Foal Season is Coming... Be Prepared

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At foaling time there are lots of little things that can make life easier for both you and the new babies. This article will take a look at several hints that might come in handy.

Foal Sweatshirt

If weather is cold or wet when a new foal arrives, you may have to figure out ways to keep the baby from chilling. One way to keep a youngster warm is with a zippered sweatshirt. You can put the foal’s front legs through the sleeves and zip the sweatshirt under the foal’s belly. If the sweatshirt has a hood, it covers the top of the foal’s neck.

A child’s hooded sweatshirt will fit a small foal; an adult sweatshirt will fit a larger foal. Another option is a dog blanket. All of these options are less expensive than foal blankets, and can often be found at a department store.

Foal Handle

A young foal can be easily restrained by holding him with one arm around his chest (front end) and the other arm around his hindquarters. This is much safer than trying to hold him by the head with a halter.

But what if you are working alone and must either lead the foal or must restrain the foal by yourself while administering medication or an enema? This restraint won’t work with only one set of hands. A way to get around this is by putting a large halter on the foal, allowing you to hang onto the foal with one hand.

Using a full size horse halter with round buckles, hold it upside down, and slip the noseband over the foal’s head like a collar, positioning it around the base of the foal’s neck, above the shoulders. The jaw strap will then be resting on the foal’s withers, aligned with his backbone. The crown piece (that goes behind the ears of the adult horse) will then be at the foal’s girth. Buckle the crown piece around the foal’s belly like a cinch or girth—not too tightly, but snug enough that he cannot get a hind foot caught in it. This “harness” is not meant to be kept on at all times, but will give you a safe and sturdy handle for hanging onto or restraining the youngster as needed.

Homemade Milk Replacer

If you are suddenly confronted with an orphan foal, or one whose mother has no milk or refuses to let the foal nurse, you can make an emergency foal formula until you have a chance to locate another source of food. If the foal has not yet had any colostrum, your first objective is to obtain some (from the foal’s own dam if she has just died, or by restraining and milking her if she will not let the foal nurse, or from another mare that has also just foaled, or from a frozen emergency supply).

“ If the foal is very young, he needs to be fed every 30 minutes at first, for at least the first five days.”

After the foal has had a couple nursings of colostrum, you can continue with your emergency foal formula until another source of food can be located (either a nurse mare or a purchased milk replacer). Cow’s milk can be altered to more nearly approximate mare’s milk (which is lower in fat and protein but higher in carbohydrates). You can modify the cow’s milk by diluting it and increasing the sugar.

Two percent cow’s milk is a good base for the formula since it has the proper calcium-phosphorus ratio for a foal. A half cup of honey, corn syrup, or a half package of Sure-Jell (a jam- and jelly-making product containing pectin) can be added to a gallon of milk to increase the carbohydrates adequately. Pectin has the added advantage of having a protective effect on the foal’s digestive tract, helping prevent ulcers and diarrhea. If you use pectin, however, also add a little honey for palatability.

The cow’s milk can be diluted with regular tap water unless your water has a high fluoride or chlorine content. In that case, use distilled water. When using a sugar, it’s always better to use corn syrup or honey rather than regular table sugar, which is harder to digest.

When feeding the foal, use a bottle with a nipple that does not run too fast so he won’t choke. Make sure the bottle is very clean, and warm the milk to body temperature (about 100 degrees F) before feeding. If the foal is very young, he needs to be fed every 30 minutes at first, for at least the first five days. Give him about 1/2 to one cup at each feeding (depending upon his size and appetite), gradually increasing the amount up to a pint as you increase the length of time between feedings to once an hour. By that time you should have located a nurse mare or some commercial milk replacer.

Foal season can be a stressful time for both horse and human and, as with any newborn, crises come up. With a little ingenuity, however, most problems can be solved relatively easily.

Recipes for Milk Replacer:

1) 1 can evaporated cow’s milk mixed with equal part water; 1 tablespoon corn syrup

2) 1 pint low fat (2 percent) cow’s milk; 4 ounces of water; 1.5 teaspoons corn syrup or honey

3) 1 pint low fat cow’s milk; 4 ounces of water; 2 teaspoons lactose

4) (for several feedings): 3 pints low fat cow’s milk; 1 pint water; 1/4 package Sure-Jell pectin, or 20 ml. medical glucose