Q: What is colostrum and why is it important?
A: The newborn foal relies heavily on the mare’s colostrum (first milk) to provide a healthy start. The foal requires the absorption of antibodies from the colostrum to kick start their immune system and provide protection from many bacterial and viral pathogens that can cause infection. This colostrum is required within the first 12 hours of life.
It is critical that the newborn receives adequate colostrum to have a fighting chance at a healthy life. Many breeding farms keep frozen colostrum from other mares for this purpose and stores of frozen colostrum are also kept in banks at some veterinary clinics. To determine whether your newborn has received the full immune building benefits from the colostrum you can have blood drawn between 12 and 24 hrs and profiled using an IgG test (Immunoglobulin G test).
Q: What should I feed an orphan foal?
A: All too often unfortunate events occur during foaling which can sometimes result in an unforeseen death or illness of the mare which leaves the foal motherless and orphaned. Sometimes the mare may just simply reject the foal or may have no milk production. There are two main options from this point on, either provide a nurse mare or raise the foal by hand using a milk replacer formula and eventually a milk replacer pellet. A nurse mare is the easiest option as the foal will receive the precise nutrition it requires and will be able to maintain a normal feeding behavior. Valuable lessons are also taught to any newborn by their mothers and this is also very important in horses. Orphans that are bucket-fed or bottle-fed should be introduced to other horses as soon as possible so they will develop normal equine social behavior.
There are a variety of milk replacer formulas and pellets on the market today that are specifically formulated to imitate the nutrient profile of mare's milk. It is critically important to choice wisely when selecting a milk replacer as poor quality products have been related to diarrhea and other stomach upsets. An intense labor commitment is required when dealing with any orphan foal. A healthy foal nurses from its mother up to seven times an hour for 60 to 90 seconds each time. This can sometimes be impossible to replicate and it is suggested that newborn should be fed at least every 1 to 2 hours during the first week of life. Orphans should be offered grain, milk replacer pellets, and hay after a few days of life. However, the foal may not consume much solid food until it is about 1 month old. Mare's milk replacer pellets can also be used to supplement foals that may not be receiving adequate milk from a poorly lactating mare.