Feeding Foals

Similar to human babies, the nutrition and care a foal receives in the “baby” stage can have an effect on its whole life – including soundness and development issues that may not become obvious until years down the road. Starting your foal on the right path to nutritional health will pay off not only in the immediate future but in the long term as well.

Within a few hours of being born your foal will take in the mare’s first milk. This milk is known as colostrum and it provides valuable antibodies that help prevent diseases. In the first several weeks of life your foal focuses on nursing to get all of his nutrition. Your foal should consume 15-25% of his bodyweight daily in milk and will be gaining from 2-3 lbs. per day. If you notice your foal nursing longer than 30 minutes at a time, you may need to investigate and make sure that the mare is producing enough milk to the foal.

Foal scratching face
Ferris with mom Rosie - foals exhibit the most entertaining behaviors....

As early as one week of age your foal may start taking some interest in feed by nibbling at hay or grain. This initial interest may be just a way of imitating mom, but the foal soon learns to use these other sources of nutrition and his digestive tract quickly adjusts to solid food. One of the things your foal may eat might not look all that appetizing to you, but coprophagy (eating manure) is now recognized as being normal in foal behavior. It is thought to be a way that the foal’s hindgut gets prepared ferment forages later on.

Between weeks 13 – 24 your foal’s source of nutrition from his dam is starting to dwindle as the lactating mare produces less and less milk. At this point we want to make sure that the foal has a good and balanced supplemental source of nutrition; you may want to start a creep feeding program to make sure your foal has good access to this supplemental diet. 

Foal feed needs to be focused on providing balance to the diet.  Metabolic bone disease is something almost all foal owners fear. Foals who grow too rapidly, gain weight too quickly or who have an imbalance in essential parts of the diet (minerals, protein, calories, etc.) can end up with these serious health issues, which can include DOD (Developmental Orthopedic Disease), physitis, contracted tendons and others. Make sure that you are providing  a good, digestible source of protein (tip: look for guaranteed levels of amino acids), correct amounts  of vitamins and minerals (particularly important are calcium & phosphorus,  copper & zinc and selenium & vitamin E)  and the right amount of calories for sound growth.

Check out our Equine Growth Chart to chart your foal’s progress!


12 Replies to “Feeding Foals”

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Yes, you are ok to give your foal a couple carrots a day, sliced appropriately so there is no risk of choking. Enjoy that foal of yours!


  1. I just rescued a mare with a goal born last night the mare is in ok shape considering she came from the kill pen. Mom needs good food and so does baby. What supplements would be good for mom and not harm baby.

  2. How many times is a foal 10 days old need to nurse and for what length of time. I am worried about her. She is nibbling feed. She is poor. What do you think? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Teresa,
      Every foal is a bit different but the answer is quite frequent…more specifically on average a foal will nurse 7-10 times every hour for very short periods.

      If your foal is not nursing this often or is trying to eat other things (i.e. shavings, licking the wall, the mare’s feed), then it is showing you the foal is hungry. We recommend locating a milk based starter and creep pellet (Progressive Nutrition Foals First Starter and Creep is a great option) and allowing the foal free choice access. In addition have your veterinarian examine your mare to see why she isn’t producing enough milk. As for the mare’s diet, you may need to increase not only the calories she’s taking in but the nutrient content as well.
      Best of luck!
      -Abby K.

  3. What is the difference between the progressive Nutrition foals first starter and creep and the mare and foal feed?

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Great question! Progressive Nutrition Foals First Starter and Creep is a milk based feed designed specifically to optimize digestion in the foal that is 5 days old to 4 months of age. Nutrena SafeChoice Mare & Foal fits a broader spectrum meeting needs of both the broodmare as well as the young growing foal up till through their yearling year.

      Best of luck!
      -Abby K.

    1. Hi Jessie,

      Thank you for your question about when you can start giving a foal vitamins. This will depend a bit on how you are feeding the foal/weanling. We generally recommend that foals be started on a creep feed early in life, certainly by 1-2 months of age or so as the mare’s milk may not be providing adequate nutrition for desired growth. Goal is to have them eating 1 pound of creep feed for each month of age so that when they are weaned, they have a smooth transition to maintain a smooth growth curve with no loss of body condition at weaning. A feed designed for use as a creep feed will be fortified with the vitamins, trace minerals and amino acids needed for growth. It is important to continue feeding a product designed for weanlings at the recommended rate as weanlings do not have a fully functioning cecum and have some limits on digesting forage. That is why it is common to see weanlings that get a bit ribby and lose body condition.

      That said, if you want to supplement vitamins, you would need to use a product recommended for foals and weanlings and follow the product directions. Unless there is a specific medical reason or a problem with the mare’s milk production, probably no reason to use a vitamin supplement before 2 months of age. If there are specific issues, recommend working with your veterinarian.

      Best wishes,

      Roy J.

  4. I have a 8 month colt and I just need to get him on a set feed diet my first baby ever I was wondering what you recommend.

    1. Hi Adialyn, We would recommend finding a specific Mare & Foal feed, such as our SafeChoice Mare & Foal. Feed the product you select according to the directions on the tag for the proper daily amount, along with quality hay or pasture, and your colt will do wonderfully!

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