How Do Horses Feed Their Young?

Last Updated on March 18, 2022

If you are wondering how do horses feed their young, then hopefully everything you want to know is for you here in our guide on foals and how they eat. Foals are amazing creatures from the minute they are born. Within a few short hours after birth, foals are able, albeit a little wobbly, to gallop with their mothers.

A Little Bit About Foals

Foals are born after eleven months of gestation. When they are born, they come out front feet first, followed by the head, shoulders, and the rest of the body. All foals are born with ‘slippers’ on their feet.

These slippers are soft tissue that protects the mother’s birth canal from the foal’s hooves. As soon as this tissue comes in contact with the air, it begins to disintegrate. By the time the foal is 24-hours old, the slippers are completely gone.


Horse Breastfeeding

While it is easy to call how a horse feeds its young breastfeeding, this technically isn’t correct. A female horse does not have breasts, though some of the names for the anatomy are similar to humans. All mares have mammary glands located high up between their hind legs.

The location protects this sensitive area from the sun and injury. In a mare that has never had a foal, the teats are small. When a mare has had a foal, this area and the teats are larger, sometimes making it easy to see that the horse has given birth before.

All mares have two teats, each with two or three openings, depending on how many mammary lobes each teat has. During pregnancy, the mare’s body gets ready for milk production. This does not happen until late in gestation, again nature’s way of protecting the area.

Different hormones stimulate the stages of milk production so that if everything goes as it should, the mare has enough milk when the foal is born.

What Do Baby Horses Eat

Baby horses eat milk by suckling on their mother’s teats. In the first few weeks of life, the foal will suckle more frequently. A healthy foal will drink from its mother as often as every ten minutes and up to 15 liters a day.

The milk contains everything a foal needs to grow quickly during the first few weeks. After the first week, the gaps between eating will widen, and by one month it is about one hour between feeds.

what do baby horses eat

The First Milk

It is extremely important that a foal drinks from its mother as quickly as possible after it is born. It is the most important meal of a horse’s life. The name of the first milk is colostrum.

When a foal is born is has no immunity or functioning immune system, making it very vulnerable. For the first few hours of life, the digestive tract is open, specifically, so it can absorb the colostrum. Colostrum is different from regular milk.

Colostrum contains all the nutrients and immunity from the mother that the foal needs to start life. There is only a small window when the foal’s intestines can absorb colostrum. As more time passes after birth, the digestive tract begins to close, and absorption is no longer possible.

Also, the first liter of colostrum is the most potent with immunoglobulins. After six hours, this potency decreases, and as such, the quality of the colostrum goes down.

Good quality colostrum is thick, sticky, and yellow in color. If it is thin and runny, it is a sign that the quality is poor. To ensure a foal has the best chance of good colostrum, it needs to drink from its mother within a couple of hours.

If this does not happen, then the situation becomes urgent and needs veterinary intervention. These foals will usually need a plasma transfusion so that they get the necessary immunity. Do not take a wait, and see approach when it comes to the first milk.

All foals should have an IgG test at around 24-hours old. This test will check to make sure the levels of IgG are high enough, which confirms the foal got enough quality colostrum. If they are too low, the vet will administer plasma.

Do Foals Only Eat Milk

For the first few days, a foal will only drink milk. After a few days or a week or two, the foal will start to show interest in grass, hay, water, and its mother’s grain. Early on, they will not eat much of this.

You will also see foals eating their mother’s manure. This is perfectly normal and not a bad thing. In fact, it a good thing, as it helps the foal populate its intestines with the necessary microorganisms that allow it to freely eat, and digest food without the necessity of milk.

By the time a baby horse is six months old, it will combine eating grass, hay, and grain with drinking from its mother. At six months of age, the foal can safely survive without milk. This is the most common age to start weaning. 

Do Horses Nurse

Horses do nurse from their mother by suckling on her teats. The teats are located at the bottom of her udder, which fills substantially when the mare is nursing. Making milk is very hard on a mare’s body. You will often notice that she loses weight.

It is important that a mare has access to good grass when nursing. Many also need grain designed for lactating mares and access to hay. This extra feed will help the mare produce enough quality milk and prevent too much weight loss.

Feeding Foals from Birth to Weaning is an interesting video presented by an equine nutritionist that details all about feeding a foal.

How Long Do Horses Feed Their Young

If the foal is not weaned from its mother at six months old, it will continue to nurse. The mother will keep allowing this for some time. However, it will become less frequent.

How long the mother allows this will depend on the mare. Some mares get sick of it and start to kick the foal off sooner than others. In the wild, the mare will stop her yearling nursing when she has a new foal to feed.


So how do horses feed their young? Horses feed their young by nursing them. They produce milk that gives them all the nutrients the foal needs to grow strong. Mares will allow their foals, especially in the first weeks, to drink as often as they want.

Some mares will even encourage their foal to nurse with some gentle nudges. They will also stretch their back legs out so the foal can access the teats more easily.

How does a horse feed her foal?

A foal is born with the instinct to stand and nurse within an hour of birth, often with the aid of its mother. A healthy mare’s milk provides all of the energy and nutrients a foal needs to support rapid, steady growth. Colostrum is the first milk produced by a new mother. It’s thick, yellow, and rich in antibodies that help build foal’s immune system. Colostrum is produced in the glands of the mare’s udder during the last two to four weeks of gestation and is available to the foal right after birth.
But sometimes a foal doesn’t get enough milk or the milk isn’t rich enough in nutrients the foal needs. This can lead to weight loss, diarrhea, and other issues. The best way to prevent these problems is to ensure that the mare is well fed and has adequate nutrition for herself. 

How long does a foal stay with its mother?

The most common age to wean a foal is about 3 months. However, many foals are being weaned at 4 to 6 months of age. It is recommended that foals be kept on the milk until at least 3 months of age as it’s immune system ony start to properly function around that time.
Foals need to be weaned gradually. This allows their digestive system to adjust to having less milk in their diet. Weaning a foal involves a gradual reduction in the amount of milk they consume while they are slowly introduced to a small amount of feed each day.

Can you drink horse milk?

Mare’s milk is a dairy product that is said to be a rich source of calcium and other minerals. Horse milk contains significantly less casein, so people who have an intolerance to casein should be able to drink mare’s milk without experiencing any negative effects.
Horse milk is known for its high value in vitamins and minerals. In fact, it contains more than 50% more calcium, 40% more phosphorus, and 15% more magnesium than cow milk. It also contains about 35% less sodium and cholesterol than cow milk. In addition to being a healthy alternative to cow’s milk, horse milk is also known for its ability to treat certain health conditions.

How many foals does a horse have?

The average mare can give birth to between 16-20 foals in her lifetime. A healthy mare can usually produce one foal per year. She can have her first foal at approximately 18 months of age, but it’s much better to wait for her to reach her full size before giving a birth for the first time. This happens around the age of four years old.
However, the number of foals a mare can have is not set in stone and a number of factors will influence it. Some of the variables that affect a mare’s reproduction include: the health of the mare, genetics, and fertility. A mare’s age also plays a role in her reproduction. Older mares have a higher chance of having a difficult pregnancy. It is estimated that a mare can be fertile for up to 15 years after her first breeding season. After this, she will begin to slow down her reproductive system and lose her ability to produce offspring. Another factor that influences a mare’s reproduction is her foal survival rate. A mare’s body is able to recover from a normal pregnancy, so the survival rate for her foals should be close to 100%. However, if the mare has had a difficult birth, the survival rate for her foal will drop to around 60%.