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Feeding the Orphan Foal

By: Dr. Mary Rose Paradis

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Foals can be orphaned or have the need for supplemental feeding for several reasons. These include:

  • Death of the dam
  • Rejection of the foal by the dam
  • Illness of the dam resulting in decreased milk production
  • Complete agalactia (failure of the dam to produce any milk) in the dam

    For whatever reason the foal is deprived of its normal source of nutrition, the provision of appropriate nutrition is needed to insure proper heath and growth of the foal. If the foal is orphaned or rejected at the time of birth, the first question to answer is - did the foal receive colostrum? Colostrum is the first milk that the mare produces. It is different from regular milk in that it is higher in both energy and protein. The proteins that are most important are antibodies. The foal is able to absorb these antibodies during the first day of life.

    Antibodies are essential in providing the foal with protection against bacteria that are normally found in our environment. Without this protection the foal is at a high risk of developing a life threatening infection. If the foal did not receive colostrum from his dam and he is less than 24 hours of age, then he should be given colostrum from another mare. If he is greater than 24 hours of age then he can only receive the appropriate protection through a plasma (the antibody containing part of blood) transfusion.

    Once the foal's immunologic status (antibody levels) has been ensured, then one must look at the options for providing the proper nutrients and calories to the orphaned foal. Feeding options for the orphan foal include providing a nurse mare, feeding with a bottle or feeding by a bucket.

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