Raising a newborn foal

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Raising a newborn foal

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In a matter of minutes, a foal is squeezed
through a tiny opening, expelled from the mare’s body in a
process known as birth and made to perform all the bodily
functions that the mare had taken care of while it was
living in the uterus. Failure of the foal to immediately
adapt to its new environment leads to compromised health
and possibly death. The knowledge of the foaling attendants
to recognize what is normal and abnormal and when to seek
veterinary assistance is critical to the foal’s outcome.

Successfully rearing a foal requires lots of time, patience
and work. Immediate attention to the newborn will increase
its chance for survival and development into a healthy
foal. If possible, your veterinarian should attend the
foal’s birth. If your veterinarian is not present, the
following suggestions should be helpful:

1. Provide a clean birthing area.

2. Remove any mucus which may be covering the foal’s nose
and mouth immediately after birth.

3. Rub the foal with a clean towel. This will dry the foal
and help stimulate breathing. Allow the mare to muzzle and
bond with the foal.

4. Allow the umbilical cord to break naturally. Do not cut
it off. If necessary, umbilical clips or ties are available
from your veterinarian and should be placed a few inches
from the abdomen. Disinfect the navel with 7% iodine
solution several times over the next three days. Your
veterinarian may also advise using a sterile gauze pad to
compress and protect the navel after applying the iodine

5. Consult your veterinarian regarding any antibiotic use
and medical treatment for your foal at birth and when signs
of disease are present.

6. Maintain close observation of the foal to ensure its
good health and to alert you to signs of stress or disease.

Birth of a

your foal to nurse

foals should nurse within the first three hours after
birth. Vigorous foals may nurse within the first 30 – 45
minutes. If the foal does not show interest in nursing
after three hours, it may need some help and encouragement
to get started. Also check for signs of illness or possible
birth defects. Before helping the foal, be sure the mare’s
udder and nipples are clean. Place one hand under the
foal’s jaw and point its nose and muzzle toward the mare’s
udder. With your other hand on the foal’s tail or thigh
area, gently push the foal toward the mare. You may need to
massage the mare’s udder to get a few drops of milk
(colostrum) into the foal’s mouth.

The mare should also be examined soon after birth. Check
the udder for abnormalities and tenderness which may
prevent the foal from nursing.

1. If the udder is full or sensitive, milk the udder by
hand to relieve some of the pressure and tenderness. The
mare may then be more willing to allow the foal to nurse.
The milk which was removed by hand milking can also be fed
to the foal from a bottle or bucket. See Tips for
Bottle/Bucket Feeding.

2. If the mare doesn’t accept the foal, she may need to be
tied with a halter to allow the foal to nurse. In extreme
cases, greater restraint or tranquilization may be

3. After nursing, gently massage the mare’s udder.

4. Some mares may have small nipples, especially fillies
that are foaling for the first time. If the foal has
trouble nursing, milk the mare by hand, then feed the fo
from a bottle or bucket.

5. Milk flow is normally stimulated by the foal nursing. If
the mare is not producing an adequate supply of milk,
consult your veterinarian about injections to help increase
milk flow. To provide adequate nutrition to the foal,
mare’s milk should be supplemented with Grow-N-Glow Foal
Milk Replacer. If the mare rejects the foal or the foal is
orphaned, fostering to another mare may be difficult if the
foal has already bonded with its own mother. Grow-N-Glow
Foal Milk Replacer should be used to replace mare’s milk.
See Tips for Bottle/Bucket Feeding.

6. Tube-feeding. Consult with your veterinarian before
attempting to tube-feed a foal. Since the tube can easily
be incorrectly inserted into the foals lungs causing
respiratory infections and death, tube-feeding must be done
only by experienced people.

7. Avoid feeding fresh cow’s milk or calf milk replacer to
foals. Grow-N-Glow Foal Milk Replacer is highly recommended
since calf milk replacer, or milk replacer for other animal
species, will not provide adequate nutrients levels and may
result in unbalanced nutrition for the foal.


The first milk produced by the mare is called colostrum,
and is essential to the health of the newborn foal.
Colostrum contains very high nutrient levels and is a
critical source of antibodies, or immunoglobulins, for the
foal. A newborn foal cannot produce sufficient antibodies
early in life to protect itself from diseases so it must
receive this protection from the mare. Since the mare does
not pass antibodies to the foal prior to birth, the foal
must consume a sufficient amount of colostrum to provide
adequate disease protection. More colostrum consumption in
early life provides more disease protection. Colostrum also
has a laxative effect on the foal.

1. The newborn foal should receive at least 4 – 6 feedings
of colostrum from the mare within the first 12 hours after
birth. The foal should also consume as much colostrum as
possible during the first 3 days of life. Naylor and Bell
suggest that the foal receive 250 milliliters of colostrum
each hour for the first 12 hours after birth. This
colostrum should contain at least 3,000 mg/dl of

2. If a mare dies, ask your veterinarian about sources of
colostrum from other mares. Several internet sites are
available to help horse breeders locate frozen mare
colostrum. If mare colostrum is not available, use a
commercial colostrum product for calves. While this is not
the first choice, it is highly preferable to no colostrum
at all.

3. If the foal dies, the mare’s colostrum should be
collected and frozen for future use. One quart plastic milk
containers make ideal storage containers for this purpose.

4. Do not use a microwave to thaw frozen colostrum as the
immunoglobulins may be destroyed.

5. Colostrum fed to the foal after the first 48 hours will
not be absorbed but may offer some protection from
pathogens in the intestinal tract.


Diarrhea is caused by
overeating, overfeeding, poor digestion and/or
diseases. If overeating is the problem, it may be
necessary to milk the mare by hand or muzzle the foal
between nursings. Ingestion of manure from the mare is
also a cause of diarrhea. Body temperature should be
checked when the foal has diarrhea. If the foal’s body
temperature is elevated during diarrhea, or if
diarrhea persists more than 24 hours, it is usually an
indication of disease and your veterinarian should be
contacted. Quick diagnosis and treatment usually means
a quick recovery. See Normal Body Measurements.

Constipation in newborn foals is common. The newborn foal
should defecate within 12 hours of birth. If it does not,
consult your veterinarian. Enemas may need to be


Body temperature

     99 to 102°F

Respiratory rate

     60 -80 breaths/minute at

     30 -40 breaths/minute after
one hour

Heart beat

     60 or more beats/minute at

     80 – 130 beats/minute after
one hour

     80 – 120 beats/minute after 5
days (normal)

Tips for
bottle/bucket feeding

Strong, healthy foals will usually accept bottle feeding
readily. Some foals will drink from a bucket once their
muzzle has been introduced into the milk/milk replacer.
Gradually start the foal on milk replacer to avoid
digestive upsets. Patience is essential during this

1. Place a small amount of milk/milk replacer on the foal’s
nose and into its mouth to help get the foal started. With
clean hands, insert your index finger into the foal’s mouth
to help stimulate suckling. For bottle feeding, immediately
place the nipple into the foal’s mouth. For bucket feeding,
introduce the foal’s muzzle into the milk/milk replacer.

2. Baby bottles with nipples or other bottles with lamb
nipples may be used to feed the very young foal. Calf
nipples are usually too hard and stiff for foals to use.

3. Older foals may be trained to drink from shallow pans or
buckets. Foals generally do not like to put their heads
into deep buckets. Shallow bucket-feeders should be tilted
at a slight angle and placed toward the center of the pen.

4. Bottles and buckets should be positioned at the shoulder
height of the foal.

5. Wash the feeding equipment after every feeding in hot
soapy water. Rinse thoroughly with hot water and allow to
drain and dry before the next feeding.

6. There may be some hair loss around the foal’s muzzle
during milk replacer feeding. The hair will return normally
after weaning.

7. Older foals will not usually accept bottle or bucket
feeding as readily as younger foals.

Facilities and Environment. Young foals should be protected
from the weather. Heat lamps may be needed, especially at
night in cold weather. Environmental temperature at the
foal’s level should be about 65 – 70°F for the first 1 – 2
weeks of age. Otherwise, maintain this temperature for
older foals only if they are sick or weak. Make sure the
pen stays clean and free from manure. Provide dry bedding,
plenty of fresh air, and ensure the mare and foal area is
free from drafts.

Exercise is important for new foals. The mare and foal
should have access to good clean pasture ground after the
first week. The mare and foal should also have a shelter
from weather and a protected area for feeding. After the
first week, the mare and new foal can be allowed to join
other mares and foals.

Dry Feed. Grow-N-Glow Foal and Horse Pellets and a 16 – 18
% grain ration should be offered starting at the end of
week 1. Sprinkling a small amount of dry milk replacer
powder on top of the pellets or grain may help encourage
the foal to start eating dry feed. Feed that is not
consumed each day should be discarded, or fed to the mare,
and fresh feed offered to the foal.

Good quality alfalfa hay which is free from dust and molds
should be offered to the foal at about 3 weeks of age. Some
foals may seem to get diarrhea from very good alfalfa. If
this happens, feed 50% alfalfa and 50% good quality grass
hay. Good quality pasture is also an option. Clean, fresh
water should be available at all times as soon as the foal
is born. A complete foal feed will generally provide
adequate minerals and vitamins, but free-choice access to a
salt block is also recommended.

Weaning. Separation of the mare and foal at weaning should
be complete with the mare and foal remaining out of sight
and out of hearing distance of each other. Continued
occasional nursing will usually result in increased stress
for the foal and mare, more manage- ment problems with both
horses, reduced feed intake in the foal and longer
re-breeding periods for the mare. The milk products in
Grow-N-Glow Foal and Horse Pellets will help ease this
transition. Newly weaned or orphaned foals should be housed
with other horses for companionship. Socialization with
other horses is important for the young foal, otherwise,
behavior problems may arise as the foal gets older.


Successfully rearing
a foal requires lots of time, patience, and work. Immediate
attention to the newborn will increase its chance for
survival and development into a healthy foal.

1. Colostrum is essential to the health of the newborn
foal. The immunoglobulins found in colostrum provide early
protection from many diseases. Foals should consume at
least 4-6 feedings of colostrum from the mare during the
first 12 hours of life. The more colostrum consumed during
very early life provides more protection from diseases.
Continue feeding as much colostrum as possible during the
first 3 days. After the first 48 hours, colostrum will not
be absorbed, but may offer some protection from pathogens
in the intestinal tract.

2. Follow feeding instructions carefully and feed at
regular hours each day.

3. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times,
starting immediately after birth.

4. Foals must be protected from the weather. Make sure the
pen stays clean and the mare and foal have dry bedding and
plenty of fresh air, free from drafts.

5. Starting at one week of age, Grow-N-Glow Foal &
Horse Pellets and a 16-18% grain ration should be offered.
At this time begin providing clean, good quality forage
free of dust and molds.

6. Exercise is important for new foals. After the first
week, the mare and foal should have access to good, clean
pasture ground.

7. Establish a health program with your veterinarian
regarding all vaccinations and deworming as well as any
antibiotic treatment.