So Can Foals Really Eat Grain? Here’s My Scoop

The other day I was helpin’ out my buddy Jim-Bob at the ol’ ranch, tryin’ to hustle through chores before a honker of a storm rolled in.

Little Sally the foal was bein’ a right pint-sized troublemaker, stickin’ her nose where it didn’t belong – right in the grain bin! Nearly gave me a heart attack seein’ that peanut grabbin’ a mouthful of oats. Whew-ee, talk about a close call!

So then the big question is, can foals actually eat grain? Well pal, it’s complicated – let me break it down for ya simple-like.

Babies’ Tummies Ain’t Built For Grain Just Yet


See, a foal’s belly is used to gettin’ all its nutrients from ma’s milk at this point in its life. Their little tummies can only handle the easy-to-digest goodness in mare’s milk, which is packed full o’ sugars, antibodies, fats, and proteins – perfect fuel for a growin’ critter.

Throwin’ a bunch of coarse oats, corn, or wheat at ’em too soon is just askin’ for an upset tummy. Their delicate insides ain’t developed enough to properly break down and absorb all those grains. It’s like tryin’ to cram a Thanksgiving feast into a toddler – ain’t gonna sit too well!

Colic is a real risk if a foal gorges on grain before it’s ready. Their intestines can get all knotted up worse than a box of limp spaghetti. Not a fun way to spend the day, lemme tell ya. And dehydration is another nasty possibility if the lil one doesn’t feel like eatin’ or drinkin’ with a bellyache.

Plus, a gallon of mare’s milk packs way more nutrients into its calories than grain. Foals get minerals, protein, fats, sugars – the works. No need to supplement artificially yet when nature has the perfect fuel already handled.

Kinda makes ya appreciate how well-engineered horses truly are, huh? Amazin’ how a mare’s body knows just what her foal needs at each stage. Nature sure is crafty like that!

When They’re Ready For Grain


Most vets and horsemen agree, around 6 months of age is when a foal’s gut is developed enough to start introducing small amounts of grain. Think a few sprinkles at first, kind of like startin’ a toddler on solids real gradual-like with puréed veggies.

See also  What Should I Feed My Horse Before Riding?

Go slow and monitor how their belly responds. A little dribble a day at first, maybe mixed with mash or wet beet pulp to help it go down easier. Give their body time to adjust to digestin’ those more mature fibers and starches. Poor lil tush will be cryin’ all night from tummy trouble if ya move too fast!

Aim to wean ’em off mare’s milk around 5-7 months but don’t slash their grain ration too quick either. Phase it out bit by bit weekly as they adapt. Keep an eye out for signs of a sore belly like pawin’, laying down a lot, not eatin’. Back off the grain or hold off more if they seem unhappy.

By a yearling stage, most are on a maintenance diet of 1-2 lbs grain twice daily depending on workload and metabolism. But temperament makes a difference too. Some do fine while others stay easy-keepers without much grain at all.

Point is, be patient with the lil ones. Their systems don’t transform overnight. Go slow as molasses in introducing new feed to avoid potential colic episodes that could mean a rushed vet visit. It’s always better safe than sorry in the horse world!

Mama’s Milk Has It All Covered For Now


In those crucial first 6 months, a nursing foal gets 100% of its nutrients from mama. Her milk is like liquid gold, perfectly blended to fuel rapid growth and development. Packing over 20% protein and rich fat content, that milk churns out muscle, bone and brain cells by the truckload!

We’re talkin’ proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antibodies – you name it, it’s in there. Even trace elements foals need like copper, zinc and selenium. Mare’s make customized “colostrum” for the first few days, an extra antibody-rich milk to boost baby’s immune system.

Each mare’s milk composition fluctuates throughout the day and varies slightly from horse to horse depending on feed and minerals consumed. But their bodies always adjust absorption and production perfectly to meet a foal’s changing needs week by week.

It’s like nature hit the nutritional jackpot designing mare’s milk. Ya can’t improve on millions of years of evolution fine-tuning a sustenance so ideally matched for growing equine bodies. Leave supplementation out of it for now – foals are designed to get all their needs met from ma.

See also  How Much Molasses Should I Feed My Horse?

So next time you see a lil one nuzzlin’ up for milk, raise a glass in thanks for how perfectly equipped horses are from the get-go. Clever critters, this is one species that truly knows how to foster new life!

What About Creep Feeding?

Creep feeding involves providing extra feed to young animals in an area only they can access.

This allows foals to begin sampling starter feeds like grass hay and coarsely-textured grain before fully weaning from their dams.

The creep provides a safe, low-pressure environment for foals to begin learning about eating independently under the watchful eye of their mothers nearby.

Starting around 4-6 weeks, farmers can offer high-quality grass or alfalfa hay free-choice inside barred walls too narrow for adult horses.

This familiarizes foals’ developing mouths with chewing fibrous feeds and satisfies their natural urge to nibble and experiment with eating.

Creep feeding also ensures foals receive extra nutrients critical for rapid early growth without placing undue strain on nursing mares alone.

When done correctly with close oversight, creep feeding is viewed by many as a gentler transition between nursing and fully independent grazing.

Preventing Digestive Upsets In Foals

Maintaining a foal’s gut health is crucial for proper development and avoiding life-threatening illnesses.

Their systems are incredibly sensitive to disruptions in normal flora, pH levels and motility in those early stages.

Stress from new feed changes, relocation, weaning and diseases like influenza can all negatively impact digestion.

Signs of issues include recurrent or prolonged diarrhea, weight loss despite normal feeding, colic behaviors and impaired athletic ability.

To help keep tummies happy, limit feed changes, minimize stressors, provide constant fresh water and hay, and call the vet promptly at warning signs.

Probiotic supplements added daily to milk replacer or grain aid re-establishing beneficial intestinal bacteria following disruptions.

Keeping living quarters clean anddry, preventing overeating of rich spring pastures, and limiting medication use unless absolutely needed also support digestion naturally.

Weaning Foals – When And How

Weaning marks the transition to 100% independent feeding and separation from the mare.

Most farms begin the process around 5-7 months old once foals have a steady grain intake and social curiosity to explore beyond their dams.

Abrupt separation places undue stress on both equines so a gradual approach over 2-4 weeks works best.

Start by increasing mealtimes apart daily, then move mares to a visually-separate nearby pasture once foals can go hours without nursing.

See also  How Much Garlic Can I Feed My Horse?

Low-protein hay should replace any remaining milk to avoid overfeeding the weanling with rich pasture alone.

Monitoring foals closely and rotating mares in and out of view aids a smoother psychological transition for the herd-bound babies.

Permanent separation when foals show grazing independence minimizes disruptions to their developing behaviors and feeding routines.

Reading Foal Behavior And Growth Stages

Horses use innate communication and developmental patterns on the farm just as in the wild.

Foals learn via social mimicry, playing and bonding with their dams and herd-mates in crucial early months.

Nursing, kicking, racing and play-biting all strengthen young bodies while establishing social hierarchies within bands.

These patterns satisfy innate motives like seeking contact, exploring boundaries and solidifying family bonds.

By tracking how foals interact, learn, grow and change feeding needs over time, farms can better understand individual temperaments and needs.

Recognizing stages from newborn dependence to weaning independence aids quality husbandry decisions sensitive to equine instincts and welfare.

Monitoring Foal Health And Growth Curves

Measuring parameters like weight, wither height and haircoat sleekness tracks development milestones.

Weighing youngsters regularly on a scale gives clear data on weight gains and flags potential health issues or poor nutrition quickly.

Foals should gain around 2-2.5 lbs daily for the first 6 months in order to achieve expected growth trajectory.

Good records also show veterinarians normal versus abnormal measurements if illnesses cause stalls or dips in progress.

Deviations could stem from infectious diseases, parasitism, nutritional imbalances or metabolic disorders.

With established baseline knowledge, farms proactively support healthy growth and catch potential problems before they worsen.

Managing Housing For Foals

Housing impacts foals strongly so facilities must suit their natural behaviors and safety.

Spacious stalls or small pasture areas promote movement important for musculoskeletal development.

Surfacing should drain well while minimizing mud risks like altered hooves or illnesses.

Mares appreciate individual or small group accommodations respecting their instinct to bond selectively with offspring.

Sheltered areas help very young or sick foals feel secure nearby dams during inclement weather.

High-quality local or imported shavings aid hygiene and comfort while reducing abrasions compared to dirt alone.

Regular deep cleaning plus fly/pest control supports immune and respiratory health in vulnerable nurseries.


-> Last Updated: