There are many reasons for a foal being orphaned, their dam might reject them after birth, if the dam has no milk and cannot care for her foal, or if the dam dies shortly after birth. As you might imagine looking after an orphaned foal is a challenge but this article should help you to understand how to care for the foal.
Horse Care – Foaling an Orphan
1. Try to avoid the chances of an orphaned foal from the outset. Do not breed from a mare that has previously rejected a foal. Do not foal a horse that is severely lame, she will not be able to care for her foal.
2. If you want to watch your mare foal then you should observe from a distance. It is important that you only intervene if something is going wrong.
3. After watching your mare foal you need to give your mare and foal time to bond.
4. Watch to see how your mare reacts to the foal; if she becomes frightened of the foal or becomes aggressive it is vital you remove the foal from the stall immediately. If you leave the foal with the mare in this situation she could potentially kick, bite and stomp him to death.
5. The foal horse should nurse within the first couple of hours of life. If the mare does not let him nurse it is possible to place her in a set of stocks to allow the foal horse to feed.
6. If the mare dies or does not let the foal nurse then you will need to get him colostrum and milk or a milk replacement quickly. The first thing to try is milking the mare if this does not work you will need to buy the foal some colostrum immediately.
7. If you are lucky some mares with a foal will produce enough milk for both their own and the orphan foal. There is the possibility she might except the orphaned foal as her own, but if not you can restrain her so he can nurse.
8. Some farms will have nurse mares which you can use for a fee.
9. If you cannot find a nurse mare then you will have to buy replacement milk and teach the foal to drink from a bucket.
10. You will need to feed your foal every two hours for the first few weeks of life. Gradually the time left between feeds can be increased.
11. The correct horse care includes veterinary advice and check ups. In the first twelve to twenty four hours of the foal’s life you need a vet to check if the foal has absorbed the IGs from the colostrum. This is vital as the IGs provide the foal with immunity against disease until its own immune system kicks in.
12. Remember that your foal is a horse. Do not allow him to develop bad habits such as sucking fingers, biting or rearing as these things will be frustrating as an adult horse. You need to push the foal away and use a stern “no” to nip this behaviour in the bud.
13. Provide an equine companion, a mare with a foal may not let the orphan foal nurse but might let him hang around her. A safe adult horse can teach your foal without hurting him.
14. You will need a vet to check your foal horse regularly to check he is growing and progressing well.