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For the first six months, the foal relies entirely on its mother’s milk for all essential nutrients. However, foals begin to nibble on grass and hay almost immediately after birth.

As their digestive systems mature, they gradually extract more nutrients from these additional feeds.

Around three months of age, the nutritional content of the mother’s milk declines significantly as the foal becomes more adept at obtaining nutrients from forage.

By five to six months old, foals can typically thrive without relying on their mother’s milk.
In the wild, though, they often stay with their mothers until around nine to ten months of age. During this time, the impending birth of a new sibling prompts the mothers to wean the previous year’s foal, as the milk provides minimal nutrients. The mare redirects her resources to nourish the new foal in her womb for its final developmental stages.

Foal muesli – yes or no?

We typically wean foals at around six months of age or even earlier, although this timeframe is often too premature for their psychological development, despite their physical capability to cope.

Feeding “foal muesli” or “foal starters” during the first few months of life is not only unnecessary but can also pose long-term health risks for the horse.

The high concentration of processed grains in such foal muesli leads to spikes in blood sugar levels, potentially laying the groundwork for insulin resistance and obesity (EMS) in the future.

Each fat cell formed in a foal due to such high-calorie supplementary feeding remains with them for life. Consequently, horses may struggle with obesity and face an increased risk of laminitis later on.

brown pony foal sniffing a hand
Feeding “foal muesli” or “foal starter” is superfluous in the first few months of life. © Adobe Stock / Nadine Haase

What comes after weaning?

If the foal has inherited an optimal intestinal flora (large intestine microbiome) from its healthy mother, then focusing on a species-appropriate, natural diet during the rearing phase post-weaning is advisable.
A well-established intestinal flora facilitates the young horse in deriving abundant energy and valuable nutrients for growth and development from hay and grass. Of course, essential supplements such as mineral feed, salt lick, and water remain vital components of their diet.

However, when considering additional feed options beyond these essentials—given the vast array of choices offered by the feed industry—it’s crucial to weigh whether the horse genuinely requires them or if they might inadvertently pave the way for health issues in the future.
Similar to “foal muesli,” many supplementary feeds often contain an excess of easily digestible nutrients that could prove detrimental in the long run.

While it’s natural for young horses to experience occasional “childhood illnesses,” ranging from grass warts on the nose to worm infestations in the intestines,
these health concerns can be therapeutically supported through appropriate feed when they arise. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid overfeeding or overtreating a young horse.

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