Feeding Foals After Weaning

Life Stage : Breeding & Growing

Anna Pesta Dunaway, Ph.D.

Equine Nutritionist, Equine Technical Solutions

As summer comes to an end and that little baby is getting bigger and more independent, it is time to start thinking about the nutrition requirements of your weanling horse.

This can be a stressful time, both emotionally and nutritionally, but keeping these tips for weaning horses in mind can ensure a smooth transition and continued healthy growth.

When to Wean a Foal

If the weanling horse is one you have raised since birth, you have a lot of control over how well-prepared your baby is for weaning time. Foals will start to show interest in feeds very early on and, by around two months of age, their mother’s milk will no longer supply all the nutrients needed for optimum growth.
To support smooth, steady growth, suckling foals should be offered one pound of a properly-formulated foal feed per month of age per day. For example, a 3-month-old would ideally be eating about three pounds of feed per day, in addition to milk and free choice hay or pasture.

A weanling horse already accustomed to eating an adequate amount of dry feed will transition to life without mom much easier and will be ready to maintain nutrient intake at a level that can sustain optimum growth. Knowing how to eat and having a safe friend or buddy to keep them company following weaning helps foals adjust to their new independence.

Best Feed for Weanling Horses

When weaning horses, it is important to offer weanlings a high-quality feed specifically formulated for foals. Young, growing horses have different requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals than adult horses.

A proper balance of high-quality proteins, calories, calcium and phosphorus is needed for correct muscle, bone and tendon development. Feeds formulated for adults will not provide the necessary nutrients for your baby to fulfill their genetic potential and may cause deficiencies and increase the risk of growth abnormalities. Purina feeds formulated for growing foals include Ultium® Growth, Omolene® #300, Strategy® GX, and Enrich Plus®.

An economy-type feed that has a seemingly adequate amount of crude protein (14-16 percent) will likely not supply sources of protein that are easily digestible or provide the correct ratios of amino acids. Now is not the time to skimp on nutrients!

Is Your Foal Feed Working? Track Your Weanling’s Progress.

Steady, consistent growth through weaning and to maturity can influence lifelong soundness. Periodically weigh your foal on a scale or properly use a weight tape to get an approximate weight, as well as a height stick to measure wither and hip height.

As a general rule, foals should reach approximately 50 percent of their mature weight and 80 percent of their mature height by six months old. Plotting your weanling horse’s height and weight over time should show a smooth, steady growth curve with no obvious peaks or valleys. 

Monitor and Make Adjustments

Prior to weaning, the foal is growing at a rapid rate of about 2-2.5 pounds per day. This growth gradually slows after the foal becomes a weanling horse—to about one pound per day as they approach 12 months of age. The ability of the weanling’s digestive system to digest forages also increases post-weaning, as does their daily forage intake. Therefore, the proportion of the diet as feed may not continue to increase, and may actually decrease, if forage quality is excellent.

Be sure to always feed at least the minimum recommended amount of the foal feed you choose in order to provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Routine evaluation of body fat cover, especially the amount of fat covering the rib area, will help determine when adjustments in feeding rates should be considered. 

Weanling horses are growing to their genetic potential when they are being fed a well-balanced diet in amounts to maintain slight cover so ribs aren’t seen but are easily felt.