Nutrition for Young Animals

Providing essential nutrition for young animals is the key to raising productive, healthy livestock. Young animals are more vulnerable than adult members of their species because their immune systems and tolerances are still developing. This means the risk of contracting infections, sickness, and disease is much higher in early stages of life.

Juvenile animals that do not have access to essential nutrients often experience stunted growth and are more susceptible to sickness, disease, and in extreme cases, death.

1. Supporting Healthy, Early Development

Adolescent animals must have access to a healthy diet that contains minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients which support vital body functions and growth. The amount of nutrients required for developing animals varies according to their species, age, living conditions, and access to nutritional feed options.

Water, protein, and calcium are needed for all young animals to survive, but some species have specific requirements that contribute to optimal health.


Young ruminants can usually satisfy most of their dietary needs by foraging for nutrient-rich vegetation. However, many pastures are unsuitable for forage or do not contain large enough quantities of edible plants to provide the nutrients required for healthy development. That means calves, lambs, kids, and other young ruminants will often require supplemental sources of nutrition to maintain their well-being and support growth.

Newborn calves must be fed colostrum from their dam immediately after birth because it carries immunoglobulins that are absorbed by the gut to help the immune system resist disease. This passive transfer of immunity has proven to improve growth rates and decrease health costs associated with calves.


Ducklings, goslings, chicks, and other young poultry must have access to a generous supply of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to healthy energy metabolism and other necessary functions.

A variety of physiological and morphological changes occur in young poultry immediately after hatching that affects their ability to digest food. Chief among these changes is the maturation of the enterocyte, so that it may begin secreting enzyme precursors for digestion. During the post-hatch stage of life, nutrient transporters in young poultry are controlled by the level of protein they receive in their diet, as well as the quality and composition of feed.


Newborn piglets rely on careful management to survive because they are born without antibody protection. Their bodies cannot regulate internal temperatures, and they only have enough fat energy for one day. Much like ruminants, piglets must be given colostrum immediately after birth in order to strengthen  their immune systems. In addition, the use of short and medium chain fatty acids stimulate the gut health of suckling piglets, achieving eubiosis. The nutritional requirements for pigs differ according to their various developmental stages where essential minerals, vitamins and amino acids are carefully added to support optimum performance.


Foals need a well-balanced intake of nutrients to develop properly and prevent disease or sickness from setting in. The first year of a foal’s life is especially important to their musculoskeletal health. Nursing foals receive most of their nutrients from the mother’s milk, where protein, calcium, phosphorus, and more are provided.

Newborn foals need to be fed colostrum to receive a high concentration of nutrients and antibodies from the dam. In addition to improving disease resistance, colostrum helps foals to pass fecal excrement, which would otherwise cause constipation.

2. Solving Common Health Problems

Young animals are more susceptible to health problems and have greater difficulty recovering from disease. Providing ample sources of nutrition improves their gut health, growth rates, and body functions, making it easier for them to resist and recover from health issues.

Four Common Health Problems Experienced by Young Animals

  1. Infection – A strong immune system is the best way to help young animals fight off infections.
  2. Disease and sickness – While many young animals are typically vaccinated for a range of common diseases, there is always a chance they will contract sickness from interacting with pathogens or parasites in their environment.
  3. Dehydration and heat stress – Young animals often experience dehydration, sometimes due to nursing problems or lack of access to drinking water. In addition, heat stress commonly occurs during the summer months because many young livestock have not yet developed fully enough to regulate their body temperature.
  4. Failure of passive transfer – This occurs when antibodies are not transferred during pregnancy or feeding from the dam to the newborn offspring. This problem is often caused by dams that produced little or no colostrum, leaked colostrum prior to giving birth, or produced no milk. Failure of passive transfer places young animals at a very high risk of contracting disease.

These common health problems can all be avoided or corrected with diets that provide required nutrients in clean, favorable environments.

Using Supplements and Additives to Boost Nutrition for Young Animals

Overcoming these common problems can be solved by supplementing diets with nutritional additives or altering diets. It is important to evaluate each case individually to determine whether dietary supplements are required. In many instances, breeding practices, seasonal changes, or feeding patterns (such as foraging or consuming pelleted feed) can help determine which supplements are needed. If young animals are struggling to consume proper amounts of nutrition, they may require a change in diet or added nutritional supplements.

Animal supplements should never be used in lieu of an adequate diet—only in conjunction with a nutritious diet. Livestock that are experiencing low energy due to a poor nutrition plan with limited access to fresh feed should be given feed supplements to maintain their health.

Raising productive, healthy livestock starts by providing young animals with complete nutrition that gives them the best opportunity to grow, mature, and resist common health problems.


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