Nursing usually provides sufficient nutrients to newborn foals, but if the mare is underweight or for some other reason can't provide enough milk, supplemental feeding will be necessary. One indication of insufficient milk is that the foal nurses for a longer period of time than usual: If the foal nurses for more than thirty minutes at a time, it may need feed or a milk replacer to supplement what the mare can provide. It is important to watch the mare and foal in the beginning, to ensure that the foal gets a good nutritional start in life.
Foals can be fed some solid food at ten to fourteen days of age. Creep feeding is a good option, providing the foal with a place to eat where the mare can't go and compete with it for the available food. The foal is then free to nibble at a grain ration that is balanced for foals. It's best to use a pelleted ration; this prevents the foal from sorting through the various grains, eating some and leaving others, so that the ration is no longer balanced.
In any event, at two to three months of age the foal may need more than the mare can provide, and supplemental feeding will most likely be necessary To meet the developing foal's nutritional needs, a high quality forage and a balanced grain ration should be added. It is important to select a high quality grain ration that is balanced for foals (taking into consideration the type of forage they have access to) so that their nutritional needs are met. If the feed provided is not well-balanced, skeletal and joint problems can occur in the growing foal.
It is important not to overfeed the foal in an attempt to increase its normal rate of growth, as has been the practice among some owners who wish for an early sale or for better performance in the competition arena. To do so can lead to skeletal weakness and deformity. Aim for a moderate growth rate to keep the foal healthy.
Foals should be weaned between the fourth to sixth months of age. By this time-often by the third month-the mare will be gradually producing less milk, and the foal will need an increased grain and quality forage ration to make up for this decrease. By the time the foal stops nursing, it should be eating about 2- 3 % of its total body weight per day of a total ration that provides 14-16 percent protein. Good quality roughage should comprise at least 30% by weight of the total ration.
The growth rate will slow as the foal approaches two years, and the ration should be reduced as necessary to about 1 1/2-2 % of body weight, and the grain supplied should provide half the diet. Good quality roughage should provide the other half. Remember that the goal is a well-nourished foal that is not overweight. Excess weight taxes the skeleton and may compromise the foal's later athletic career.