Autumn; the leaves are turning, the air is crisp … and it’s time to wean those foals.
Up until now, the responsibility of making sure the new additions are well fed and cared for has been pretty much up to their momma, but now her job is done and it’s time for us to step in and take our turn. Foals grow extremely quickly, achieving 90% of their adult height in their first year of life. In order to sustain that growth, they need more nutrition than at almost any other point in their lives. This means that plain oats and hay are not enough to give a growing weanling all the nutrition they need to develop properly.
In order to make weaning less stressful on foals, and to make sure they understand that their complete feed is for eating, it’s a good idea to introduce the feed prior to weaning. If babies haven’t learned to eat their feed at mom’s side, you may have to put an older horse in with them to show them that it really is tasty. It is a good idea to supplement the foal from three months of age, even before they are weaned, as that is when the quality of the mare’s milk begins a significant decline.
As soon as they’re weaned, foals should be fed with good quality hay, as much as they’ll eat, and they need to be supplemented with a grain mixture with 14-16% crude protein. There are commercial complete feeds available specifically formulated for foals, but it is the percentage of crude protein that is most important. It is recommended to feed the foal 1% of it’s body weight in concentrate. If an average weanling Miniature Horse weighs 50 pounds, then they need a half a pound of complete feed at each feeding, and the amount will increase throughout their first winter, as they continue to grow.
How many times have you been to an auction, reached down to pet a fuzzy little weanling or yearling, and been horrified to discover how skinny they were under the hair? Or maybe you’ve done the same thing with your own horses. With Miniature Horses, we have a unique challenge when judging body condition … all that wool! You have to put your hands on your horses regularly throughout the winter to ensure that they have a healthy covering of fat over their ribs, backbone, and hips.
Many, many times I’ve been asked by caring, well meaning people, about what they can do to get the belly off their weanling or yearling. “I’ve tried everything,” they say, “I pulled him off all his oats and I’ve got him cut back to a handful of hay and he’s still got a huge belly.”
You know those telethons that are raising money for orphans in third world countries? Those starving children have big bellies too … it’s actually a symptom of malnutrition.
Just as it would be unthinkable to put a baby on a diet, it’s the same for a young, fast-growing horse. They need all the nutrition we can give them in order to grow healthy and strong.
For more information: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex4634