The normal feeding behaviour of a foal is to stand and suckle within 2-3 hours or much sooner. Any longer there will be a problem with absorbing colostrum. They should suckle frequently, in the first 2 weeks, 7- 8 times and hour. As they get older they suckle less as they are more coordinated and efficient at suckling at the times when they do.
Total intake up to day 2 is 10-15% of body weigh a day, this is a massive drain on the mare. After day 2 this goes up to 25% of body weight a day. At 3 months they drink 18 litres a day. The weight gain is 1-2 kg/day and they should be weighed accurately, this may seem like a lot but when you think that they may have to reach a weight of 500 kg then they need to put on a lot of weight.
Colostrum is the milk produced in the first 12- 15 hours after birth, you don’t want the foal to miss this. It has antibodies and is a different composition to mature milk. There is increased protein, increased white blood cells, increased Ca content, and increased Vit A, but it has a lower concentration of lactose than mature milk. If the foal doesn't get this they are at risk from illness, septicaemia and scouring. The immunoglobulin molecules are only absorbed for a short time in foal intestine. They need a protein carrier which is not produced after this time. So they need it before 12 hours.
Milk composition changes rapidly in the first few days then stabilises. The values vary in horses and literature. The foals don’t have the capacity to digest fibre as the microbes that do this haven't populated their gut yet, so they shouldn’t be weaned too early. Coprophagy is eating poo, this gives them microbes to populate the hind gut.
After 3-4 weeks they may require extra nutritional support. They should be kept out on grass but can be also given a creep feed. This will help the foal to mature and stop using as much of the mares resources. It adapts the gut to hard feed so that they are more likely to be ok when they are weaned.
Weaning is usually around 3- 6 months, thoroughbred are weaned earlier. Nutrition of the mare should be taken into account and if she is looking in poor condition the foal may need to be weaned earlier. 5 months is optimal for weaning, an added probiotic may also be beneficial to the gut.
Tomorrow I will be uploading a post on feeding growing horses.