If the foal is doing too well (growing too rapidly, getting too fat) or has signs of DOD or conformation defects (e.g., getting erect in the pasterns), it may need to be weaned as early as three months so that nutrient intake can be carefully controlled. Similarly, foals that are failing to thrive as expected may either be weaned early to supply a more controlled diet to overcome deficits that might be due to poor milk production by the mare.
Conversely, a foal who has been ill and isn’t doing as well as desired may be left with the mare for a longer period of time. One factor that has a big influence on the growth of weaklings is familiarity with hard feed prior to weaning.
This will provide for supplemental caloric and nutrient intake as well as acclimate the foal to the ration it will consume as a weaning, reducing another potential source of stress at weaning time. The quality and quantity of pasture available will determine the amount of supplemental forage the weaning needs.
The weaning’s protein requirements can be met by a combination of young, green pasture and an appropriate grain mix. If pasture is scarce or dry, the weaklings will need supplementary high-quality Lucerne (alfalfa) or clover hay/chaff to provide higher levels of energy, protein, and calcium than grass hay or oaten chaff.
The advent of presale radiographs has focused attention on DOD and other bone problems in young horses. With the correct feed and appropriate intake there is no need for added supplements, which may in fact create nutritional imbalances.
Key nutrients such as amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, manganese, and vitamin E should be provided by the hard feed. Weaklings that are too heavy or have early signs of DOD should not receive the traditional grain-based feed, but should have their amino acid and mineral needs supplied by a low-calorie balancer pellet as a supplement to forage.
Weaklings that are not destined for the sales or show ring can be fed more conservatively because they do not have to grow at a maximum rate or look their best at a young age. The amount of feed necessary to maintain a thrifty appearance will vary according to the needs of the individual weaning and the quality and quantity of the available forage.
The two categories below reflect differences in the foals susceptibility to disease and ability to mount an appropriate immune response to vaccination based on the presence (or absence) of maternal antibodies derived from colostrum. The phenomenon of maternal antibody interference is discussed in the text portion of these guidelines.
*Foals in the Southeastern USA: The primary vaccination series should be initiated with an additional dose at 2 – 3 months of age due to early seasonal vector presence. *Foals in the Southeastern USA: The primary vaccination series should be initiated at 3 months of age due to early seasonal vector presence.
Primary vaccination series scheduling may be amended with vaccinations administered earlier to younger foals that are at increased disease risk due to the presence of vectors. A foal born during the vector season may warrant beginning vaccination at an earlier age than a foal born prior to the vector season. Foals in the Southeastern USA:Due to early seasonal vector presence, the primary vaccination series should be initiated earlier with the addition of a dose at 3 months of age.
Foals in the Southeastern USA:Due to early seasonal vector presence, the primary vaccination series should be initiated at 3 months of age. Primary vaccination series scheduling may be amended with vaccinations administered to younger foals that are at increased risk of exposure due to the presence of vectors. A foal born during the vector season may warrant initiation of the primary vaccination series at an earlier age than a foal born prior to the vector season.
Antimicrobial drugs must not be given concurrently with this vaccine. Caution should be used during storage, handling and administration of this live bacterial product. Consult a physician immediately should accidental human exposure (via mucus membranes, conjunctiva or broken skin) occur.
N/Equine Viral Arthritis (EVA) Colt (male) foals: Single dose at 6 – 12 months of age (see comments) Colt (male) foals: Single dose at 6 – 12 months of age (see comments) Prior to initial vaccination, colt (male) foals should undergo geologic testing and be confirmed negative for antibodies to EAV. Testing should be performed shortly prior to, or preferably at, the time of vaccination. As foals can carry colossal derived antibodies to EAV for up to 6 months, testing and vaccination should not be performed prior to 6 months of age.
The risk of vaccine-associated adverse events is increased when the MLV product is administered to young foals. Vaccinations for Foals developed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners Infectious Disease Committee, 2008 and updated by the 4AEP Biological & Therapeutic Agents Committee, 2012 and again updated by an 4AEP Vaccination Guidelines Review Task Force in 2015.
Awards prey on the naïve immune systems of horses less than 18 months old and can cause depression, respiratory disease, stunted growth, diarrhea, constipation and potentially fatal colic. During their migration through the lungs, immature scared larvae cause inflammation resulting in low-grade fever, nasal discharge and cough.
Following their several-week migration through the lungs, scared larvae are coughed up, swallowed and passed into the small intestines where they complete their development and begin laying eggs. As the horse matures into his second year of life, he develops a heightened immune response to awards, and the threat greatly diminishes.
To ensure your foal stays healthy, the best procedure is to develop a regular parasite control program that never allows a large population of awards to become established within your foal and jeopardize his health while also preventing large numbers of adult worms from shedding eggs that will contaminate your pasture for years to come. Many factors add to the confusion of providing nutrition at this critical stage of growth.
Some will be shown in halter futurities where maximum growth and condition are required at a young age. Although feeding weaklings is confusing, the fact remains that nutrition mistakes (overfeeding or underfeeding) made early in life can lead to structural problems that limit performance potential.
First is the issue of providing nutrients that may not be in adequate supply in the combination of mare’s milk and forage (pasture/hay). The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses published in 1989 does not give specific feeding recommendations for the suckling foal other than to say that supplemental feed prior to weaning may be desirable in foals nursing mares that are poor milkers.
Recent research, both in the United State sand Japan, has indicated that foals require supplemental feed to achieve growth rates desired by today’s horse owners. Breed differences and forage consumption will indicate the amount of supplemental energy necessary for a suckling foal to reach industry standards for growth.
In some cases, foals may derive enough calories from milk and forage to achieve adequate growth. They get plenty of calories from milk and pasture and typically do not require supplemental grain to assist in body weight gain.
A Thoroughbred foal given the same access to pasture and mare’s milk may not be able to achieve industry standards for growth. If foals are well conditioned and are gaining an acceptable amount of weight to achieve their commercial endpoint on milk and pasture, choose the low-intake supplement.
On the other hand, if the foal requires extra calories to keep pace with industry standards, feed the higher-volume, higher-calorie grain concentrate. This deceleration followed by rapid growth is thought to be a prime opportunity for the foals to get developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).
DOD is a term used to describe a number of related diseases affecting the maturation of cartilage into bone in young horses. Clinical manifestations of this disease include physics (commonly but incorrectly called epiphysis), osteochondrosis, osteochondritis dissects (OCD), cervical malformation (wobbles), contracted tendons and angular limb deformities.
Serious cases of DOD are economically devastating, eventually leaving valuable weaklings essentially worthless due to crippling lameness. The philosophy behind feeding weaklings rests largely with expectations for individual horses.
The following discussion will highlight the potential differences in the feeding programs for each type of weaning. Many weaklings are shown in futurity classes as it is the first opportunity to get young horses seen and promote stallions.
To achieve maximum growth and condition, weaklings are often fed large amounts of grain. Balancing maximum growth, maturity and condition with sound skeletal development is the challenge of feeding futurity weaklings.
Weaning time is affected by the month of birth, the milk production of the mare and the date of the futurity. If foals are weaned too close to a futurity, it is likely that the weaning will appear pot-bellied due to a nearly unavoidable post-weaning slump.
The diet for futurity weaklings must be extremely palatable since they are being asked to eat large volumes of feed. The grain portion of a weaning diet is the primary vehicle for delivery of essential nutrients.
Depending on the nutrient content of the hay, the grain will provide the majority of the energy (calories), protein, minerals and vitamins. Therefore, a grain concentrate designed for a weaning should be fortified with high quality protein, additional calories (from fat) and readily available minerals and vitamins.
Many people are afraid to feed young horses too much protein for fear of causing bone problems. Grain intakes common for weaklings being prepared for futurities would approach nine pounds per day.
Finally, an additional source of dietary fat is a must to provide calories for weight gain and essential fatty acids for hair and skin health. Many methods of providing forced exercise are available, including hand walking, longing, ponying, and treadmills.
Ponying is becoming increasingly popular with weaklings since the horses are not being asked to constantly turn as is the case with longing. If the duration and intensity of exercise are too great for the individual weaning, injury and weight loss can occur.
Weaklings that are usually being sold spend a portion of their day or night confined to stalls with the remainder of the time spent outside where they can graze and exercise. Even weaklings described as “easy keepers” would require some extra nutrients (calories, protein, vitamins and minerals) provided by the concentrate to make themselves presentable for auction.
Dietary fat is typically included in the diets for these weaklings as a means of assisting with hair and skin quality. Monitoring weight along with an accurate condition scoring system allow for the assessment of quality and quantity of growth.
The amount of grain necessary to maintain a thrifty appearance varies with the factors mentioned in the introduction of this article. On the other hand, weaklings that are large with much growth potential can consume normal amounts of fortified concentrate.