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Feeding the Weanling

Tracy Soward-Amalfi: Equine Nutritionist

The weanling foal will be subjected to many physiological and psychological stresses that will affect the way the weanling will develop during its next and most important stage of growth. Understanding these stresses and managing the weanling accordingly will give them every chance to reach their full potential.

Maximum not Optimum

Many horse breeders constantly aim their feeding practices for maximum growth of the young horse. Whilst there is no denying that maximum height and weight may result in a successful young horse in the show ring or higher earnings at sales it is by no means a safe goal.

Maximum and optimum growth in young horses are mutually exclusive, when implementing a feeding program it is imperative that the weanling is fed for the latter in accordance with the individuals genetic makeup and breed. Aiming for anything more can and does create irreversible damage on a growing body. The weanling requires balanced protein and amino acids for development. Recognised and recommended as one of the safest protein sources on the market, Soygize is chemical free full fat soy, perfect for obtaining optimum growth and nutrition.

Overfeed - To Fat

The size and weight of a horse is influenced not only by diet but also by genetics. If a foal possesses the genetic potential for rapid skeletal and muscle development it is likely to produce more muscle mass than the rapidly growing joint can support. If on the other hand it does not have this potential, the young horse will convert this energy into excess fat once again overloading joints but also jeopardising its future career.

Research has proven that fat foals and youngsters do not make great athletes and many will never reach their full potential. When feeding young horses it is always safer to keep them marginally underweight to prevent stress on joints and growing bones. Owners must ensure that the weanling never gains a crest in the neck or tunnel along the spine, as these are serious indicators of an obese youngster. The overweight weanling still requires balanced feeding to support growth but grain diets should be supplemented or replaced with easily digested "super fibre" and energy feed Blue Ribbon.

As has been stressed above, overfeeding at this stage can create debilitating deformities leaving many owners unsure of how to safely meet the unique requirements that the weanling presents. Weanlings have a limited appetite and for this reason they require high levels of nutrition in low volumes. Ideally a scientifically formulated, complete feed for the weanling should contain 16 - 18% protein and mimic the essential mineral balance.

To cater for these demands a quality "super fibre" bulk such as grain free Blue Ribbon should be complimented with a safe protein source such as the premium full fat soy feed, Soygize and Intence for added immunity. All feeds should be accompanied with high quality roughage such as early cut hay and quality oil such as Alpha-E may be added if required. No additional minerals should be added to an age-specific pre-mixed feed as these added 'cocktails' upset a delicate balance causing many problems

Stress and Ulcers

Weaning is generally quite a stressful period for the young horse and some can take weeks or even months before thriving on the new environmental and feeding conditions. The overwhelming majority of weanlings who take longer to adapt or loose weight and condition for longer than the initial change over period suffer from gastric ulcers.

Ulcers are caused by high acid levels in the gut and can be triggered from stress, high grain diets or inability to adapt to a new diet. Creep fed foals do not have nearly as high an incidence of these problems due to the gradual introduction and increase of hard feeds over a long period. This system ensures that the foal is used to the feeding program before being taken away from the dam and preventing the ‘double whammy’ that most foals receive on weaning.

The other common cause of ulcers in the weanling is a diet high in grains that are extremely high in starch and acid, promoting unwanted bacteria growth in the stomach and causing lactic acid and gas. The most obvious answer to this problem is simply not to feed grain, but what to substitute it with?

The simple answer is to replace grain completely with “Super Fibres”. Super Fibres have similar energy levels to whole grains but are easily digestible and do not require excess energy to break down. One of the best examples is Blue Ribbon. Blue Ribbon balanced feed is grain and pollard free, high in oil and being a Super Fibre it supplies the growing weanling with all the energy it needs without upsetting the gut balance. Some of this energy can also be safely administered by supplementing with quality oil such as Alpha-E cold pressed oil that does not cause lactic acid.

DOD

Developmental Orthopaedic Disease of growing horses (DOD) is the umbrella term for a range of tendon, limb and joint deformities that are becoming almost a common occurrence in the breeding industry. Many factors contribute to the incidence of DOD including excessive confinement and overfeeding as described above in conjunction with mineral excesses or deficiencies, genetics and trauma.

Although there is little other than good management practices that can guard against trauma, genetic lineage can be thoroughly assessed before breeding and mineral balances can be achieved with correct feeding. Feeding high protein, bran and especially grain diets causes excessive phosphorus levels which unbalance the vital calcium/phosphorus ratio necessary for optimum growth. By feeding a highly digestible, no grain source of fibre such as Blue Ribbon in conjunction with quality, safe proteins Soygize and Intence many of these problems can be avoided completely.

Stabling

Although not diet related the effects of stabling and or exercise of the youngster must be considered. Horses are nomadic animals designed to travel and graze for approximately eighteen hours a day. This natural exercise stretches and strengthens the growing bones, joints and tendons of the young horse whilst keeping them lean enough as not to overload the developing skeletal structure. When confined in a stable this natural exercise is often neglected and without structured alternatives the weanling will not develop the structural strength that it is designed to achieve, leading to many soundness problems throughout its lifespan.

All the above considerations are necessary when developing a feeding program for your weanling. The weanlings’ diet should be a balanced ration of 16-18% protein and contain an essential mineral balance. Grain diets should be avoided completely and replaced with no grain "super fibre" feed Blue Ribbon. Supplementing the diet with a safe protein mix like enzyme active amino acid full fat soy, Soygize and Intence for added immunity will help your weanling develop to its full potential.