Feeding Foals During Weaning & Post Weaning – An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Baby SeamusProperly preparing the foals to be weaned can make the process much easier for everyone!

Keep in mind that weaning can be a high stress period for the foal.  With that in mind, other high stress events should probably not take place at the same time as weaning.  The following management practices should be in place before the foal is weaned:

  1. Make certain that the foal is consuming at least 1 pound of a feed per month of age of a feed designed for foals and weanlings.  If a foal is 4 months of age, it should be consuming at least 4 pounds of feed per day. If a foal is 6 months of age, it should be consuming at least 6 pounds of feed per day.  Appropriate feeds will be 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar along with amino acid, mineral and vitamin fortification.  Keep in mind that past 2 months of age, the milk produced by the dam is not sufficient to maintain adequate growth, so the foal should be creep fed if possible as not all mares allow the foal to eat with them. The day you wean the foal is NOT the day to change feeds!  The foal should also have access to high quality forage, loose salt and fresh, clean water.
  2. Make certain that the foal has been vaccinated for appropriate diseases according to your health care plan.  Vaccination is a stress on the animal, so you do not want to do this at the same time you wean the foal if that can be avoided.
  3. The foal should also be de-wormed prior to weaning.
  4. The foal should have been handled, taught to lead and have had its feet trimmed.

There are a number of ways to separate the foals from their mothers and many farms manage in different ways.

Monitor the new weanlings fairly closely and increase feed intake to maintain growth and body condition, feeding according to both weight and Body Condition Score.  Some weanlings become a bit pot-bellied and look a little rough following weaning.  This is frequently due to inadequate feed intake and too much forage.  The cecum is not fully developed in the weanling, so it cannot digest forage as efficiently as an older horse.  This limits nutrient availability and may limit growth and development.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition.  Uniform growth and maintaining target body condition is essential to reduce risk of certain types of Developmental Orthopedic Disease.  One of the things we want to avoid is letting the weanling get off normal growth rate, then deciding to push for rapid growth as a yearling to hit target for show or for scheduled sales.

Feeding and Managing Pregnant Mares-Fall Check List

Animal protein products provide lysine, an important amino acid for young growing foalsOne of the most important development periods in the life of a foal is the last 6 months of gestation when the foal is developing in the uterus of the mare. The importance of this period was recognized in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, when the Committee established that the nutrient requirements of the mare start increasing at the 6th month of gestation.  Mares that foaled and were re-bred or were bred in the first four months of the calendar year may now be entering 6th month of gestation, so a fall check-up is an excellent idea.

The key elements of managing the pregnant mare are the following:

  1. Maintain appropriate body condition score.  Mares should be at about a body condition score 6 when they foal so that they have sufficient energy reserves for early lactation as well as to maintain condition for re-breeding.  If they need to gain weight, now is an excellent time to gradually increase the energy intake of the diet so they will be in the desired body condition at foaling.  If they are a bit too heavy, increased exercise or slight reduction in energy intake may be useful while still maintaining amino acid, vitamin and mineral intake for the developing foal.  Drastic weight loss is NOT recommended!
  2. Adequate protein/amino acid intake.  Lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development.
  3. Adequate mineral and trace mineral intake.  The mare needs to be receiving adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium to provide minerals for the development of the foal and to build the foals own trace mineral reserves.  Trace minerals are also critical for immune support.
  4. Vaccinations and deworming.  A regular health care program should be developed in conjunction with a veterinarian so the mare is protected herself and can also produce antibodies to protect the foal when it nurses and receives the colostrum that contains maternal antibodies.
  5. If a mare was bred during the breeding season and is NOT pregnant, this is a good time to have this mare checked over carefully to determine why she did not settle or if she settled and aborted.  She may require treatment to have her ready to breed in the next breeding season.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but may not provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An appropriate ration balancer product may be used from month 5 to about month 10 or 11 of gestation to provide the missing nutrients.  A feed designed for broodmares and foals can be introduced prior to foaling so that the mare is on the feed before she foals.  This feed can then be increased after foaling to provide both the increased energy and the increased nutrients that are required for lactation, as well as providing nutrition for the foal when it starts to nibble on feed.  Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available at all times.

Feeding the broodmare properly during gestation can help reduce the risk of developmental problems for the foal and help insure that the mare can be rebred in a timely manner to produce another foal the following year.

Biosecurity for Horses at Home

Participation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses and owners generally like to show other people their horses when guests visit their farm, ranch or stable. This also means that that the horses are at risk, even when at home, from potential biosecurity breaches.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines as you think about biosecurity at home:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses your home herd and horses that travel. This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian. Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.   If you have new horses coming to your barn, you may want to make certain they have been vaccinated as well.  Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate when horses are shipped. This may be a requirement for horses arriving at your facility.
  2. If possible, have a visitor parking lot and unloading area that is separate from your barn area. Try to avoid spreading manure that might come off trailers on your pastures.
  3. Consider having a disinfectant footbath for all visitors to walk thru before they enter your barn. Have waterless hand solution available as well.
  4. If you have planned guest visitors, graciously suggest that they not wear the same clothes, particularly boots, as they wear in their home barn, particularly if you are aware of any outbreaks in your area. You may want to have disposable plastic boot covers available.
  5. If possible, have an isolation area where new horses are stabled for 30 days before they are introduced to the herd or have nose to nose contact.
  6. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  7. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.
  8. Biosecurity can be particularly important if there are reported outbreaks of strangles or Equine Herpes Virus in your area. Be aware of any recent reports as appropriate.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal-health/equine-health

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help reduce the risk of introducing diseases to your horses at your facility!

Biosecurity for Horses When Traveling

HorseBlanketParticipation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses.  Proper attention to biosecurity can help make certain that all are able to enjoy the events all year around.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines to keep in mind as your travel with your horse:

  1.  Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses that are going to travel.  This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian.  Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.
  2. Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate that you need to show when you arrive at the event.  Regulations vary by state, so know what states you will be traveling in or thru.
  3. When you arrive at the show, check the stalls before you unload your horses to make certain they have been cleaned and do not have physical issues such as nails, broken boards etc.  If stalls have built in feeders, make certain that they have been cleaned.  If in doubt, consider bringing some disinfectant with you when you travel and cleaning those corner feeders or built in feeders.
  4. Do NOT use a communal water trough.  When using a water hose or faucet, make certain the hose is not stuck into your water bucket when you are filling buckets.
  5. Do not share buckets or grooming tools with other stables or owners.  You should have your own equipment and should disinfect it when you return home.
  6. As much as possible, avoid direct contact with animals from other farms or stables.  (Easier said than done!)  Keep an eye on horses in stalls adjacent to your stalls.  Try to avoid any equine nose to nose contact!  Some things that are cute may not be good biosecurity.
  7. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  8. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov.

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help you travel safely with your horses.

Draft Horse Nutrition – Feeding the Gentle Giants

ClydesdaleThe Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire and Suffolk breeds are the primary draft horse breeds in the U.S.  The breeds are named for their country or area of origin.  The Belgians originated in the Belgium, the Clydesdales originated in the river Clyde district of Scotland, the Percherons originated in the Perche region of France, the Shires originated in the east of England and the Suffolk originated in the counties of Norwich and Suffolk in England.  They were originally imported to the U.S. for true horsepower and are now very popular for shows, pulling competitions, parades and work.  The commercials and advertising associated with the Clydesdales have made that breed one of the most recognized of the draft breeds.

Draft horses are large, heavy muscled animals that are relatively slow to mature and are metabolically very efficient.  Mature horses will weigh anywhere from 1500 lbs to well over 2000 lbs.  Hoof quality, bone strength, muscle development and hair coat are all key criteria that are important in raising and using draft horses.  As draft horses perform work, energy requirements increase substantially.

Good quality forages, grass or grass/legume mixtures, are an important part of the draft horse diet.  Horses will consume 1.5-2.5% of bodyweight in forage.  Properly balanced grain mixtures, pelleted or textured, may be used to provide the additional energy, amino acids, minerals, trace minerals and vitamins to balance the diets.

Poor quality hoof growth can be a problem with draft horses.  The use of feeds containing biotin, zinc and methionine may be beneficial for these horses.

Draft horses may also be affected by Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, which used to be called Monday Morning Disease or Azoturia.   This conditions results in the horse “tying up” with stiff muscles and reluctance to move.  These horses may benefit from a diet that has controlled levels of non-structural carbohydrates or soluble carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and that contains added fat from vegetable oil as well as optimum selenium and vitamin E levels.  Regular exercise and turn out are also important for these horses.

Growing draft horses may also develop Developmental Orthopedic Disease problems as a result of genetics, conformation, stress or improper nutrition.  Feeding a balanced diet and avoiding excess body condition score may be beneficial in reducing the risk of these problems.

Be sure to provide free choice salt and access to fresh clean water for all your draft horses, especially those who are performing heavy work.

Feed Room Security – What is most important to your horse?

Feed Room 004The area where feed is stored can be very important to the long term health of your horse.  Failure to store feed properly can be hazardous to your horse.

Feed storage areas should have the following characteristics:

  1. Dry and well ventilated – Feed must be protected from moisture. Feed bags should not be stacked directly on the floor as moisture may be absorbed in the bottom bags and the feed may mold in the bag. Any feed storage containers (bins, garbage cans etc.) should be water and pest resistant.  Also, you should completely empty and clean out the feed storage container on a regular basis.  If you store feed in bags, make old feed is not allowed to accumulate by stacking new feed on top of the old bags.
  2. Well lighted – It is important that you be able to see clearly the condition of any feed or supplement products stored in your feed room. Feed and feed supplements are produced under controlled conditions.  Once the feed has left a feed mill, it may be exposed to other conditions in storage, so it is wise to be able to see clearly what the feed looks like every time you feed your horse.
  3. Clean – It is important to keep the feed room/storage area free of spilled feed, dust and potential sources of contamination.
  4. Pest free – Feed tends to attract rodents, birds and insects. Spilled feed should be cleaned up.  If pest control is required, care should be taken to make certain that any pesticides or rodenticides cannot contaminate the feed and that animals cannot access the pest control material.  The hay storage area should also reduce the risk of exposure to pests.  Opossums are identified as potential carriers of Equine Protozal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).  Other species may also be carriers.
  5. Secure – Horses and other animals should be prevented from accidental access to the feed storage area. If the Houdini in your barn opens the stall and gets into the feed room, lots of bad things can happen!  Also, if you have multiple species, you need to keep horse feed clearly separated for any other species feed, particularly medicated ruminant, poultry and swine feeds.

Unusual Eating Behavior – Culprit Could be Salt Deficiency

Salt Block for HorsesUnusual eating behavior ( sometimes referred to as pica) can be caused by a number of factors and may cause the horse to eat manure, eat dirt, eat bark off trees, chew on board fences, chew on stable mate’s mane & tail or chew on tool handles or leather equipment.

I usually suggest going thru the following check list for the most common causes of unusual eating behavior:

  1. Lack of salt. Lack of salt can trigger a number of unusual eating behaviors (eating manure, chewing bark on trees, eating dirt, chewing on objects, chewing on tool handles etc.) Recommendation is to offer loose salt free choice as horses will consume more readily than block salt, particularly in cold weather. Block salt is better than not offering any salt source. Maintenance horses require 1-2 ounces of salt per day.  This may increase to 4-6 ounces per head per day in hot humid conditions or with added exercise.  Commercial feeds may contain 0.5% salt.  Horses may still benefit from salt being offered free choice along with access to fresh, clean water.
  2. Fiber intake in the diet might be inadequate. If a horse does not feel full, it will look for other things to eat. Make sure there is adequate long stem roughage available.  Fences, trees, manes and tails may suffer if there is not sufficient roughage!
  3. Phosphorus deficiency. Horses have quite limited “nutritional wisdom”, but phosphorus deficiency may trigger unusual eating behavior, including eating manure or dirt. Offering a free choice calcium, phosphorus and salt mineral may be useful.  In the wild, animals frequently consume bones or shed antlers to get minerals.
  4. Protein deficiency. Again, horses have limited “nutritional wisdom”, but inadequate protein or poor quality protein may trigger some of the unusual eating behaviors. Evaluating the forage and the overall feeding program is useful.
  5. Ulcers. Horses that have ulcers will sometimes eat dirt or manure as well as chew on other objects. The saliva produced when chewing is believed to have a buffering effect.

I always start by offering loose salt free choice and making certain that fiber intake is adequate. If that does not remedy the problem, I will then go to offering a good mineral product (calcium, phosphorus, salt combination, perhaps with some trace minerals) and perhaps a full ration evaluation.  Other behaviors may help decide if ulcer assessment is needed.

Unusual behavior may be the horse’s way of trying to tell us something!

Feeding and Managing Pregnant Mares: Prenatal Nutrition

Pregnant MareMany broodmares are in the last half of gestation at this time. The latter part of gestation is one of the most important development periods in the life of a foal when the foal is developing in the uterus of the mare.  The importance of this period was recognized in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, when the Committee established that the nutrient requirements of the mare start increasing at the 6th month of gestation, earlier than previously believed.  During the last three months of gestation, the foal may be gaining an average of one pound per day.

The key elements of managing the pregnant mare are the following:

  • Maintain appropriate body condition score.
    • Mares should be at about a body condition score 6 when they foal so that they have sufficient energy reserves for early lactation as well as to maintain condition for re-breeding.
  • Adequate protein/amino acid intake.
    • Lysine, methionine, and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development.
  • Adequate mineral and trace mineral intake.
    • The mare needs to be receiving adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium to provide minerals for the development of the foal and to build the foals own trace mineral reserves.  Trace minerals are also critical for immune support.
  • Vaccinations and deworming.
    • A regular vaccination program should be developed in conjunction with a veterinarian so the mare is protected herself and can also produce the appropriate antibodies to protect the foal when it nurses and receives the colostrum that contains maternal antibodies.  This is what protects the foal until it can be vaccinated and develop its own antibodies.  The mare should also be dewormed as needed prior to foaling.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but may NOT provide adequate amino acids and minerals for optimal fetal development.  A well-designed ration balancer product may be used from month 5 to about month 10 or 11 of gestation to provide the missing nutrients.  A well-designed feed for broodmares and foals should be introduced prior to foaling so that the mare is on the feed before she foals to avoid the need for a sudden change in feed at foaling. This feed can then be increased after foaling to provide both the increased energy and the increased nutrients that are required for lactation, as well as providing nutrition for the foal when it starts to nibble on feed.  Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available at all times.

Feeding the broodmare properly can help reduce the risk of developmental problems for the foal and help insure that the mare can be rebred in a timely manner to produce another foal the following year if desired.

Cold Weather Care and Feeding of Horses

Horse in pasture during snow fall

Cold weather, particularly below freezing temperatures and cold rains, requires that owners pay careful attention to their horses to make certain that the horses maintain weight through the winter months.

First, make certain the horses are at least a body condition score of 5 or 6, meaning that the horses are carrying some fat cover over their ribs. Body condition should be monitored by physical examination at least monthly as long hair can hide weight loss. This is particularly important for older horses. The horses should also be kept up to date on dental care and overall health care, including appropriate deworming. It is a good idea to let horses go barefoot with proper hoof care during the winter.

Second, adequate water, above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, should be available at all times. If water sources freeze, the ice should be broken at least twice per day. Owners should NOT rely on horses eating snow for their water supply. A 1200-pound horse will require 12-15 gallons of water per day during cold weather. Having inadequate water available or water that is too cold for horses to drink comfortably may contribute to impaction colic. A horse that does not have adequate water available will also decrease feed intake, which may lead to loss of body condition. Salt should be available free choice, preferably loose salt rather than a salt block as horses may not lick a cold salt block.

Third, provide shelter from cold rains and wind. Horses remain remarkably comfortable in cold weather if they are dry and have shelter from the wind. Cold rains mat down the hair coat, reducing the insulation value of the hair and causing the horses to lose body heat.

Fourth, feed more! A horse’s digestible energy requirement increases for each degree below the thermal neutral zone. Wind chill increases the energy requirement also. Hay or high fiber products produce more heat during digestion than do grains, so adding extra good quality roughage to the diet is a good option. Grain intake can also be adjusted to maintain the desired body condition, but needs to be adjusted gradually.

  • A 1200 lb. horse at maintenance requires about 17.7 Mcal (17,700 Calories) of DE for maintenance.
  • Each degree C below Lower Critical Temperature (Anywhere from 5 degrees C or 40 degrees F down, depending on what the horse is used to.) increases DE requirement about 2.5%. (NRC, 6th Edition, page 10-11.)
  • Converting to Fahrenheit, each degree drop requires about 1.375%, so if the temperature drops from 10 degrees F to 0 degrees F, the DE requirement may increase 13.75% to 20.13 Mcal or 20,130 Calories.
  • This increase of 2430 Calories would require an additional 2.8 pounds of alfalfa grass hay to maintain body condition.
  • If the horse does NOT get the additional DE, the horse could lose a little over a quarter of a lb. per day.
  • If we have 3 months of cold weather, it is very easy for a horse to drop a full body condition score.

Proper winter care will help assure that your horse is ready for winter activities and is ready for spring when it finally arrives!

Feeding Weanlings

Weanling in pastureYou have followed your preferred method for weaning foals and you have followed the directions below:

  1. You made certain that the foals were consuming at least 1 pound of a feed per month of age of a feed designed for foals and weanlings.  6 month old foals were consuming 6 pounds of feed per head per day.
    1. Appropriate feeds will be 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar along with amino acid, mineral and vitamin fortification designed for young growing horses.
  2. You kept in mind that past 2 months of age, the milk produced by the dam was not sufficient to maintain adequate growth, so the foals were creep fed if possible as not all mares allow the foal to eat with them.  The foal also had access to high quality forage, loose salt and fresh, clean water.
  3. You made certain that the foals were vaccinated for appropriate diseases and de-wormed according to your health care plan.  Vaccination is a stress on the animal, so you did not do this at the same time you weaned the foals
  4. The foals have been handled, taught to lead and have had their feet trimmed.

Now What?

You need to monitor the weanlings/early yearlings fairly closely and adjust feed intake to maintain desired growth rate and healthy body condition, feeding according to both weight and Body Condition Score (BCS).

  • Weanlings at 6 months of age that will mature at 1200 lbs. may be gaining 1.5+ lbs. per head per day.
  • The objective should be to maintain a smooth and steady rate of growth and a BCS of about 5.

Why Does My Weanling Have a Pot Belly?

Some weanlings become a bit pot-bellied, do not gain muscle mass and look a little rough following weaning.  This is frequently due to inadequate concentrate feed intake and too much forage.  The cecum is NOT fully developed in the weanling, so it cannot digest forage as efficiently as an older horse.

If a young growing horse is not getting the essential amino acids from a well-balanced concentrate, muscle development is slowed down.  If it is not getting the appropriate minerals, the risk of developmental orthopedic problems may increase.

How MUCH Should You Feed a Weanling?

A 6 month old weanling may be consuming 2.0-3.5% of bodyweight in feed and hay per day as fed and should be consuming about 70% concentrate and 30% forage.  At 12 months of age, the growth rate will slow down to about 1-1.25 lb. per day and the yearling will be consuming about 2.0-3.0% of bodyweight in feed and hay per day as fed and the concentrate to forage ratio will drop to 60:40.

As the young horse grows, the rate of growth slows down and the amount of forage it can digest efficiently increases.  Digestible Energy (DE) intake drives growth, but requires the right balance of amino acids and minerals to achieve healthy growth.  Too much DE without the right balance might lead to excessive BCS (fat!) with lack of muscle gain and may increase risk potential developmental orthopedic issues.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition in the weanling to yearling transition to help develop a sound equine athlete.