Big, well-muscled Thoroughbred foals can be produced using high-fiber diets, say researchers

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High growth rates can be achieved in Thoroughbred foals when fed a high-fiber diet, compared to the traditional cereal-based feed, researchers in Britain have found.

The economic advantage of producing big, athletic Thoroughbred foals for sale encourages owners to feed high levels of cereals, introducing these while the foals are still nursing.

Such diets can influence gastric ulceration and developmental bone diseases, which can ultimately harm their future careers.

Dr Simon Daniels and Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer, from the Royal Agricultural University’s School of Equine Management and Science, carried out a study on the supplemental feeding of foals in collaboration with Eclipse Feeds in Ireland.

The research, involving eight foals in matched pairs, found that when foals were fed a high fibre feed while still nursing on their mothers, the youngsters maintained a healthy gut environment by raising pH and lowering lactate production, compared with the conventional cereal-based feed.

The results dispel the industry belief that feeding high levels of fibre to foals will produce pot bellies and not sustain growth rates.

In fact, the range of body growth measurements taken during the studies indicated that there was no difference in growth rate of foals fed the high-fiber diet than those fed cereal-based feed.

The authors reported that a 1kg average daily gain was achieved on high-fiber diets.

Furthermore, the range of body growth measurements taken in the study indicated that the high-fiber diet supported growth in rapidly growing Thoroughbred foals in a similar way to that seen in foals fed conventional cereal-based concentrates as a supplemental feed during nursing.

This suggests the high-fiber feed provided adequate nutrition for growth, without the need for cereals which can pose a greater risk of growth abnormalities.

The study team, writing in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, said the results clearly indicate that a high-quality specially balanced high-fiber diet can support growth in young Thoroughbreds, achieving similar weight gains compared with a high-cereal diet.

Based on these results, the researchers, together with Eclipse Feeds, have now produced a fibre-based feed, a Total Fibre Mix Ration, for performance-horses which they say is proving successful when given to racing Thoroughbred, jumpers and event horses.

“We are very excited about this feed as it is a whole new concept for feeding fast-growing young stock,” Moore-Colyer said.

“We hope the results of this work will convince producers to move away from the traditional high cereal diets and put their trust in this healthy, all-fiber alternative,” Moore-Colyer said.

Growth Rates of Thoroughbred Foals and In Vitro Gut Health Parameters When Fed a Cereal or an All-Fiber Creep Feed
Meriel Moore-Colyer, Philippa Tuthill, Isobel Bannister and Simon Daniels.
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science Volume 93, October 2020, 103191 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jevs.2020.103191

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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