Creep Feeding / Nursing Foals

Horse managers need to make sure foals start off on the right hoof by ensuring foals have access to needed nutrition in an environment that allows them to imitate fellow horses.

A nursing foal's nutritional requirements will exceed the mare's ability to supply nutrients to the foal a few months after birth, said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma State University Extension equine specialist.

"One useful way to meet a foal's increasing nutritional needs is through creep feeding," Freeman said. "Foals should have access to creep feed within the first month of life."

Research indicates creep feeding not only will provide many of the necessary nutrients for sound bone and muscle growth, it also will lessen weaning stress. Consumption of creep feed is extremely variable between foals. Some foals will eat up to four percent of their body weight per day in creep feed consumption, while others may consume a fourth that amount.

Creep feeds are formulated to be nutrient dense, highly palatable feeds that are easily digested by a foal, Freeman said.

"Most creep rations should be balanced to contain about 16 percent crude protein, 0.6 to 0.8 percent calcium and 0.4 to 0.6 percent phosphorus." Freeman said rations should include high quality protein sources such as milk, yeast or soybeans. Creeps can be fed as pellets or as coarsely processed grains.

Foals will regulate their needs by consuming small amounts of creep feed frequently throughout the day. As such, creep feeder design and location should allow access to liberal amounts of fresh feed.

"Since foals teach each other how to eat creep feed, creep feeder design should allow access for more than one foal at a time," said Freeman. "Creep feeders should be designed so the openings are low enough in height to limit access from mares, but at least a couple of inches above wither height of the foals." As the foals grow, the height opening will need to be adjusted. The width of the opening also should allow for at least several inches of clearance from the foal's body. A foal should be able to easily turn around once inside. Fifty to sixty square feet is adequate for one or two foals.

Anyone interested in obtaining additional information about management of foals should contact their local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension office and ask for Oklahoma State University Extension Facts No. 3977, "Managing Young Horses for Sound Growth;" No. 3978, "Weaning Management Practices for Foals;" and No. 3985, "Nursing Foal Management."

Article provided by Oklahoma State University