Foal Care

Foal Nutrition and Growth

Foal Nutrition and Growth

Your healthy newborn foal should consume 15%-25% of his body weight in milk daily and gain an average of 1-3 pounds per day. Your foal may nurse 70 to 80 times per day.

Excessive weight gain, unusually rapid growth spurts or a diet unbalanced in calories, protein, calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals may place your foal at increased risk for metabolic bone disease. Developmental, or metabolic bone disease includes conditions such as physitis, contracted tendons and defects in bone ossification (e.g., OCD, subchondral bone cysts, wobbler syndrome).

As your foal grows, he will need a gradual transition from an all-milk diet to solid feed. Typically, creep feed should be introduced slowly within the first month of life at the rate of 1 pound of creep feed per month of age. The type of feed offered will depend on the amount and quality of hay and/or pasture in the diet but should be designed to meet the nutritional needs of suckling foals.

Consult with your veterinarian to develop a balanced nutrition program for your foal.

Nutrition from 4-6 weeks of age to weaning

By the time your foal is 4 to 6 weeks of age, you should be providing appropriate creep feed. You can feed your foal individually (preferred) or add to your mare's feed if they are fed together. Divide the feed into two to three meals per day, and feed no more than a 0.5 pound of feed per 100 pounds of body weight in one meal.

When your foal reaches about 2 months of age, his nutrient requirements for growth exceed that provided by the mare's milk alone. This is why proper creep feeding at this time is important to sustaining optimal, steady growth and development of the foal.

To choose a creep feed, look for one designed and labeled for use by suckling foals. The feed should contain a source of quality protein (usually 14 to 16 percent crude protein in order to provide adequate essential amino acids, including lysine, for growth); a source of digestible energy; and adequate amounts of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium; and vitamins.

Adjust the feed intake to maintain a body condition score of 5 (range 1-9). Overweight foals, or those that experience rapid growth spurts, may be at an increased risk for developmental orthopedic diseases that include physitis, contracted tendons, club feet, osteochondrosis (OCD), acquired flexural deformities and cuboidal bone malformation.

Always provide access to fresh water and good quality pasture and/or hay. Offer a daily minimum of 1 pound of hay per 100 pounds of body weight for 300-400 pound foals.

Once your foal is weaned, his ideal body condition score is 5 to 6. Monitor your foal's body condition frequently and adjust the diet accordingly. For foals that weigh between 500 and 1,000 pounds, offer a minimum of 1.2 pounds of hay per 100 pounds of body weight daily. Due to limitation in a young horse's digestive capacity and ability to digest roughage, a maximum of two pounds of hay per 100 pounds of body weight is recommended.

If you have concerns about your weanling's growth or nutrition, please contact your veterinarian and/or equine nutritionist.

Body Condition Scoring

You can use Body Condition Scoring, a system based on visual appraisal and body palpation of six areas, to assess the relative body fat of your mare and growing foal. The ideal body condition score for a foal is between 5 and 7. Consult your veterinarian if your foal's body score is higher or lower. Monitor your foal for contracted tendons, physitis and other angular limb deformities.

  • A Along the neck
  • B Along the withers
  • C Crease down back
  • D Tailhead
  • E Ribs
  • F Behind the shoulders (elbow)
Description of Body Condition Scores1
Condition Neck Withers Back Tailhead Ribs Shoulder
Bone structure easily noticable Bone structure easily noticable Spinous process project prominently Tailhead; hip joints & lower pelvic bones project prominently Ribs project prominently Bone structure easily noticable
2Very Thin
Faintly discernible Faintly discernible Slight fat covering over base of spinous processes; transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded; spinous process are prominent Tailhead, hip joints & lower pelvic bones prominent Ribs prominent Faintly discernible
Neck accentuated Withers accentuated Fat buildup about halfway on spinous processes, but easily discernible; transverse processes cannot be felt Tailhead prominent but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; hip joints appear rounded but are still easily discernible; lower pelvic bones are not distinguishable Slight fat cover over ribs; ribs easily discernible Shoulder accentuated
4Moderately Thin
Neck not obviously thin Withers not obviously thin Slight ridge along back Prominence depends on conformation; fat can be felt; hip joints not discernible Faint outline discernible Shoulder not obviously thin
Neck blends smoothly into body Withers rounded over spinous processes Back level (no crease or ridge) Fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy Ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but easily felt Shoulder blends smoothly into body
6Moderately Fleshy
Fat beginning to be deposited Fat beginning to be deposited May have slight crease down back Fat around tailhead feels soft Fat over ribs feels spongy Fat beginning to be deposited; point of shoulder not discernible
Fat deposited along neck Fat deposited along withers May have crease down back Fat around tailhead is soft Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat Fat deposited behind shoulder
Noticable thickening of the neck Area along withers filled with fat Crease down back Tailhead fat very soft Diffcult to feel ribs Area behind shoulder filed in flush with body; fat deposited along inner thighs
9Extremely Fat
Bulging fat Bulging fat Obvious crease down back Bulging fat around tailhead Patchy fat appearing over ribs Bulging fat; Fat along inner thighs may rub together, flank filled with fat

Your Foal's Growth Stages

Your foal is changing faster than the blink of an eye. One day, he is all gangly and awkward; the next, he seems to have grown into his legs with grace. As exciting as it is to watch your foal transform, it's also important to pay attention to key milestones along the way.

It's easy to see why early care is so important to the long-term health of your foal. By the time he is six months old, your foal will have already attained about 80 percent of his mature height and half of his mature weight.

Small or newborn foals can be weighed on a bathroom scale. Weight tapes can be used to estimate the weight of older foals when scales are not available.

Of course, if you have concerns, call your veterinarian. Early intervention can be the key to long-term good health.

  • In a foal's first two weeks
  • Two Weeks to Two Months
  • Two to Four Months
  • Four to Six Months
  • Six Months to One Year

1. Henneke D.R., Potter G.D., Kreider J.L. and Yeats B.F. Relationship Between Condition Score, Physical Measurements and Body Fat Percentage in Mares, Equine Veterinary Journal (1983) 15 (4), 371-372