There are many possible causes of developmental orthopaedic disease (DOD) including genetics, conformation, trauma and nutrition. Research suggests that high-energy diets accompanied by insufficient minerals are the main cause of nutrition-related DOD, rather than high protein diets, as was previously thought.
A diet of straight cereals, fed without a supplement or balancer designed to support the nutrient deficiencies within the cereals, stimulates the foal to grow quickly but doesn’t supply the building blocks that are required to develop the tissue correctly, which can lead to problems.
If a foal is born with problems or acquires them in the first few weeks after birth, it is a good indication that the mare didn’t pass the minerals to the foetus efficiently during the pregnancy. This could be because the mare wasn’t receiving enough nutrients in her diet, emphasising the importance of correct nutrition from conception on, or that the mare’s placenta failed to transfer nutrients across to the foetus.
If the foal is unable to accumulate stores of minerals during the pregnancy then, once it is born and growing rapidly, problems can occur. In these cases it is important to act quickly by providing a concentrated source of minerals, such as Buckeye Foal-Aide, to counteract the shortfalls.
Once the foal is more than three–four months of age, growth problems are more likely to be due to the mare being a very good milker, or the foal may have an above average growth rate. Milk is full of energy, which stimulates the foal to grow rapidly, but can be short of the minerals for correct tissue development.
If the mare is producing lots of milk it may be necessary, under the guidance of your vet, to wean the foal early. This is only usually necessary in extreme cases but it does allow you to completely control the foal’s diet. Again it will be beneficial to supplement the mare’s milk with a concentrated source of minerals, such as Buckeye Foal Aide, or introduce a specially formulated feed balancer, like Buckeye Gro’N Win, which has a low energy content but a concentrated level of minerals.
The foal can be introduced to a concentrate feed at three months of age and this has been shown to help stabilise growth rates, lower the risk of growth spurts and allow the gradual transition on to a concentrate feed before the stresses of weaning begin.
Growth rates slow with increasing age, so fewer nutrients are required to support tissue growth in weanlings, however the youngster still requires a balanced diet to maintain the continued growth and development.
If DOD occurs after weaning then it is likely that the weanling’s diet is too high in energy and/or has an inadequate mineral content. This could be due to unsupplemented lush pasture, or over- or under-feeding a stud diet. A stud balancer, such as Gro’N Win, or a specially formulated paddock lick is ideal for providing supporting levels of minerals but no additional calories.
Many growth-related problems can be prevented by monitoring a foal’s growth rate through regular weightaping and plotting bodyweight on a chart. This can help to highlight any deviation from the accepted growth rate according to estimated mature bodyweight. This then allows for adjustments to the foal’s diet to be made as early as possible to help correct the trend and avoid problems.