10 Jul 2020

When Stress Interferes with Feeding the Young Ones


Few things are quite as special as seeing your mare safely deliver her precious cargo after lovingly taking care of them both for
11 months.

No wonder then that your foal’s first wonky steps are watched with great anticipation, and that every blow, sneeze or snort brings out the mother instinct in you.

Before you know it, however, they are ready to be weaned and now the question begs:

What to feed young foals to help them grow into strong, healthy and sound horses?

To achieve its full genetic potential, your foal must eat a diet filled with the necessary levels of protein, vitamins, minerals and energy. Nevertheless, horses are highly individual in their needs and you may need to combine your knowledge of nutrition, your eye for condition and your common sense to tailor your feeding program to fit your own horse’s needs.

When designing a feeding program for young horses, these factors should be kept in mind:

  • Young horses have higher nutrient requirements than fully-grown horses.
  • Young horses have relatively small stomachs which doesn’t allow them to effectively utilize large quantities of bulky, low quality feeds.
  • Concentrated sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and energy should be provided in the form of high-quality grains, feeds and forages.
  • The younger the horse, the higher the need for nutrient-rich diets.
  • The quantity and quality of protein in the young horse’s diet, is equally important.

When raising young horses, one of the concerns regarding their growth is the incidence of joint and bone disorders, or DOD (developmental orthopedic disease). Fortunately, various steps can be taken to reduce the risk of DOD.

In terms of nutrition, a balanced diet throughout the first two years of a foal’s life, is key. Aiming for a condition score of 5, which translates to feeding for a moderate growth rate and keeping in moderate body condition, is ideal as carrying extra weight places stress on the bones and joints in young and old horses alike.

Under stress however, the risk for young foals is not so much in being overweight as it is their loss of appetite.


Causes of Stress in Horses

These stressors can be quite individual in the same way that a tantrum-throwing-two-year-old may drive one person up the wall, while another can serenely and unperturbed carry on with their bridle shopping.

You’ve probably seen this in horses too.

You may have that one unicorn that spooks at a falling leaf.

And then you may have a horse who seems oblivious to even the loudest bang going off in the middle of a windstorm while the stable roof caves in.

Some other causes of stress in horses include:

  • restrictions on or timing of food;
  • stresses regarding dating, mating and copulation;
  • housing stresses such as segregated layouts;
  • frequency of transportation stress;
  • administering medication stress; and
  • stress caused by extreme temperatures.

Stressed out horses rarely eat, and young foals are no different.

In young foals, one of the very earliest stresses of course, is being weaned from the mare.


Nutritional answers to stress

Vitamin C has been shown to combat the effects of oxidative stress in horses. Although it is important to avoid over-supplementation, the value of feeding a high-quality supplement of the necessary quantity to address the effect of oxidative stress, cannot be underestimated.

The ultimate aim?

Targeting the levels of anxiety which leads to a loss of appetite and eventually may cause a nutrient deficiency.

Elite Equine 100% Organic Rosehip Supplement is picked by hand high in the mountains of Lesotho with great attention to quality and sustainability.  The high vitamin C content in our rosehip makes it the perfect added support to a well-balanced diet that aims at addressing all the young foal’s needs.

To read more, or to place an order, please visit our website at$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/feeding-young-horses.pdf