The Horse

APR 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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38 April 2019 The Horse | TheHorse.com "At weaning, the manager will have to consider the amount of solid food the foal has been eating and how much will now be needed to substitute for the milk," Law- rence says. "Many foals will go through a growth slump after weaning that is then followed by a period of rapid growth." Ideally, you want to modify the feeding program prior to weaning so the young horse is already used to eating his own forage and some concentrate. This will help avoid a big slump and a big rebound. When deciding how much concentrate to feed, Lawrence uses recommendations she received from the late Edgar Ott, PhD, who was a respected equine nutri- tionist at the University of Florida. "He told me a long time ago that a good rule of thumb was 0.5 to 1.5 pounds of concentrate daily per month of age for a typical Thoroughbred foal or weanling," she says. "At 6 months of age, that would be a range of 3 to 9 pounds per day." You need to consider several factors, however, before scooping out pounds of feed: forage quality, the foal's body condi- tion, and environmental conditions. For example, Lawrence says winter can be as demanding on a young horse as weaning. Growing horses housed outside in cold climates use calories to stay warm, which often causes growth rates to slow. Then in the spring, mild climates and abundant forage can fuel rapid growth. Avoiding Joint Disease While some career-ending joint condi- tions have a genetic component, others don't and can be prevented with correct nutrition during development and growth. Ideally, the broodmare should consume a balanced diet leading up to, and during, her pregnancy, Brown-Douglas says. "Mare's milk is low in trace minerals, so is imperative that trace mineral intake, especially copper and zinc, is adequate during the last trimester of pregnancy," she says. "This provides the growing foal with mineral stores for cartilage develop- ment after it is born." As important as adequate and bal- anced nutrient intake is to warding off joint disease, so too is appropriate body weight, says Brown-Douglas. Growing horses should be maintained at a body condition score between 4 and 5, she says. For horses that tend to gain weight easily, caretakers might feed a low-intake bal- ancer pellet, which will ensure the young- sters receive proper nutrients for growth without consuming too many calories. "The source of calories in the young horse's diet has also been linked to joint disease," Brown-Douglas says. "Research has shown that horses grown on high- sugar and -starch diets (high-grain) have a greater incidence of OCD than horses grown on diets based on fiber and fats as calorie sources." Although less common than joint conditions, deficiencies in nutrients such as protein, calcium, copper, and zinc can affect muscle, skin, or other tissues. Focus on Forage In nature forage would be available at birth. It is the cornerstone of equine nutrition, not only as a nutrient source but also support for digestive health, so horses of any age should have access to forage, such as hay, around the clock, says Brown-Douglas. "Foals will nibble at hay and pasture from a very young age," she says. "Many breeders will offer their young, growing horses higher-protein forages such as al- falfa to provide increased levels of amino acids in the diet." Brown-Douglas recommends testing the nutrient content of pasture and hay. "It is important to have both tested so that we know what we are working with and can design a feeding program that fills in any gaps and takes into account the young horse's calorie intake," she says. Many owners focus on concentrates and supplements without realizing how many nutrients forage alone can provide. Well-managed pastures in Central Ken- tucky, for instance, can contain 15-20% crude protein on a dry matter basis in the spring and fall, Lawrence says. This is es- sentially the same protein concentration found in alfalfa hay. "On the other hand, when foals are not growing fast enough or appear skinny, people often look only at the concentrate without considering whether the problem could be the forage quality or quantity," she says. "Before adjusting concentrate amounts upward to induce fast growth, it is good to look at the forage and, if pos- sible, improve forage quality or quantity." If the forage quality is low and pro- vides less protein and fewer calories, the youngster needs higher concentrate amounts. It's also important to consider the weanling's living conditions. Those spending the winter outdoors in Minne- sota versus those wintering in Florida will need different amounts of concentrate to supplement their forage. "Managers will even out the slow growth with good-quality forage and concentrate in the winter and then often NUTRITION Forage is the cornerstone of equine nutrition, so horses of any age should have access to pasture or hay around the clock. SUSAN KORDISH/COWGIRL PHOTOGRAPHY Before adjusting con- centrate amounts upward to induce fast growth, it is good to look at the forage and, if possible, improve for- age quality or quantity." DR. LAURIE LAWRENCE

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