Foal growth: finding the right balance
A study carried out on growth rates in young thoroughbreds showed that at six months of age, a foal can reach 84pc of its mature height and 46pc of its mature weight (See Table 3). Foals grow very quickly and need a nutrient-rich diet to support this growth.
For the first two months, the mare's milk should meet the foal's requirements, provided she is receiving adequate nutrition.
But as production quantity and quality of the milk decreases, by four months she is providing only 50pc of the foal's nutritional requirements, and by six months, some 30pc. Good nutrition is critical during this growth phase in order for the foal to reach its full genetic potential.
One of the most important periods for sound growth is the time prior to weaning when the foal is still nursing the mare. Studies of the incidence of osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) have shown that the disorder is very dynamic during the early months of life and that the highest recorded incidence occurs at five months of age.
Many foals are still not weaned at this age and are reliant on nutrition from the mare's milk and pasture. Supplementing the foal with additional nutrients to support the very high nutritional requirements would be advisable, through a balancer, concentrate or feed supplement that support skeletal growth and development.