The foal's first months: managing its diet


You've been dreaming of having your foal born for a long time... Now it's here, the foaling has gone well, the mother and foal are in good health, and you've fallen under the spell of this little creature who's just shown the tip of his nose! 

You may have wondered about your mare's diet when you decided to breed her, but the foal's diet is just as important. While the vast majority of foals will be fed on their mother's milk for the first few months of their lives, a good understanding of their nutritional needs is essential for their health, growth and development.

alimentation du poulain



I. Foal growth and feed: what you need to know.
  1. The 3 first months.
  2. From 3 months to weaning.
  3. At weaning.
II. The nutritional needs of the foal.
  1. Quantitative needs.
  2. Qualitative needs.
    > Proteins
    > Vitamins et minerals. 


I. Foal growth and feed: what you need to know.

1. The 3 first months.

When it is born, a saddle horse-type foal weighs around 50kg. Its growth over the first 6 months is crucial, as by the time it is 6 months old it should weigh no less than 250kg, i.e. 40-50% of its adult weight. In other words, they will gain an average of 1kg a day throughout this period. However, growth varies from month to month: the foal will gain 1.5 kg per day for the first 3 months, then 500g per day for the following 3 months. 

Chronologically, nerve tissue develops first, followed by bone tissue, then muscle and fat mass. 

During the first 3 months of life, breast milk provides the majority of a newborn baby's nutritional intake. It is during this period that the mare will reach her peak lactation, to enable her foal to grow and develop in the best possible conditions. 

Breeders often supplement their foals with an age-appropriate feed to speed up their growth rate, in preparation for foal shows or training/racing at the age of 2. 

Beware: excesses (as well as deficiencies) can be dangerous for foals, especially if the starch (mainly present in cereals) and sugar (present in the green grass of spring meadows) intake is high.


2. From 3 months to weaning.

When her foal reaches the age of 3 months, the mare will gradually reduce her milk production. The newborn foal will therefore start to eat solid feed: grass, hay and possibly a supplement. Its consumption index increases over the months: to gain 1 kg, it needs around 8.5 kg of mother's milk at the age of one month, and at 5 months, it will need 32 kg of milk, hence the real need to ingest solid feed. 

At this age, foals are generally supplemented in 2 ways: to increase their growth, with the aim of being presented at foal sales/competitions, or to gradually begin the dietary transition that will take place at weaning. If you supplement your foal before weaning, make sure you keep the same feed during and after weaning. It may be changed over the winter. This is because the foal often loses condition as a result of stress and stopping drinking its mother's milk. Initially, feed 1 to 1.5 kg/poult/day, then add 0.5 kg/month of age to reach 2.5 to 3 kg at weaning.

If you do not supplement your foal with a specific feed, consider giving him a mineral and vitamin supplement, which will cover the necessary intake of zinc, copper, calcium, selenium and vitamins.


3. At weaning.

When the foal is weaned, it should have unlimited access to grass or forage. If you have been supplementing the foal under the mother's care, continue to do so, adjusting the quantities, ideally dividing the meals into 3 meals a day. Make sure you feed the foal in a separate trough from the mother to prevent her eating the foal's meal. 

For a foal intended for sport/leisure (with breaking-in planned at 3 years of age or later), an average of 5 to 6 kg of hay per day is needed. The forage should be of good quality, as feed intake is still fairly low at this age.

alimentation poulain


II. The nutritional needs of foals from 0 to 6 months.

1. Quantitative needs.

For a saddle horse weighing around 550 kg at adulthood, according to the tables proposed by INRA, IFCE (Institut Français du Cheval et de l'Équitation) recommends intakes such as:

> Between 0 and 2 months:

  • 0,039 energy to 0,044 energy/kg of body weight
  • 4 to 4,5 g of proteins/kg of body weight (for growth rates of 1200 to 1500 g/day)

> Between 3 and 6 months:

  • 0,023 à 0,024  energy/Kg of body weight
  • 2,4 à 2,6 g de proteins/Kg of body weight (for growth rates of 750 to 1000g/day)


2. Qualitative needs.
  • Quality proteins are essential for the foal's growth and development. Lysine, in particular, is a crucial component of protein, helping the body's tissues to grow and regenerate. The equine body needs lysine to function normally, and the horse is unable to synthesise it on its own. The IFCE recommends the following lysine requirements for foals:

- 3 to 6 months: 0.054% of protein requirement
- From 6 to 12 months: 0.087% of protein requirement
- Over 12 months: 0.105% of protein requirement


  • Vitamins and minerals:

> Calcium and phosphorus interact during absorption, so it is advisable not to overdose phosphorus intake (the risk is mainly present in cereal rations based on barley, oats, wheat bran, etc.). The ideal Ca/P ratio is 1.8 for a growing foal. Be careful not to exceed a Ca/P ratio imbalance of 2 to avoid any risk of osteochondrosis. 

> Copper: a copper deficiency can lead to osteoarticular lesions. According to the IFCE, "recent research shows that a minimum level of 15 ppm (parts per million) in the ration is necessary, i.e. 1 mg Cu/kg dry feed".

> Iron: 50 mg per kg of dry matter ingested is recommended. 

> Like copper, zinc is necessary for bone development. The IFCE recommends a Zn/Cu ratio in the ration of around 5 at all times.

> Selenium (like vitamin E) is a powerful antioxidant. Selenium deficiency can lead to white muscle disease in foals, characterised by stiffness and cardiorespiratory problems. The prognosis is frequently life-threatening in cases of cardiac damage. 

> Vitamins A, D and E are essential for foal growth and skeletal development.


The right diet for your foal is essential to its development at every stage of its growth. 

Don't hesitate to consult your vet or a nutritionist to assess your foal's precise nutritional requirements, depending on its breed, age, lifestyle, the mother's general state of health during gestation and lactation, etc.


Alimentation de la poulinière