Even though most studs are now busy with the new arrivals on their farm, last years crop has just hit ONE. It won’t be long before you are thinking about preparing your yearlings for sale or for the show ring. Over the last few decades the old adage that buyers buy a yearling “by the pound” or “size sells” has been a major problem. It has been well documented the oversized or fat yearlings have not gone on and produced the results on the track. In recent years the trend is starting to lean towards preparing a yearling that is a “ready to run” candidate, one whom is leaner and more athletic looking than its previous fat counterpart. Personally for me this is a positive sign as I feel we will have less wastage problems in our two & three year olds. On the purchasers side it is an advantage because you can actually see what you are getting. It has been common practice to hide top-line faults with a little extra fat.
Leading trainers are now calling for yearlings to be in an athletic condition and are also looking for horses to be X-rayed to spot potential joint and bone deformities. This leads us into the following discussion on the best way to prepare a yearling for sale or futurity:
Which horse for which sale?
Apart from genetics, size and maturity should help you make your decision as to which sale you should enter your yearling in. In Australasia the major sales start at the beginning of February and finish up around Easter. There are also a few sales during winter as well. Thus if you have a quality yearling that will be accepted into the higher category sale and is a little shy in the size and maturity department it may be wise to save him for the later sales and let him mature for the extra 2-3 months. If you consider that most preparations look for a gain of nearly 1kg a day, the extra time for your smaller yearling could increase its size by 80-100kg. Also muscle and bone development will be more defined as well. If you have an average yearling which is smaller I would again suggest waiting for the latter sales to maximise it growth. For the majority of yearlings I would suggest choose your sales wisely. If you have a marginal yearling for sale, you must decide whether you want to be on the bottom rung at a larger sale or a headliner at a smaller sale. That’s the gamble.
When to start preparation is always the main question asked about preparing yearlings. Most studs use a 90-120 day preparation period. This gives enough room for the smaller or less developed yearlings to catch up, without putting too much pressure on them. (Remember – even though buyers want a lean athletic yearling, they still want a little bulk and muscle development). Many preparation staff will select some horses to start earlier than this and gradually build them up. Personally this is the best way for me. This doesn’t mean that the yearlings will be boxed for 4-5 months but their feed intake, handling and limited exercise may start from the paddock much earlier than the traditional 3 months from sale. Some people wait until the last 4-6 weeks before the sale to start preparing their yearlings. This can put immense pressure on the yearlings to gain weight and condition. Such a sudden burst of growth is quite dangerous as this can lead to Development Orthopaedic Disease (DOD), laminitis and colic.
When planning your yearling’s preparation it is necessary to plan each yearling individually and perhaps group similar formed yearlings for different sales. This will enable you to control their preparation and also enable a steady rate of growth instead of a mad panic coming into a sale.
Feeding the yearling
To ensure you give your yearlings the best chance of reaching the sale pen in the best shape possible, nutrition plays a pivotal role in achieving this. Correct nutrition for your yearling starts before it was born with the broodmare, through weanling and early yearling stages. To ensure your yearling is receiving adequate nutrients it would be wise to test your pastures and get a nutritionist to conduct a diet analysis for you and show you where your diet is deficient or in excess. They will be able to advise you on the correct product and quantity required to achieve different targets that you set for the growth of your yearlings. Stud feeds such as HYGAIN® STUDTORQUE®, HYGAIN® PRODIGY® or HYGAIN® GROTORQUE® will provide essential nutrients to your weanlings, yearlings and broodmares. The features of such products is that when pasture quality or quantity is deficient, grains such as oats can be added to the diet without effecting the horses nutrient to calorie ratio.
During the 60-90 day period leading up to the sales, the yearlings feeding program is typically increased. When concentrate feeding is increased, it should be done gradually over a one week period and as per the product recommendations. Full concentrate feeds such as Hygain® Grotorque® are ideal for preparing yearlings for sale. All that is required is to add roughages such as chaff, hay, pasture or HYGAIN® MICRBEET®.
To a large extent, the amount fed will depend on the horse, individual preference regarding body condition at the time of the sale, the amount of exercise, and the availability of pasture. Studs with a low stocking density and plenty of pasture might feed a little less concentrate to avoid over-conditioning. Individualisation of the feeding program is essential. For example, some yearlings can gain weight faster than others so, they may not require as much concentrate. On the other hand, late foals might need to be fed more to achieve the right look. Pasture turnout might need to be limited in those gaining weight very quickly – alternatively, a little more exercise can help burn off any excess weight.
During the last 30 days before a sale most yearlings are constantly boxed and thus do not have access to adlib pasture. It is essential that yearlings have adlib access to quality hay preferably grass / clover hay. This will reduce digestive complications such as colic and reduce the chance of ulcers as a result of an empty stomach.
Tuning the yearling
Even though yearlings are turned out in the paddock during prep, this form of free exercise rarely produces the toned effect we are looking for. Therefore some additional conditioning is required to achieve the athletic look at the sales. It may be advisable before you start your yearlings on an exercise regime that the next time your veterinarian is in to let them examine the horse to give an alternative opinion on the structure and soundness of the yearling and the suitability of an exercise program. Some physical or conformational problems could be enhanced by forced exercise and stresses involved with that exercise.
The most traditional but also the most labour intensive form of conditioning the yearling is by hand walking. For most yearlings this may be suitable but considering the amount of feed you are feeding the yearling they may tend to get a little fat on this exercise program and may need a more vigorous form of exercise to maintain condition score and muscle tone. Some form of trotting exercise will help in promoting the desired condition and muscle tone.
Depending on the size of your operation careful management of your yearlings exercise program is paramount. If yearlings develop lameness or joint problems it is advised to reduce exercise and consult your veterinarian.
The final polish
Some of the factors affecting a yearling’s sale price are beyond your control (pedigree, performance etc.), but attention to proper feeding and conditioning will substantially improve a yearlings health and value to prospective buyers.
Potential buyers pay great attention to conditioning and behaviour of horses so grooming and handling play an important role in determining the final price of your yearling. Some studs specialise in the preparation of horses and have developed reputations for turning out great looking well mannered horses and so attract the main buyers to inspect their draft.
The supplementation of Zinc, Methionine and Biotin as well as fat is known to increase the final gleam that we are looking for in the sales yearling. Apart from this supplementation, grooming, clean coat and rugs are essential to develop a great lustre in your horse. Hygain® has a hoof & coat supplement specifically formulated to aid in the preparation of yearlings for sale – HYGAIN® GLEAM®. Hygain® Gleam® is a blend of biotin, bio chelated zinc, methionine and soybean meal in a banana flavour which also increases the palatability of feeds for fussy eaters.