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Foal Rearing: Hand Raising a Foal with Mama BroodMare Can't

As a seasoned breeder of ponies, you know that a healthy foal is of the utmost importance. Yet in order to have such a healthy animal, you will need to have an attentive dam that is also healthy enough to provide an adequate supply of colostrum to ensure that the foal is off to a good start.
There will be times when you may find yourself with an inattentive mare, or perhaps one who is not able to produce the milk needed. In addition to the foregoing, if a broodmare dies unexpectedly, you will face another situation where you will need to step in to ensure the proper nutritional care of the foal.

Usually you will have a supply of colostrum on hand which can be used to feed the foal. If needed, a plasma transfusion will also help the foal. No matter what you decide to do, keep in

 mind that your stepping in must occur within the first twelve hours of the foal’s life to ensure that its nutritional needs are met. Another option is to find a nurse mare that could take on the foal as her own. Draft breeds are generally known for their willingness to raise orphaned foals.

Of course, once you choose to step in yourself, you will take on a commitment that last several weeks, and which must be carried out with great attention to detail. You may use a commercially prepared horse milk replacement. If all else fails, you can use cow’s or even goat’s milk until you have a chance to stock up your stable with the appropriate supplement. Obviously, whenever you are using a milk replacement you will need to ensure that you follow all of the manufacturer’s directions since failure to do so will result in the foal’s experiencing diarrhea or other signs of stomach upset. Usually it is a good idea to begin by getting an accurate weight of the foal as soon as possible. A scale is preferred to a weight tape simply because the latter gives way to overestimations while the former will provide you with the accurate figure you need to come up with a correct weight on which you can base the amount of milk supplement to use.

Another aspect that adds to the cumbersome task of nursing a foal by hand is the enormous frequency of feedings. For example, a healthy foal will nurse as often as eight times an hour in the first month of life. The quantity ingested at each feeding is relatively small – usually only 50 milliliters. Therefore, it is wise to begin feeding your foal every two hours and then training it to accept milk replacement from a bucket or other sturdy container. If you are persistent, you will be able to successfully teach the foal and ease your job, since you will only need to replenish the milk replacement once every day.
After the foal has mastered the skill of drinking from a bucket, you will be able to introduce it to solid feed, such as hay or simply grass. Usually, this will be most successful during the foal’s second week of life. Keep in mind that there are commercially available grains that are formulated specifically for foals, yet it is important not to overfeed the animal, otherwise you may have to deal with scours as well as onset of obesity.

Last but not least on your to-do list for hand-rearing a foal is the necessity of ascertaining the animal’s developmental rate. Keep a close eye on rationing its milk replacements as well as grain so that you will not overfeed the foal. Do not worry about stunting the animal’s growth!

Read the next horse breeding article on Sell a Horse.
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