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Supplementing the Foal

Supplementing the Foal
24 December 2021 | Foran Equine

It is important to keep on top of shifting nutritional requirements as foals grow, develop, and become less reliant on their mother’s milk. The young equine gut also has to quickly adapt to utilising a solid diet and, being hind-gut fermenters, an increasing reliance on bacterial gut populations.

Ensuring adequate provision of key vitamins and minerals should be kept in sharp focus, to ensure normal development and minimise the risk of developmental orthopaedic disorders (DODs). Studies have shown that osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is very dynamic during the early months of life, with the highest recorded incidence occurring at 5 months of age. A solid foundation for a horse’s entire athletic life is built in these early months. 

Calcium & phosphorus  

These essential minerals have closely interlinked roles, being the basis of strong and healthy bones and making up 70% of the bone mineral content. If dietary provision is too low (and recommendations in recent years have been revised upwards), deficiencies can occur, and the body will draw upon its reserves. This results in the removal of these minerals from the skeleton (bone demineralisation), reduced bone density and potentially bony malformations.   

As well as being provided in sufficient amounts, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is also important. Too far from the optimal Ca:P ratio of 1.5-2:1 can result in malabsorption and relative deficiencies. This is further complicated by the fact that the addition of feedstuffs such as chaffs or cereals to a horse’s hard feed can quickly alter the Ca:P ratio of the overall diet. 

Copper 

Copper plays an essential role in the equine diet, particularly in youngstock. It acts as an essential co-factor for many enzymes, including lysol-oxidase, which is fundamental to cartilage formation. Copper is also vital for the maintenance of healthy tendons and ligaments. In terms of broader health, copper supports antioxidant function and immune health, as well as being needed for the production of melanin – the pigment that determines coat colour. 

Forage (grass, hay or haylage) will provide some level of copper, but in Ireland and the UK, grass alone, whether fresh or preserved, will not fully meet the requirements needed for youngstock. This is further exacerbated by the fact that copper absorption is extremely complex, as it interacts with several other trace elements in the diet, including iron and molybdenum. These other minerals have an antagonistic effect on copper absorption, preventing effective uptake even when dietary provision is adequate. As such, supplementation with is generally recommended. 

This is particularly true between as the foal reaches 4-7 months of age, as they will have utilised the stores developed in the womb but may not yet be consuming adequate levels of hard feed to ensure optimal copper intake.  

Vitamins 

Vitamins have wide and varied roles – many of which are related to healthy development as the foal grows. Vitamin A is essential (amongst other things) for normal eye function, but absent in the horse at birth, so must be obtained through the diet. B-vitamins are involved in maintaining good metabolism and folic acid specifically aids cell division and therefore growth. Then there is the previously discussed role of Vitamin D in enhancing calcium absorption – so important for normal bone development 

Bone and joint development can be supported in youngstock with Osteo-Glycan, containing 5 key minerals, including calcium and phosphorus at an ideal ratio of 2:1, as well as marine collagen and vitamins A and D.  

Copper-Max delivers the highest dose of chelated copper available for horses, in an easy-to-administer oral paste. Chelation avoids the risk of copper ‘lock-up’ due to interaction with other trace minerals and added zinc optimises absorption. 

Friska Foal provides a combination of essential vitamins and prebiotics in a palatable syrup that foals love! Specifically formulated for the needs of young foals and complementing the mare’s milk, to give them a solid nutritional foundation for optimal development and growth. 

Friska Foal

For more advice on targeted supplementation of foals and youngstock, get in touch to speak to one of our advisers