Equine senior feed is highly palatable. That characteristic can make it attractive when there is a non-senior equine in need of dietary supplementation. Some even consider it when there is a foal that needs supplementing. I inadvertently conducted an experiment on the combination of pony foals and senior feed. I came to the conclusion that the two should only be mixed very cautiously.
Mya the Wonder Pony is on a twice-daily ration of senior feed to help her with her mild recurrent colic. When her foal Willowtrail Timothy was about three months old, he started presenting with scours. At first I assumed it was due to his mother’s heat cycle. It was unusual given Timmy’s age, and then this theory was further debunked when Timmy’s scours didn’t resolve after heat was over. I began to work through in my head what had changed in my management of Timmy, and I began treatment.
My treatment regime was based on the assumption that Timmy had some sort of digestive upset. I had successfully treated another foal with non-heat-related scours using ingestible clay. It quickly became clear, however, that Timmy’s and my relationship was not going to survive daily infusions by mouth of a syringe full of clay. Instead I began giving him regular probiotics. I wasn’t able to give the probiotics to Timmy by mouth, either, but I was able to soak a small amount of a low-NSC pelleted ration with the probiotic, which Timmy was willing to eat. While the probiotics helped firm up Timmy’s stool some, they definitely did not clear up the problem. So I knew that there was something in my management that was causing ongoing irritation to Timmy’s digestive tract.
I began looking for patterns and clues. For instance, Timmy’s manure did improve whenever he was out grazing for the day and was worse when he spent time in the foaling pen. I wondered if Timmy was heavily ingesting the free-choice salt in the pen. I wondered if he was eating the straw bedding. I wondered if the problem was the hay I was feeding, which had changed about the time symptoms first presented. I wondered if there was something he was eating while out grazing that was soothing his digestion.
I ruled out the salt and straw theories because nothing had changed there since he’d been born. I did switch out the hay that I was feeding, and while there was a minor improvement, it wasn’t the full answer. I kept him out grazing as much as I could because I couldn’t figure out what else to do to help him feel better.
I don’t remember what made me think about Mya’s senior feed. She had been getting it twice daily since Timmy was born, so from my perspective nothing had changed. What had changed, though, was Timmy’s interest in it. He had begun plunging his head into his mother’s bucket as soon as it was available and Mya had a hard job getting her own head into the bucket. I had switched the brand that I had been feeding Mya about the time Timmy’s scours appeared, so I returned to the previous brand, and indeed that did affect Timmy’s symptoms. His scours didn’t clear up, but they did lessen in severity.
Realizing I had finally made some progress, I began taking Mya out of the foaling pen when it was time for her to have her senior ration. Within two days, Timmy’s scours cleared up completely. What a relief! I found some comments on the internet suggesting that the sugars and starches in senior rations might not be appropriate for a foal’s developing digestion, and my experience with Timmy certainly seems to support that theory.
Not only did Timmy’s manure return to normal after I prevented access to his mother’s senior feed, but his temperament changed, too. I hadn’t realized how excitable he had become from the regular ingestion of starches and sugars. He’s now much happier to see me and less reactive when something stimulates him. I always felt he should be a fun pony to be around, given how much I love both of his parents, so I’m thrilled to finally be giving him the management that he needs to be the best pony that he can be. My inadvertent experiment feeding senior feed to a pony foal definitely convinced me that the two shouldn’t be mixed.
If you’d like to know more about how I treated Timmy, click here to contact me.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014