A foal experiences growth fluctuations during its development; these are also characterised by periods of rapid growth.
These periods are partly caused by:
- The protein/energy ratio in the feed (e.g. difference between winter (too little protein) and spring (too much protein in young grass))
- the mineral content in the feed and the feeding method
Experienced breeders make sure that the transition of feed and quantities is done gradually, because then the foal will experience a more balanced development into a young horse. Foals are born in spring, so it is best to give the "older foal" or the yearling a ration somewhat richer in protein during winter. In spring (young grass) you best use a high-energy feed, very low in protein (to keep up the correct protein/energy ratio). This way, the young horse will run a lower risk on weight problems, like OCD, at a more advanced age.
A normal foal development is characterised by a period of growth stagnation, around the third month, because of an immunity dip following the weaning period. This stagnation can be reduced/set off by a good preparation using the right 'foal starter'. Besides, smaller growth spurts are very normal.
Double growth spurt: weaning and relapse
The weaning causes the foal to have a double spurt. It leaves the trusted environment of the mare and switches from mother's milk or milk replacer to concentrated feed. The digestive system of the foal has to adapt to that. There is even a chance of malnutrition. The foal will recover from this setback, but it will leave its traces in the development.
Tips to make the transition of feed as smoothly as possible:
- From month one, give an increasingly larger quantity of concentrated feed to the foal, step by step.
- This is best done by providing a separate feeding trough for the foal, which the mare cannot reach. It is even better for the foal to separate it from the mare for a short time and at the same time give it the right concentrated feed, to limit the shock from the weaning later on and the accompanying relapse
- It is best to use a 'foal starter', e.g. Cavalor Start&Go, as the first concentrated feed. This feed has to be easily digestible and very tasty , so the foal likes to eat it. The starter also has to contain milk products, which are the most important food source at this age. A small percentage of soya has to assist in the prevention of any foal heat diarrhoea. Cavalor Start&Go is especially developed for foals from 2 weeks to 12 months of age.