Feeding Growing Horses

by Carol Frazier | June 03, 2015 | 0 Comments

Feeding Growing Horses


Dr. Tania Cubitt

Performance Horse Nutrition


The goal of any breeding program is to produce strong sound foals. To do this there are several factors involved including genetics, environment and nutrition. Nutrition is a critical piece of any successful breeding operation and must be considered at every level: Stallions, mares, foals. In part 3 of this 3 part series on feeding the stud farm we will focus on feeding the growing horse.


Few topics in equine nutrition stir more controversy than feeding the growing horse. Many factors add to the confusion of providing nutrition throughout these critical stages of life. For example, growing horses may have different commercial endpoints. Some will be shown in halter futurities where maximum growth and condition are required at a young age. Others will be prepared for sale, again requiring a “well-grown” individual. Still others will be kept on the farm to be used as replacement horses or future performance horses. These horses often have less pressure on them to look their best at a young age.


A healthy foal will grow rapidly, gaining in height, weight and strength almost before your eyes. From birth to age two, a young horse can achieve 90 percent or more of its full adult size, sometimes putting on as many as 3 lb per day. Feeding young horses is a balancing act, as the nutritional start a foal gets can have a profound effect on its health and soundness for the rest of its life. At eight to ten weeks of age, mare’s milk alone may not adequately meet the foal’s nutritional needs, depending on the desired growth rate and owner wants for a foal. As the foal’s dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and forage, your role in providing the proper nutrition gains in importance.


The critical nutrients for growth are energy, protein (amino acids), minerals and vitamins. Nutrition imbalances have been recognized as one potential cause of growth disorders in young growing horses. Therefore, it is important that the diets of young horses be properly balanced with nutrients known to be critical to proper development.


When you plan a feeding program for your young horses, several factors are very important:

  • Body changes involved in growth,
  • Nutrient requirements of that particular class of horse,
  • The feed’s nutrient content,
  • Anatomical limitations of young horses’ digestive system, for instance, you cannot feed young horses’ low-energy, bulky feeds because their digestive tracts are not large enough. Instead, young horses need concentrated sources of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to meet their nutritive needs.


The Nursing Foal

Foals will meet their nutritional requirements in their first 2 to 3 months with mare’s milk and pasture, plus whatever feed they start nibbling on. If a foal and mare are in good condition, the foal does not need to start creep feeding until it is at least 2 months old. However, some may need to start creep feeding by 30 days of age. In the third month of lactation, the mare’s milk production drops while the foal’s nutritional needs keep increasing. Therefore, foals have a nutrient gap. Creep feeding (that is, using feed that the mare cannot get to) can provide the foal with extra nutrients to fill this gap.


Several aspects of creep feeding 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 consuming it adequately.
  • 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 stall, allowing the foal to eat.
  • Put the creep feeder where mares gather frequently.
  • Feed the creep feed at a rate of 1% of the foal’s body weight per day (max – 1lb/100lb of body weight).


The Weanling

Generally foal performance decreases immediately after weaning. To minimize this “post weaning slump,” make sure foals are consuming enough dry feed at weaning to meet their requirements. One way of doing so is by creep feeding. Managing growth during this time is very important because excessive weight gain may cause bone abnormalities and long-lasting skeletal problems.


Feed weaned foals on a combination diet. First, they should be fed good quality forage. 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 and makes for a more durable future athlete.


Second, weanlings also should be fed concentrates at the approximately the following rate: 1lb per month of age per day (depending on the recommendations listed on the product). 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.


The Yearling

Because their growth rate slows considerably by 12 months, yearlings can consume more pounds of dry matter. Therefore, they need lower nutrient concentrations in their ration. Even though yearlings require only 12% CP in the total ration, a 14% CP concentrate ration gives you more flexibility. With this level, even if you use different types of hays with protein variations, the horse will still get enough protein. An 800lb yearling may receive 4-6lbs of concentrate per day plus free choice hay or pasture. The amount of concentrate required varies due to forage quality and quantity.


By the time yearlings are 18 months old (long yearlings), their growth rate has slowed even further. Although long yearlings only require 10% protein, you do not need to formulate a new ration for them. You can feed them the same ration as 12 month yearlings get. Because horses have highly individual natures, you need to adjust feed consumption to account for changes in individual condition. Some horses are easier to maintain than others. Therefore, you must combine your knowledge of nutrition, your eye for condition and your common sense to make the final adjustments on feed intake.





by Carol Frazier | May 12, 2015 | 0 Comments



Dr. Stephen Duren

Performance Horse Nutrition


            “Mowing” is a term used to describe the cutting or trimming of grass.  The mowing process cuts grass to a uniform height in a pasture or lawn.  Do pastures, paddocks or fields used to graze horses require mowing?  Is there a potential benefit of mowing?  At what height do you mow pasture grass?  Are there any risks associated with grazing horses on freshly mowed pasture?  Those questions and others will be answered as we discuss “Mowing Horse Pastures”.


Benefits of Mowing

            The main goal in pasture management is to maintain or to enhance grass quality.  The intake of pasture grass can be a significant source of nutrition for the grazing horse if the pasture is properly managed.  Mowing is one tool that can be used to better manage pasture.  Some horse owners mistakenly feel that mowing pastures is simply done to make the pastures look nice.  However, there are several valid reasons to consider for mowing pastures.  Some potential benefits of mowing include: weed management, enhancing forage quality and reducing grazing patterns. 

            Mowing pastures is a great means of controlling weeds.  Repeated mowing of pasture decreases the competitive ability of a weed to survive in a grass paddock.  Keeping weeds the same height of grass will give grass and advantage and prevent weeds from shading and restricting grass growth.  Mowing also serves to prevent weeds from establishing seed heads.  Eliminating seed heads prevents weeds from reproducing and spreading in the pasture.  The control of weeds in a pasture does not occur with a single mowing, but instead is facilitated with multiple mowing.

            Mowing pastures enhances pasture quality.  A grass plant that is actively growing is constantly producing nutrients that horses can utilize.  The mowing process keeps grass plants in a vegetative or growing state.  Mowing prevents the plants from reaching a reproductive state when they develop a seed head and ultimately cease growing.  Mowing also keeps plants at a shortened height which increases digestibility and palatability.  As grass plants grow tall they become fibrous and less digestible.    When mowing grass pastures, it is important not to cut grass plants too short since cutting too short will reduce leaf area which is needed to stimulate growth.  A grass plant that is cut too short is also prone to stress and may die.  The optimum height for a cool-season grass is approximately four inches (10 cm), while the optimum height for a warm-season grass is approximately eight inches (20 cm). 

            Mowing pastures also reduces grazing patterns.  Horses tend to graze in certain areas of a pasture and utilize other areas of the pastures to pass manure.  The grazed areas are very short and known as “lawns”.  The non-grazed areas consist of taller grass and they are known as “ruffs”.  This is a bit of golf course terminology, but it describes well the different areas of a horse pasture.  Mowing serves to shorten the taller grass and enhance its palatability.  Over time this will help to eliminate the grazing patterns that can exist of horse pastures and provide better utilization of pasture. 


Potential Risks for Horses Grazing Mowed Pasture

            What are the risks, if any, for horses grazing mowed pasture?  The single biggest risk associated with mowed pasture is the horse consuming mowed grass that has molded.  Once grass is mowed, the portion of grass that is clipped from the plant contains high moisture content.  These clippings are prone to molding.  If horses eat grass that has molded, it can cause a variety of symptoms including coughing and nasal discharge and in extreme instances result in death due to mold toxins.  Another potential risk of clipped forage is choking.  If horses take in large mouthfuls of short grass clippings they can potentially choke.  Both the risk for ingestion of mold and for choking can be virtually eliminated if the pasture is harrowed following mowing.  The harrowing process spreads the grass clippings evenly throughout the field and dramatically decreases the likely hood of any problems.                           

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