By: Nicole Salo
Part 3 or 3
- In the third part of this series on Development of a Healthy Foal, we’ll look at managing your new foal from the first few days of life right up to weaning your new little one as well as touching on looking after your mare throughout this time.
Now that your foal is on the ground, your work load has increased! Now is when your foal is indirectly relying on you to help him get his best hoof forward. The first few days of life are typically the roughest on a new foal, monitoring what is happening with baby will help you determine if the veterinarian needs to be alerted. Here is a brief list to carrying on where the above list left off:
- Body temperature will increase to 38-38.5C during 1st hr
- 2hr after birth, capillary refill time should be 1-2sec
- Mucous membranes pink within first 2hr
- Respiratory rate will decline to 35 bmp after a few hr
- Foal stands within 2hr
- Foal learns to suckle within 2hr
- Standing will up the heart rate to 150bpm
- Resting heart rate is 70-90bpm
- 1st urination and passing of the meconium (first manure) should be during the 1st 12hr of life
It is vital that the foal receives at least 500ml of colostrum (first milk) from the mare. If the foal does not receive enough colostrum, he is open to infection and disease, as the colostrum is jam packed with valuable immunity from the mare. Since the foal’s own immune system does not begin to function until 3-4months of age, making sure that the foal is suckling well and that you have colostrum handy will make a world of difference. Roughly 72hr after delivery, the mare lets down less colostrum and more milk, check the foal often to be sure that he is suckling during this time. If the foal is not suckling within 3hr of birth, or other difficulties arise, call a veterinarian immediately, as this is a vital time for the foal.
Taking Care of Mom
During the first few after delivery it is also wise to keep an eye on mom. A few days after delivery your veterinarian can perform a brief internal exam to make sure that uterine involution is progressing well and that there is no sign of infection or other problems. Around 15days post-foaling, any fluid discharge from the mare should be clear. As well, around this time she may be returning to oestrus (4-10days post-foaling). The mare’s diet will be changed after foaling to reflect her current needs. While lactating the mare may produce up to 3% of her weight in milk production, this means she now has a very demanding appetite, passing on nutrients to the foal at her side. The mare’s diet should now be high in protein and energy, with a focus on balancing the vitamins and minerals in the diet (mainly Vitamin’s A & D). As well, the diet needs to reflect a higher intake of calcium and phosphorus. A nutritionist and veterinarian will greatly help you in this area.
Taking Care of Baby Up Until Weaning
During the first few days of life, you will need to keep a close eye on your new foal. It is best not to turn the mare and foal out until roughly 3 days post-foaling, up until such the foal has poor eye sight. After the initial first few days of worry, if the foal and mare are looking happy and healthy, it is recommended that they be turned out in a small paddock to get some exercise and fresh air, weather permitting. As the foal grows bigger and better aware of it’s surrounding and reflexes, the mare and foal can be turned out in a larger pasture or with other mares and foals. The foal will become increasingly more curious with life as it nears the 6 week old stage of life. At which time it will be nibbling more and more at the mare’s diet and increasingly wandering away from mom to play. As the foal becomes increasingly interested in nibbling on solids, you can put out a foal ration in a creep feeder. Increasing the amount put out as the foal starts to take less interest in the mare as a food source. As well, the foal should be gently handled daily so that it gets accustomed to being led and handled for upcoming necessary tasks such a deworming and farrier work. Be gentle, yet firm with the foal, so it knows its boundaries. Your veterinarian can recommended to you which immunizations your foal may need and when, along with a deworming schedule. As the foal gets older, your farrier will be able to start him on a regular trimming and maintenance program.
Up until now the foal has been leading the leisure life, roaming around the pasture with mom not too far off. This time would have included minor handlings for necessary work or general maintenance, then off to play again. The foal should be accustomed to haltering and leading up to this point, making life generally easier for the handler. Natural weaning would occur around 9months of age, but the demands on most farms will not allow the foal to stay by the mare’s side for that long. This gives the mare time to recover for her next foal, to re-enter the training barn or to get back into the show ring. As such, most farms decide to wean the foal around 6 months of age. Weaning should depend on if the foal is mature enough to leave the mare’s side. Is he eating solids well? Is he healthy and in good weight for his age? Has he been allowed to socialize with a quiet type of horse that is to be his buddy after weaning? All of these factors come into play, as weaning can be a very stressful time for the foal. After weaning, the foal can be turned out with his buddy to reduce the stress of being alone. There are several different plans for weaning, but the initial method used is generally dependent on your facility. Some methods of weaning include: weaning in pairs (two foals at a time), gradual and the most common choice, sudden weaning, where the foal is left in a secure safe area and the mare is led away. Whichever method you choose, it is good management to ensure that the foal and mare are kept in a safe secure area, so that they do not injure themselves in a panic. The mare may become upset for the first little while that her foal is not at her side, so it is best to pick a pasture out of ear-shot of the foal to take the mare to after weaning, she will settle down when she realizes that a nice break with fresh grass is in store. The foal will show signs of stress and panic generally 2-3 days longer than the mare will. At this time it is important to keep the foal in a safe area and handle it daily, until it becomes accustom to being on its own. At which time the foal can progress into a regular handling and training regime, leading it into a successful future.
Reducing stress during and after pregnancy for the mare and foal is the key to a healthy, happy and productive future for your foal. Working with a veterinarian, nutritionist, and knowledgeable farrier will certainly help to ease your stress and the stress of the animals at hand.
Nicole Salo is an equine entrepreneur with experience in various parts of the industry, including: training, breeding, management, social media and online content. Nicole currently holds an Equine Science Certificate and Diploma in Equine Studies through the University of Guelph while aspiring to finish her Certificate in Equine Business Management.