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Start Your Foal Out Right To Help Avoid Bone And Tendon Problems Later In Life

Start Your Foal Out Right To Help Avoid Bone And Tendon Problems Later In Life
28 November, 2011
– Dr Rensia Möller

Part II

Creep Feeding Nursing Foals

In the earliest stages of life a foal’s nutritional requirements are pretty much met with mare’s milk and pasture, plus whatever the foal starts nibbling on, such as grain fed to the mare. However, once the foal reaches 2 months of age, his nutritional demands outstrip what the mare can provide with milk alone. It is at this stage that creep feeding can be a benefit.

There have been concerns that a creep-feeding program would contribute to orthopaedic developmental problems because the foal is being stimulated to develop at its genetic maximum. Latest research however concluded that the opposite is true and that creep feeding actually reduced the potential for post-weaning developmental problems, rather than being a contributing cause. The reason for this is that the foal on creep feed will have grown to his optimum potential, thus reducing a spurt of compensatory growth after weaning.

Foals are under a great deal of stress at weaning because their diet is changed, there is the loss of companionship with their dam, and they may be moved to a new location. Stress at weaning can result in injury, weight loss, and health problems. These stresses can result in reduced competitiveness of the foals in the yearling sales ring. Creep feeding has been shown to reduce stress on foals at weaning. Foals that are accustomed to concentrate feed prior to weaning exhibit less stress than those foals that do not receive concentrate before weaning.

Research rations contained 13% protein and 17% protein. There was however very little difference in results between the two rations. The principle was that the creep-fed foals were in better physical condition and were healthier than their counterparts that were not creep-fed. In addition, the creep-fed foals were ready to move into the next phase of development post-weaning. And, perhaps most importantly, researchers noted no problems with limb developments in these foals.

There are aspects of creep feeding that are very important:

Start creep feeding when foals are about 8 to 12 weeks old. Make sure the feed is fresh daily and that foals are adequately eating it:

  • Use a creep feeder designed so that mares cannot gain access and so that foals will not be hurt. If you do not want a field-type feeder, you can tie the mare in her stable, allowing the foal to eat.
  • Put the field creep feeder where mares gather frequently.
  • Feed the creep feed at a rate of 1% of the foal’s body weight per day (1kg/100kg of body weight). For most foals of light horse breeds this amount of feed is approximately 450g of feed per month of age. Do not provide creep feed free-choice because that could increase the incidence of physitis among the larger, more rapidly growing foals.
  • If the foal is in good body condition and the mare producing adequate milk, start creep feeding with a balancer pellet such as Epol All Phase Balancer. This is the preferred feed for foals and mares on good quality pastures.
  • If the foal needs to gain body condition and/ mare’s milk quality or volume starts dropping, Epol Yearling pellets 16% protein is recommended.

Post-Weaning Feeding

The creep feeding program helps prepare the foal for that traumatic day when it is weaned. At this point the appropriate diet and exercise are highly important.

Suggestions: Feed weaned foals on a combination diet. First they should be fed good-quality roughage: They should have access to all the good-quality hay they will consume and allowed all the voluntary exercise they want. Research has shown that exercise strengthens bone, increases cortical thickness (the dense outer tubular structure of bone), and makes for a more durable future athlete.

Second, weanlings also should be fed concentrates at the following rate: 1- 1.5 kg/ 100 kg of body weight per day. This ration should contain at least 14% crude protein, 0.90% calcium, and 0.80% phosphorus. Adjust protein percentages in the concentrate according to the type of roughage you use. If you use a combination of lucerne and grass hay, a lower protein ration of 14% protein can be fed, such as Epol stud muesli; if you feed grass hay only a 16% protein ration is recommended such as Epol Yearling pellets. Also remember that if you feed higher quality roughage, the foal will need less concentrate, or a balancer pellet can be fed where the addition of oats can be monitored to achieve optimum growth rate and not maximal or excessive.

Be careful not to feed weanlings too much concentrate. If you feed them high levels of concentrates, they will grow more rapidly, and this rapid growth may harm skeletal and tendon development. Therefore, adjust feed intake to avoid overfeeding, and weigh/weight tape horses regularly combined with the use of a body condition scoring system.

One thing on which all equine nutritionists agree is that the quality of roughage and grain must be the highest available. This would be especially true with hay and pasture, as it is a given that hay can vary widely in nutrient content and that many factors influence its quality. It is a good idea to have the hay and/pasture tested to see exactly what nutrients it contains.

Take-Home Message

Raising a foal to be a strong, healthy horse capable of competing in the athletic world on strong, healthy limbs can be a challenge. However, you can accomplish this goal if you get that foal off to the correct nutritional start very early in life and maintain a sound feeding program for him throughout his career, opting for optimal growth instead of maximal growth, and avoiding sudden growth spurts and weight gains/losses.

May your foals become winners in the growing.

All the best
Rensia Möller

Article Brought to you by:

Dr Rensia Möller
Equine Veterinarian and International Nutritionist

Dr Rensia Möller obtained her Agricultural Science before graduating cum laude for her BScAgric Honours in Equine Nutrition and Genetics. She obtained her Masters in Equine Exercise Physiology and Equine Nutrition at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty before completing her Veterinary Science degree at Onderstepoort cum laude.

She opened an equine veterinary and nutrition practice in 2002, as well as developing her own equine nutritional supplement brand in South Africa. She was appointed manager of Zabeel Feedmill in Dubai in 2006 where she custom designed professional performance equine feeds for various internationally acclaimed trainers including Mike de Kock, competing for the Dubai World Cup, with numerous race winners and success stories on these feeds. She also exclusively developed formulas for the world renowned Godolphin and Darley equine racing and breeding houses.

She is currently on board the dynamic Epol team, doing part-time consultancies for Epol clients, and passionately formulating and upgrading their range e.g. the newly launched long awaited mueslis and the international add-on of the Mike de Kock racing range. She is also available for private client consultancies.

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