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Equine breeding - Caring for a newborn foal

Care for a Foal
Equine breeding - Caring for a newborn foal

Working with horses can be rewarding in so many different ways, however, one of the most rewarding moments is when a mare begins foaling and you can assist. There are a number of actions that you can undertake as soon as the foal is born in order to take care of it and protect it.  

Foaling is an expensive and time consuming process that takes plenty of dedication and patience.  With a gestation period of about eleven months it can feel like your foal will never arrive. It is important you make sure you are ready for the birth of the foal and have everything in place to keep the mare as comfortable as possible during labour.
 
Caring for a foal is usually left to the mother but it is sometimes important to give them a helping hand and this article will hopefully be of great use to you so that you know just how to act when it comes to the birth. 
 
Here are some of our most vital tips to help you care for your newborn foal, however, it is always wise to have a veterinary expert on call and have their number ready, just in case you need them. 
 
Preparing for the birth
 
  • You should always have the paddock prepared in advance of the birth so that it is safe and comfortable for both the mare and the newborn foal. It is always wise to make sure that there are no gaps in any fencing that the foal could escape through or get stuck in. The perfect type of fence for a foaling paddock is post and rail or chicken wire, and whilst the foal most probably won’t go anywhere near the fence, it is better to be safe than sorry. 
  • You should always create some form of shelter from the prevailing weather. A shelter with a roof would be sufficient, however, a stable would be far nicer and warmer for your newborn foal. Shelter from the elements is vital when caring for a newborn foal. 
  • Ensure that there is enough space. It is always wise to ensure that there is plenty of space as your foal will want to run around and play.  It is so important that your foal gets the exercise it needs so that it can build in strength. Their muscles will increase and it allows your foal to find its legs. 
  • Feed throughs should be checked and safe to use. If there are any sharp edges then the foal may cut or hurt itself. It is much easier to avoid an injury than treat it so be cautious. A tyre feeder is great because it is rubber, you can also use a bath tub.
  • Water availability is also something to think about. When caring for a foal, having access to a good water supply is essential. Water allows milk to be produced so it is important that the mare gets enough of it. Water is also another liquid the foal can drink. The foal probably will not drink much or any of the water but he will have a good play with it. This is very useful when it comes to weaning your foal as it will have been introduced to water from an early age. 
  • Once your birth location is prepared, it is always good to get a good idea of when your foal may arrive. When the brood mare gets close to her due date she will show signs of waxing, restlessness and not eating. Most mares foal in the middle of the night; this is instinct as horses are prey in the wild.  Horses have the ability to stop labour if they feel threatened, therefore, it is a good idea to move the mare into safe surroundings, you have previously prepared, where she can give birth about two weeks before her due date; this way she can get comfortable with her surroundings. 
 
foal
 
 
 
 
Caring for the foal after birth
  • The most important thing is to make sure that the foal is breathing once it has been born. There may be mucus or fetal membranes blocking his nostrils. Foal horses can be stimulated to breath by twisting their ear, slapping the face or by inserting a straw into their nostrils until they sneeze. If this proves unsuccessful, try a few breaths into one nostril while the other is being held closed. Towelling the foal briskly not only helps to dry the foal but also works to stimulate it.
  • Another vital part of foaling is the prevention of septicaemia. Foals are extremely susceptible to septicaemia, which is an infection caused by micro-organisms that enter the body of the foal through the umbilical stump. This can be avoided by dripping the umbilical stump with iodine.
  • Feeding is a vital part of foaling. The mare can be milked and the foal should be bottle fed 4 ounces of colostrum (first milk), every 15 minutes before he rises for the first time. It is important to make sure the foal is successfully nursing from the mare. If this is the case, a slurping noise can be heard when he is latched on. Foal horses should attempt to nurse within the first hour of their lives. If they are not successful within the first two hours, intervention is necessary.
  • Something else that you should look out for is a bowel movement. Bowel movement should be seen within the first two hours of the foal’s life. After the foal has nursed for the first time from the mare, an enema should be given. This should be repeated if it proves to be unsuccessful. During the first 24 hours, it is important to watch for symptoms of colic from retained meconium.
  • It is very important to leave the mare and foal alone, as this is a special time for the both of them. It is important that they have the time to get acquainted with one another. Mare and foal can be observed quietly without disturbing them.   Horses and ponies are extremely protective over their foals, so the best horse care you can give is to leave the mare and foal alone together. They need to bond without intrusion. If the mare begins acting aggressively towards the foal, you should be prepared to remove it from the stall.
  • The imprinting process is something that should also be undertaken with great care as it will most certainly help make the foal much easier to handle as an adult horse. It is always a good idea to spend around 10 to 15 minutes a day with the foal carrying out this process. You should spend this time touching the foals hooves, tapping on its feet to simulate being shod, touching its ears and nose, and finally, rubbing its entire body. 
  • It is important to be aware that foals are born with no natural immunity to diseases. They can however, quite quickly gather immunities from their mothers from the colostrum, which contains a lot of the necessary antibodies that protect the foal against diseases. It’s this reason that it is crucial for the foal to nurse shortly after it is born.
  • Another vital move is getting the vet in to vaccinate the foal. It is standard practice to get a vet in to examine the mare and the foal within 24 hours of the birth and you will also want to get the foal vaccinated against tetanus, which can be fatal in horses. You must monitor your foal closely for the first few weeks of its life as it is very susceptible to disease. You need to check its breathing rate, manure consistency and colour, temperature and nursing behaviour and if you notice anything out of the ordinary, you should contact your vet. 
feeding foal
 
 
 
Other top tips
  • You should never put a newborn foal into a paddock with a stallion or a gelding.
  • You will need to adjust and change between different feeds depending on the weight of the foal as it grows. The following feeds are a good indication on a basic feeding ratio: Lucurn chaff or alfalfa – this will give the mare and foal the right amount of calcium; Oaten or wheaten chaff – this is a filler feed and is primarily used for bulking up your foal. This provides hardly any vitamins or minerals so you can feed as much as you want to both mare and foal; Grain – this puts the weight back on mares and makes foals stronger, as the foals get bigger this feed is often reduced; Vitamin supplements – this helps enrich the milk and will also be a help when weaning the foal. 
  • You should give your mare and foal enough feed to fill two small buckets, you can moisten the feed with water which makes it much more palatable. And, you must also  take away any leftover food the next time you go to feed your foal. This is essential because if your feed goes sour it can cause colic. 
  • Foals often eat the mare’s manure, this is normal but will transfer worms from one horse to the other. You should muck out the paddock daily to minimise the risks. 
  • Worming is an important part of horse care but you must remember that whatever the mare has will be passed on through her milk to the foal. You must choose a worming product that is suitable for foals. It is best to speak to your vet about this. 
  • Your foal might be cute but they can kick through excitement. Their kick height is at your belly and at a child’s face so make sure you take care and do not let children near foals.
  • If your foal bites flick him in the mouth this will get rid of this bad habit. 
 
Let us know your tips
So, do you have any other snippets of advice that you feel we could include in our guide? If you have any tips that you feel could help someone dealing with a newborn foal, then simply let us know the comment section below. All suggestions are welcome!
 

 

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