Feeding Foals: Nursing, Weanling, Yearling Stage

Last Updated on July 27, 2020 by Allison Price

We all want our foals to grow healthy.

We want to see them grow before our eyes. A foal that is gaining height, weight and strength is growing rapidly. A young horse can reach 90% or more of its adult size from birth to age two. And sometimes putting on as many as 3 pounds per day.

These play significant roles in determining individual growth patterns: genetic, management and environment.

We can influence a foal’s growth and development by the nutrition we supply.

Consider these factors when you plan a feeding program for your young horse:

  • Body changes in growth
  • Nutrient requirements of the breed of your horse
  • The nutrient content of the feed
  • Anatomical limitations of your foal’s digestive system.

Keep your eyes on this article to know more on how you can properly feed your foal.

Strive for Balance

Feeding your young horse involves careful balancing. The interplay between genetics, management, environment and nutrition is a complex one. We can do nothing to affect the genetics of the horse. But we can affect how those genetics are ultimately expressed.

The nutrition your foal gets at the start can have a profound effect on its health. And soundness for the rest of his life. We can speed up growth. But a balanced dietary approach is less likely to cause developmental problems.

The Nursing Foal

One of the goals of foals as they enter the world is to stand and nurse. By doing so, it receives antibody-rich colostrum. It helps protect the foal from disease. In the first weeks, the mare’s milk provides what the growing foal needs for sustenance. Then the burden slowly shifts to other sources.

A mare will produce an average of two to three percent of her body weight-in milk a day. This is during lactation. So, the mare must receive ample feed and water.

This time, observe your foal’s nursing habits. It may not be receiving enough milk if it suckles for more than 30 minutes at a time. It may need supplemental feed or replacement of milk.

Peak lactation occurs during the second and third month of your foal. At this point, the mare will need almost double the amount of feed she required.. during her early pregnancy.

To add extra energy, her diet must include adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. To keep her own body reserves from depleting. An increase and decrease of feed must be done gradually over a 7 to 10-day period.

The Changing Diet

At 10 to 14 days of age, your foal may begin to show an interest in feed.

The youngsters learn to eat solid food by nibbling and sampling. The digestive system of foals quickly adapts to the dietary changes.

At 8 to 10 weeks of age, mare’s milk alone may not meet the nutritional needs of your foal. It depends on the desired growth rate you want for your foal. High quality grains and forage should be added to the foal’s intake. To achieve a more rapid rate of gain.

It is important that the ration will be properly balanced for vitamins and minerals.

Deficit, excess or imbalanced calcium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E… are concerns in the growing foal. Improper amounts of ratios can cause skeletal problems.

Guidelines on Feeding your Foal

Your foal’s dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and forage. In this stage, your role in providing proper nutrition gains is important. Below are some guidelines to help you meet the needs of your young horse:

  1. Provide good quality of hay and pasture
  2. Supplement with a high quality and properly-balanced grain concentrate at weaning. Or earlier than that if more rapid rates of gain are desired.
  3. Feed one percent of a foal’s body weight per day. For example, one pound of feed for a 100 pounds of body weight.
  4. Weigh your foal. Adjust the feed ration based on the growth and fitness of your foal. Use a weight tape to help you approximate the size of your foal.
  5. Foals have small stomach. So, you need to divide the daily ration into two to three feedings.
  6. Make sure that feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins. And minerals, energy and protein.
  7. Use a creep feeder. Or separate from the mare’s feeder so your foal can eat its own ration. Avoid group creep feeding situations.
  8. Remove uneaten portions during feedings.
  9. Do not overfeed your foal. Because overweight foals are more prone to developmental orthopedic disease.
  10. Give your foal unlimited and clean water. And allow your foal to have exercise often.

Weaning Stage

At 4 to 6 months of age, foals are usually weaned at this stage.

The mare’s milk supply gradually declines at third month. And natural weaning process begins.

In preparing your foal for complete weaning… increase the ration over two to three-week period. This is to make up for the nutrients being lost in the diminishing milk supply. Reduce the grain for the mare to limit mill production.

If the foal is no longer nursing… a 500 to 600-pound weanling should be eating between two to three percent of its body weight in feed and forage a day.

Sustain the Growth

Weanlings and yearlings continue to build bone, muscle and mass at a remarkable rate. The horse may double its weight again from weaning to two years of age.

They can benefit and enjoy from a diet containing 14 to 16 percent of protein. They also need sources of energy that are always available. To meet the demands of growth and activity.

Provide 60 to 70 percent of the ration as concentrates. And 30 to 40 percent of the ration as roughage measured by weight. Include fiber in the diet to keep the digestive tract functioning properly.


Your foal’s diet is critical to development and prevention of diseases. And the future performance of your foal. The proper nutrition it receives in its first year of life can impact his health. And future performance as an athlete. As they go through the nutritional phases or stages… make sure you meet their nutritional needs at a certain age.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!