional bone in young horses requires the delivery of the right material in the right proportions. If any factor is disturbed, the possibility of poorly formed or malformed bone exists.
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