Weanlings are young horses that have been separated from their dam and are below the age of 1-year. This is the most critical time of their lives as they are rapidly growing and receiving training that will have life-long effects. As they mature, they require proper nutrition as it plays an important role in their growth and development. A caretaker should take care of their horse’s nutritional requirements during the first few years of life. Here are five essential points that you must remember when feeding a weanling:
1. Nutritional Needs
For the first few months, a foal is entirely dependent on mare’s milk for nutrition. As the foal matures, they require a special diet that must include all the right nutrients. Here are some key nutrients that you should include in your weanling’s diet:
Energy: Weanlings require energy to foster their growth and development. High consumption of energy will cause the horse to grow faster while low consumption will slow down their growth. In both the cases, a weanling may become susceptible to developmental orthopedic diseases. Work with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to discover the optimal amount of energy required by each weanling.
Protein: Protein is necessary for muscle, ligament, and tissue development. A caretaker must make sure that their weanlings consume appropriate amounts of protein regularly. Both the quality and quantity of protein play a significant role in a weanling’s diet.
Quantity refers to grams of protein that should be present in a young horse’s diet. Most weanlings that are six months old will require 675g of protein per day.
Protein quality refers to the presence of essential amino acids in a young horse’s feed. Lysine and threonine are two essential amino acids that are necessary for growth and development of a horse. Research indicates that lysine deficiency can slow down the growth rate of a weanling. High-quality sources of protein include seed meals, legumes and dried milk products. A caretaker should ensure that a weanling’s feed contains an adequate amount of lysine and threonine.
Minerals: Weanlings require numerous minerals, especially those that foster bone development. Minerals such as calcium, prosperous, zinc and copper are necessary for bone development. However, under or over consumption of these minerals can make growing horses susceptible to developmental orthopedic diseases.
In a weanling's diet, minerals should be available in equivalent ratios. For instance, there should be more calcium in a weanling’s diet than phosphorus. These minerals should ideally be present in the ratio of approximately 2:1. If there is an imbalance in this ratio, then the weanling will be unable to use the calcium in its diet and may suffer from bone problems. Consult a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine your weanling’s basic mineral requirements.
2. Treat Each Horse Individually
Irrespective of their breed and gender, a caretaker must deal with each weanling individually. Each should be monitored and fed according to their individual requirements. Feeding each weanling on an individual basis will not only lower your feeding cost but also help you to develop a perfect nutritional plan for each.
3. Stress and Decreased Feed Intake
Weaning is the most stressful period for young horses. During this stressful time, their feed intake decreases and their growth rate slows down. Thus, young horses should be provided with high-quality feed after weaning. Creep feeding can help the young horse during the transition period. Creep feeding helps the foals to get used to solid food before the weaning time. As a result, growth and development are not severely affected.
Research indicates that exercise is extremely relevant for their overall development. Do not keep them in the stall all the time. They need to run freely and exercise as much as possible. According to scientists, exercise helps to regulate bone and muscle growth. A caretaker should grant stalled weanlings some free time to roam and exercise.
5. Record Keeping
There is a rapid fluctuation in growth rate during the weaning period. Excessive weight gain can make a weanling highly susceptible to developmental orthopedic diseases and long-lasting skeletal problems. It is necessary for a caregiver to monitor a horse’s growth rate from birth. Average weight gain, wither height, and hip height are some of the common measures that a caregiver should record on a weekly basis. Such recordings can help a caregiver to make appropriate changes in the diet to maintain their growth rate.
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