Whether you've bought a youngster to produce yourself or you're breeding from your mare, it's vital that you obtain nutrition right from the beginning. With nutrition being required for development and growth, choosing the right horse feed is essential. So, what should you be feeding youngstock for safe development and growth?

Alfalfa As A Source Of Protein

Alfalfa is very good for breeding and youngstock. It's renowned for supplying quality protein that is necessary to support optimal growth. The caliber of a protein is determined by the levels of essential amino acids because they can't be synthesised within the horse's body. A particularly important essential amino acid for youngstock is lysine. If the protein is deficient it can compromise growth and development.

The myth stating that excess protein causes Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) has been dismissed which is now known that top starch diets, particularly if mineral levels are reduced, may be a problem.


Alfalfa is renowned for being abundant in calcium. Primarily found in bones, calcium can also be essential for muscle contraction, blood coagulation, enzyme regulation and cell membrane function. Not enough calcium for the mare while pregnant or even the foal can lead to skeletal deformities. The number of calcium with other minerals, such as phosphorus, can also be important. Too much phosphorus can block the absorption of calcium producing a calcium deficiency. This is most often a problem when straight cereals are fed without additional causes of calcium.

What Are Growth Disorders?

Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) may be the umbrella term used to explain any growth-related problem. These may be very obvious and easily recognisable such as contracted tendons in which the foal appears to be walking on tiptoes, or they can be much more subtle and difficult to definitively diagnose for example Wobbler Syndrome.

Why Do Growth Problems Occur?

DOD is a multi-factorial problem and some of the factors are easier to influence than the others. Probably the most hard to control is that of genetics so it is important to think about that sometimes problems will occur it doesn't matter how much effort you devote to try and avoid them. A contributing factor that can be influenced is nutrition.

How Does Diet Influence Growth Problems?

The growth of the foal begins in the reason for conception and the diet must take account of the. The foetus accumulates mineral stores that it can draw on during the first few months after birth when it's growing quickly. If DOD occurs during this period it is usually an indication that the foetus wasn't able to accrue sufficient stores. This is often due to a quantity of reasons, the most usual one being that the mare didn't receive additional minerals within the diet and so couldn't pass them to the foal. Sometimes the healthiness of the placenta is compromised by infections or senior years which can impair the transfer of nutrients towards the foetus. This doesn't mean that you simply shouldn't breed from older mares, you just have to accept that it comes with an increased chance of problems.

The aim with a youngster is to achieve as smooth a growth rate as you possibly can. If your youngster experiences a time of sub-optimal nutrition which is sufficient to slow their rate of growth, they will get caught up as soon as they receive a higher plane of nutrition. This could lead to “compensatory growth” and may create a weaker musculoskeletal structure and delay maturation. Therefore, it is vital to supply enough energy but not an excessive amount of to ensure a consistent rate of growth.

One myth which has well and truly been dispelled is that excessive protein causes DOD. A study completed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER) in the united states demonstrated that actually, high blood blood sugar levels and the consequent high insulin response to a cereal based meal was connected with an increased incidence of DOD. The advice in the researchers ended up being to reduce reliance on cereal based feeds for youngstock and use fibre and oil as energy sources instead, especially when prepping for shows or sales. Feeds for example Alfa-A Oil would be ideal because they provide just as much energy like a stud mix but typically with 10 times less starch. These should be fed alongside good quality sources of vitamins and minerals to guarantee the diet is balanced.

When adding minerals to the diet the crucial factor is they are balanced. Feeding much more of one mineral in isolation is not necessarily a good thing because it upsets the balance of others. For instance, limestone is often added like a supply of calcium as most individuals are conscious that calcium is required for bone development. Although calcium is important, feeding an excessive amount of can block the availability of other minerals for example zinc and copper, which are also vital for development and growth. Copper, for instance, is a vital constituent of the enzymes that are required to give tendons their elasticity.

How To handle DOD

Although there are still many questions unanswered something we know of is the fact that hay and water isn't good enough. Just like you wouldn't expect a young child with a developmental problem to enhance bran flakes and water, foals need a balance of essential nutrients to repair the harm. A supplement or low-calorie balancer fed with a chopped fibre feed for example Alfa-A Original will give you the nutrients needed to build healthy tissues without the starch that boosts the chance of problems.

If you would like more information about what to feed youngstock for safe development and growth, please make contact with an equine nutritionist.