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Equine - Nutrition - How to Feed a Horse at Each Life Stage

What are the life stages of feeding my horse?

Normal life stages of feeding a horse include going from a newborn foal, which develops into a weanling and a growing yearling. Then by about two years old, they become adult horses when it comes to feeding. Newborn foals are 100% nursing off of the mare. Over the course of a couple of weeks, they start picking at mom's food and hay, and that's called creep feeding. At that point, you can start offering a bit of a foal grain for them. Typically, you do about a pound per 100 pounds starting at a month.

Weaning is around four to six months of age. That's when they're completely separated from the mom. Before that, you might want to increase the volume of feed slightly, just to kind of acclimate them to it. At that point, what you want to do is feed about 2% to 3% of the weanling's body weight as feed; that's both grain and hay, and you want to aim for about 14% to 16% protein. Doing so will give you the best rate of growth. You don't want to go too quickly when it comes to growth because you can cause some developmental problems with the bones that way.

Then around two years old, they become regular horses when it comes to nutrition, so you feed them as a regular horse, a higher amount of forage and a little less grain. Depending on the breed, that will determine how much of each you feed. Much of it is based on individual variation and if the horse is going to be an easy keeper or hard to keep weight on. It depends on feed issues and that sort of thing.

Dr. Rena Chang
Tennessee Equine Hospital

How do I know if I'm feeding my horse too much?

A fat horse is probably the worst thing that you can do for your horse. It causes a lot of problems with founder and arthritis. If they have some, they get more sore from it. There's a body condition chart that you can get. I think you can probably get it from online. It'll give you the different stages of your horse's body condition— one being emaciated, skin and bones, and nine being super fat. You can use that to determine how fat your horse is. A lot of times, I look at the neck, see how cresty that is. Look behind the shoulder, below the withers; sometimes they'll get a fat deposit there if they're getting too fat and then a little bit of fat pad at the tailhead. Those are all signs that your horse is probably too fat if they're getting some fat deposits there.

What changes, if any, do I need to make for feeding my pregnant mare?

A pregnant mare probably doesn't need any feeding changes until the last three months of her pregnancy. At that point, you'll want to increase her diet a little bit as the fetus starts to develop more and she starts the beginnings of lactation. The one important thing people need to know is the last couple of months you want to keep them off the pasture because the fescue on the grass can cause some severe problems when it comes to foaling and the foal afterward. It can prevent them from producing colostrum and milk, so pulling them off that pasture is something you want to keep an eye on.

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