How To Feed A Foal
A foal is born with a reserve of energy store in the form of brown fat in its gut tissues. This provides sufficient energy to enable the foal to stand, move around, suckle and maintain its body temperature. For the first 2-3 days a mare will produce colostrum to feed her foal. Colostrum provides immunoglobulins or antibodies that are essential to the foal to provide immunity against disease and infection in the first few weeks of life. The level of antibodies in the mare’s colostrum falls rapidly after the first 12-14 hours, once the foal has suckled the initial colostrum reserve. During the first week of it’s life, a foal suckles up to 105 times each day and will stay within a metre of it’s mother about 85% of the time. After the first week of life, the foal drinks 2-3 times per hour or up to 65 times a day. A well-fed mare will provide enough milk for her foal to obtain most of the nutrients it needs.
Most foals start to nibble grass within the first few weeks of life, but grass contributes little to their nutrition at this stage. The foal’s digestive system does not produce enzymes in sufficient quantities to digest sugars and starches until at least 3 weeks of age.
A foal will also nibble at its mother’s feed if allowed. Some young foals may start to drink water from 3 weeks of age, whilst other foals may not drink water until they are weaned.
From about 2 months of age, most foals are unable to obtain sufficient energy and protein from milk alone, and from 3 months, the nutritional contribution from the mare’s milk begins to decline significantly. Any nutritional shortfall must be made up by grazing and/or a good quality concentrate specifically designed with the foal’s need’s in mind. It is vitally important, however, to closely monitor the foal’s growth rate and development.
The goal at this stage is to produce a foal which will tolerate the weaning process well. If a foal has been accustomed to eating concentrates, it is less likely to suffer a nutritional setback during weaning. It is common for a foal’s growth rate to drop after weaning, followed by a compensatory growth spurt, which may be damaging to his joints. For this reason, it is essential that the foal is on a good concentrate and that good quality grazing and hay is available.
What makes Spurwing an especially good foal ration?
Controlled feeding of concentrates to maintain an optimum rate of growth from 2 months of age to weaning and thereafter is essential. Spurwing Supastart is recommended for foals from 3-4 months and up to 1 year. Spurwing Supastart is a nutrient dense ration with highly digestible energy sources, the best amino acid profile from top quality lucerne and full fat soya, and the correct levels of vitamins and minerals to enable to foal to grow to its genetic potential. A growing foal will need a protein percentage between 14% and 16%. Spurwing Supastart provides the full range of essential amino acids essential for optimum growth.
A young nursing foal can be supplemented with concentrates at a rate of 1.0-1.5% of their body weight (or 1.0 – 1.5kg per 100kg), depending on a few factors, namely adequate exercise, pasture, hay and condition of the mare.
What to watch out for:
It is essential that the foal does not grow too quickly, and that the foal is fed a balanced concentrate, suited specifically for foals. The incidence of Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) is great in young foals with spurts of growth. This results in enlarged growth plates, contracted tendons and abnormalities of the knee, hock and fetlock joints.