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Weaning Nutrition - Having a Plan

Weaning is like growing up and moving out.

We won’t discuss ages, but I vaguely remember stepping out into adulthood.

Car payments, insurance, rent, and groceries. Suddenly, your paycheck is no longer yours, it belongs to a lengthy line of people holding their hand out. Adulting comes with a little shock, a little excitement, and a lot of cheap food that you know your mom would not have approved of.

Weaning your foal should be easier than becoming an adult. Thank goodness! I know some adults who haven’t done so well with it. It can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need a plan and then work the plan.

Our goal in weaning is to produce even, steady growth. To reach that goal we focus on good nutrition, reducing stressors, and providing adequate exercise.

As our last article in the foal series we wrap up by preparing for weaning. Specifically a creating a nutrition plan but we should mention the other two factors that affect our goal before we dive into nutrition.

Stop Stressing

You may be watching over your foal, but he doesn’t know that. Suddenly mom isn’t there to protect him, feed him or tell him when something is dangerous. Depending on your facilities and situation you may be able to use some of these recommendations to reduce stress during weaning.

· Foals weaned together experience less stress.

· Foals weaned gradually where they can still see the mare but cannot nurse usually stress less.

· Maintaining familiar surroundings by moving the mare instead of the foal helps lower the stress level.

· Lastly, foals who start on rations before weaning stress less about losing mama (and mama’s milk).

Get Moving

As we discussed in previous articles, research suggest that differences in a foal’s exercise patterns have more of an impact on bone metabolism than differences in nutrition patterns. Experts recommend a minimum of 10 to 12 hours of turn out per day to increase bone metabolism.

Start With A Foundation

Nutrition is critical but an area where many owners miss the mark.

It is the foundation needed for good muscle, bone, and tendon development.

Start your foal on a good concentrate feed, typically when he is 2 to 3 months old and nursing no longer provides adequate nutrients for his growing body. Even though many feeds will meet your foal’s needs they are not all created equal. Below are some of the key nutrients and percentages recommended by nutritionist for your foal’s feed.

We recommend checking the labels or discussing feed with your dealer.


Pre-Weaning: 14 – 16%

Post-Weaning: 14 – 16%

Benefits: Body growth & maintenance, muscle, hair, and hoof.

Sources: Legumes such as soybeans, tick beans, lupines and seed meals from sunflower and canola.

Calcium (Ca)

Pre-Weaning: 0.7 -0.9%

Post-Weaning: 0.8%

Benefits: Structural integrity of skeleton, bones, teeth, muscle contraction, blood clotting, enzyme regulation.

Sources: Forages typically contain higher Ca levels than grains. However, legumes like alfalfa on average contain more than twice the amount of Ca than grass forages.

Phosphorus (P)

Pre-Weaning: 0.5 – 0.6%

Post-Weaning: 0.5%

Benefits: Helps balance ph and electrolyte levels. Needed for the body to process protein. A large part of bones, membranes, and DNA. Helps with the production of energy as adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP)

Sources: Forages, oats, corn, and soybean meal but the most absorbable forms come from inorganic phosphates often listed as monosodium phosphate; mono-, di-, and tri-calcium phosphate; or defluorinated phosphate

Copper (Cu)

Pre-Weaning: 50 – 90 ppm

Post-Weaning: 50 – 80 ppm

Benefits: Involved in energy production, iron metabolism, connective tissue formation, central nervous system function, immune system function, and melanin production. Lowers the concentration of histamine in the body for horses with allergies.

Sources: Cane molasses, flax meal, beet pulp, wheat middlings, grass hay, legume hay, oats, corn

Zinc (Zn)

Pre-Weaning: 120 - 240 ppm

Post-Weaning: 100-200 ppm

Benefits: Fetal development, growth, tissue repair, reproduction, and the immune system, to name a few. Zinc serves as a catalyst for more than 200 metalloenzymes in the body affecting a range of different processes.

Sources: Wheat bran, wheat middlings, and brewer's grains


Pre-Weaning: Up to 30 grams of lysine daily at 4 months of age

Post-Weaning: Over 50 grams of lysine as a long yearling in training

Benefits: Improves protein quality and aids in the body’s ability to use the protein for growth, blood building, tissue repair, and muscle development.

Sources: Soybeans, soybean meal, canola meal, and animal sources, such as milk proteins. Grains and grasses are typically low in the amino acid lysine.


Post-Weaning: 1-2% of body weight per day

Molars for grinding don’t come in till between 9 and 15 months so it’s not recommended to feed mature, stemmy forages. Aim to feed a quality grass hay with an acid detergent fiber value of 32% or less on a dry matter basis. Most hay companies can tell you the percentage. Alfalfa in the ration is beneficial if pasture grazing is limited. Alfalfa provides a rich source of protein and calcium. To maintain a preferable calcium-to-phosphorus ratio keep alfalfa intake to less than 50% of the forage intake, ideally closer to 25-30%.


Free choice, always available.


Free choice, always available.

Amount of Grain to Feed Each Day

Pre-Weaning: 1% of their body weight per day or 1 lb. per month of age per day. **

Post-Weaning: 1 – 1 1/2% of their body weight per day or 1 lb. per month of age per day. **

Use either of these methods based on whether you have a scale or are confident when using a tape.

*Using body weight: 1% of their body weight so a 200 lb. foal would get 2 lbs. per day.

Using age: a 2-month-old would get 2 lbs. per day and a 4-month-old would get 4 lbs. per day.

With the rise of metabolic and orthopedic disorders, feed companies are finding better ways to provide energy such as using fat or fiber instead of starch. Make sure your foal has plenty of forage, a good pasture or hay will make up for any energy deficiencies the grain may lack.

Weigh your foal and track your progress. An average foal should reach 50% of their mature weight and 80% of their mature height by six months old. Foals will grow on average 2 to 2.5 pounds per day while nursing and gradually drop to about 1 pound per day between weaning and yearling.

Pay attention to fat cover on the ribs and adjust feed accordingly. Most of us like a little fat on our horses but it can easily get out of hand, especially if you happen to have an easy keeper.

The key to good growth rates, avoiding DOD (Developmental Orthopedic Disease), and keeping your weanling and yearling meeting the goal of even, steady growth is balance. Be intentional with your feed program and stick to the plan to form a good foundation you can grow on as your horse grows.

Just like humans, some foals will transition effortlessly, while others don’t do as well. Keep in mind we survived becoming an adult, and before you know it, your filly or colt will become a contributing member of herd society.

We hope that your breeding program is a remarkable success and that you have enjoyed our foal series. Our breeding program is one of the greatest joys we have here at the ranch, but we couldn't do it without having a good plan in place. You know what they say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat to see more pictures of our foals as we will be easing into weaning around the beginning of fall.

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