Creep Feeding Foals-An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Creep feeding, the process of making feed available to the foal before weaning, is an important element in a feeding program to maintain a consistent growth rate and to prepare the foal for weaning and long term development as an equine athlete.

The feed selected for use for creep feeding should be a feed designed with foals and weanlings in mind. These feeds will generally be 14-16 % protein and have a minimum guarantee for lysine and perhaps methionine and threonine as well, the first 3 limiting amino acids.  It should also be fortified with adequate calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium as well as Vitamins A, D and E.  Controlled starch and sugar levels may also be beneficial in a creep feed.  Prebiotics and probiotics are frequently included in these feeds as well.

There are multiple creep feed designs, ranging from buckets/feeders with bars across the top to keep the broodmare from eating the feed to feeding areas with entry openings wide enough to allow the foals to enter, but narrow enough to prevent the mares from entering. It is important to be able to keep the feed fresh and free of contamination.

The mare’s milk production will generally not provide adequate nutrition to support optimum growth past about 2 months of lactation. This is why it is important to start creep feeding prior to this time.  Relying on the foal being able to eat with the dam is not a very reliable way to provide nutrition to the foal.  The foal should be consuming about 1 pound of feed per day per month of age (2 month old foal, 2 pounds per day, 4 month old foal, 4 pounds per day).  Foals should also have access to fresh, clean water and salt free choice.

Foals will also start nibbling on forage early in life, but the cecum is not well developed at this time, so the forage will not be a good source of nutrition.

Monitoring Body Condition Score and rate of growth is useful with foals to make certain that they are on track and maintaining a smooth growth curve. This may also help reduce the risk of Developmental Orthopedic Disease issues.

A good creep feeding program, coupled with proper management (parasite control and vaccination) and proper handling can help make weaning a smooth process and get the young growing horse off to a great start to achieving their genetic potential as an equine athlete!

Inside the Broodmare’s Belly…

Lactation demands a lot from a broodmare!

Are you anxiously awaiting that first foal of the spring? Do you have the foaling stall ready, the vet on speed dial, and the video camera on the battery charger? While you’ve been busy prepping, here are some of the amazing changes that have taken place (or are about to take place) in your mare:

  • 6 Month Mark: During 2nd half of pregnancy, 60 – 65% of fetal growth occurs!
    • Energy requirements of the mare go up almost 30% over a normal maintenance horse – from 16.7 Mcal DE per day to 21.4 Mcal DE per day.
    • Her protein requirements will increase 32%, and vitamin and mineral requirements also increase significantly during this time.
    • 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. 
    • Adequate protein/amino acid intake is essential – lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development.
  • Last Trimester: The average foal fetus will grow by 1 pound per day!
  • Lactation: After the foal has been born the real work for the mare is just beginning.
    • The normal mare will produce around 24 lbs (3 gallons) of milk per day. During an average 150 day lactation, this equals 450 gallons or 1.75 tons of milk!
    • During lactation, a mare’s energy needs are easily doubled over her maintenance needs – from 16.7 Mcal DE per day to 31.7 Mcal DE per day!
    • While a mare is producing milk for her offspring, her water consumption can exceed 50-100% that of a maintenance horse.
    • Around 13-24 weeks after the mare has given birth, her milk production will decrease from 3% of her body weight to around 2%.

With all that effort going into producing a darling new foal for your farm, be sure to give your mare an extra pat on the neck, and of course, make sure you are feeding her properly!