Baby horses, who are typically called foals, are something beautiful to see. I have spent a lot of time at stables and if you have done the same, you have probably seen baby horses running around as well.
There is nothing more beautiful than watching baby horses run around with their mothers! Like toddlers, baby horses seem to drive their parents crazy as well! Of course, since they are so active, they need to have plenty of nutrition.
If you are wondering what baby horses eat, there are a few key points to keep in mind! This will help you provide the best nutrition for baby horses!
Baby Horses and Foals Drink Mother’s Milk. Baby horses drink their mother’s milk only for the first three weeks. Then, they will add grass to the diet.
An Overview of the Growing Process for Baby Horses
Similar to human babies, foals are meant to survive only on their mother’s milk for a short period of time. Typically, this lasts for around three weeks. After this, baby horses will naturally start to eat grass.
Grass is high in fiber and is healthy for the digestive tracts of many animals, including horses. That is why you might have noticed horses grazing in the field.
Eventually, horses reach out two or three months in age. Then, the mother will stop providing milk for the baby horse. This is when horses get introduced to new food sources, such as horse grain.
When we are at the stables, we track the age, weight, and growth of all newborn horses carefully. This allows us to make sure that we provide the right food for our baby horses at the right time. How can you do the same?
Key Facts About Baby Horses You Should Know
Nutrition for baby horses goes hand in hand with other developmental processes. The first few weeks of a horse’s life is important for developing a strong bond between the mother and her children.
That is why it is important for you to let baby horses survive only on their mom’s milk for the first few weeks of their lives.
We try to do the same thing in our stables. If there is a newborn baby horse, it is tempting to go over and play with it, pet it, and try to get to know it; however, this is a critical time for the mother and her foal.
Therefore, try to leave the family alone and let the mom do what she does naturally. After a short period of time, the mother will naturally force the baby horse to start eating grass. A few other key facts to keep in mind include:
- Baby horses are very strong. Have you seen them run with their mother? Their strength for their size is tremendous. This is what allows them to keep up with their mom.
- They solely depend on their mothers during the first few weeks of life because that is all they need.
- While baby horses are called foals, female baby horses are called fillies while male baby horses are called colts.
- Baby horses cannot eat grass during the first few weeks of life because their necks are not strong enough
- Most baby horses will wean from their moms around three months of age but other baby horses might continue drinking their mother’s milk until around six months of age.
You should keep these facts in mind as you go about generating a diet for your baby horses as they grow.
Track the Weight of Foals
You might notice that baby horses snack on the ground a little bit during the first few weeks of life.
We mentioned earlier that baby horses do not eat grass until around three weeks of age; however, if you see a younger horse snacking on the ground, you don’t have to disrupt this process.
This is all part of the learning process for baby horses and they are simply imitating their young. As long as they are still drinking their mother’s milk, this is fine.
Baby foals are going to grow quickly. They might gain as much as three pounds per day just on that alone! I know that I have been shocked to see how quickly baby horses gain weight!
Now, if you notice that your baby horses aren’t gaining weight, you should check their feeding habits.
Watch them feet from their mothers. If the foal isn’t feeding for longer than 30 minutes at a time, it is possible its mom’s milk ducts might be clogged. If this becomes a trend over the next day or two, it might be time to call a vet.
Remember that foals are supposed to gain weight quickly. Therefore, clogged milk ducts can become a serious nutritional problem in a short amount of time.
Baby Horses and Grain: When Is the Right Time?
We track all of our baby horses to make sure they are gaining weight appropriately. Usually, they progress along the dietary path all on their own; however, one of the signs you might notice that your foal is getting ready for solid food is when they begin to snack on the ground and eat manure.
Around this same time, the mother’s milk ducts are going to start to dry up. As a result, it might be time to add supplemental feed to their diets.
This is when you will start to become more involved in the diet of your foals. If you don’t provide the right diet, horses can develop bone and joint disorders early in their life. This can lead to major quality of life issues.
In order to make sure that your foals are receiving what they need, try a process known as creep feeding. We use this in our stables for almost all of our horses and we find that this works well.
The principle behind creep feeding is to make sure that your foal gets what he or she needs. Think about what happens if you feed all of the animals at once. It’s the survival of the fittest, right?
The fastest, strongest animal is going to eat all of the food! Don’t let this happen to the foal. With creep feeding, you will feed the foal and the other horses separately. This will make sure that your foal gets to eat and is not overpowered by the other horses.
The Food Blend for a Foal
Feed for foals should be nutrient-dense; however, if the volume is too much, then your foal won’t be able to eat everything. The essential ingredients in your foal’s food should include:
- Crude protein
While it might seem like there are some nutrients missing, remember that your foal will be grazing as well. This is where a lot of the other nutrients will come from.
As your foal gets older, his or her nutritional needs will change. Weight gain for foals should be around 2 pounds per day starting at around four months of age. It will taper off after that.
What Happens If Foals Don’t Eat Enough?
In order to make sure that your foals are eating enough food, make sure that he or she is gaining weight appropriately. Target the weight gain metrics as above.
If your foal is to not gaining weight appropriately, then this is a sign that he or she is not eating enough. The biggest consequence of this problem is the development of metabolic bone diseases.
Your foal’s bones will start to dissolve to provide nutrition for the rest of the body. This can lead to pain, mobility issues, and problems keeping up with his or her mother.
Therefore, make sure that the feed is nutrient-dense. This will allow the food to fit in the foal’s stomach while still providing the necessary nutrition.
Tips for Weaning a Foal
Weaning is the process of separating a baby foal from its breastfeeding habits. While this is a sad process, human babies have to stop breastfeeding as well in order to get the nutrients they need.
This process is the same in horses. It is a good idea to start by separating the baby foal and mother for short periods of time during the day. Eventually, this process will have to take place at night as well.
Over time, the foal will start to eat on his or her own and the process will work itself out naturally.