From the Foaling Barn


Raising Orphan Foals

Colin and Viktor

After the death of our two mares in less than a week, we were left with the difficult task of raising two beautiful orphans, Colin (Jerry Lees Surprise X Jodies Jac Tari) and Viktor (Colonels Smoking Gun X BH Song and Dance). Colin lost his mother at three days, and Viktor lost his at less than 24 hours. Fortunately, both foals nursed long enough to get adequate levels of passive antibodies through their dams' colostrum.

But once we got them home we were left with many decisions about the best way to proceed. We certainly didn't have a shortage of advice. Many people urged us to use nurse mares, but that was easier said than done. There's no doubt that what is best for a foal is receiving nutrition from its dam or another lactating mare. That means we needed to find a mare that has recently lost its foal. We were given many leads, but most of these mares were too far away to make it practical. Or if I got a tip about a local mare, invariably when I called the mare owners they were reluctant to turn their mares over to me, and I completely understand their feelings.

I was also given the names of several people who provide nurse mares on demand. However, once I read about these services, I had ethical qualms about what happens to the foals of these mares. Also, many of these mares are draft horses, and my vet warned me that draft mares provide too much milk for a little quarter or arab foal, with the result that the foals grow too fast and may have issues with bone development. Similarly, I was contacted by people who told me how I could cause any mare who had foaled within the last year to begin lactating. Actually, sometimes if a mare will accept a foal, she will begin to lactate on her own. However, in these cases, the quality and richness of the milk usually does not match the needs of a growing foal.

While I was considering all these factors, I contacted Travis Lempke, who is my Assurance feed rep. He was invaluable in advising me and locating a good source of milk replacement. He had dealt with an orphan foal two years before, so he new from experience what we were facing.
Eventually, I decided to forget the idea of nurse mares and use milk replacement exclusively.

This meant that we would be slave to a rigid feeding schedule for the next three months. Fortunately the vets at Stillwater Equine had trained both foals to the bucket before we brought them home, so I didn't have to worry about hourly bottle feeding. Instead, we started with a four hour feeding schedule. We made three quarts of formula every four hours, poured it into two gallon buckets and hung them in each foal's stall. Within a week or two the foals were drinking four gallons of milk a day. After a month, we began to feed the foals a gallon of milk replacer every six hours, which gave us quite a bit more freedom.

Both foals are now healthy and growing rapidly. But how to feed them has been only one of the many factors we are dealing with. The most difficult part of feeding foals with milk replacement formula is how to socialize them as horses. I'll take this issue up in future posts.

Update: Chicky

I thought you might like to see how well Chicky and her foal have progressed in the last two days. This morning, we put them out alone in a small pasture so that they could get to know each other a little better before we introduce them to other mares and foals. Chicky really likes her little guy, so much so that she didn't want to be caught this evening when it was time to come in.



Maiden Mare Update: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Well, as you can probably guess, things didn't go swimmingly with our first maiden mare foaling.

The Good: Chicky foaled at 3:30 AM, April 22 without incidence, a healthy bay colt. She really liked her little guy. As soon as she recovered from the shock of the birth, she went right over to him and began to nicker and lick him. He stood up in a timely manner and seemed to know where to find the milk spigot. Chicky didn't seem to mind at all when I entered the stall to remove the placenta. Okay, that's all of the good news for now.

The Bad: Chicky was a little crampy and wobbly after the foaling. In his efforts to get up, the foal had worked himself into the center of the stall. Chicky walked over to him with her head down nickering, but just as she got to him, she must have experienced a cramp, and fell to her knees, right on top of the foal. He shrieked, and my husband I ran into the stall. Chicky righted herself and we examined the foal, who seemed to be unhurt. But we were worried that he might have a broken rib or worse.

The Ugly: After the foal stood for the first time and got his bearings, he began to search for Chicky's udder, but everytime he would approach her flank, she would scoot to the other side of the stall. We did not want to interfere too soon, hoping that on their own, mother and foal would eventually figure things out. But after an hour and half of watching her walk away from the foal, we finally decided to step in to hold Chicky in order to let the foal have a chance to find her teat. However, in spite of not wanting to feed her foal, Chicky had grown excessively attached to him in the past two hours. And so when we entered the stall to clip the lead rope on her halter, she was a little unhinged, and we decided to beat a retreat and call the vet and some reinforcements.

By the time the on-call vet got to the farm it was 7:30, four hours after the foaling. The minute the vet walked into the stall, she decided reluctantly we were going to have to give Chicky a sedative. Once Chicky was calm, the vet examined her udder and gave her a shot of oxytocin to help her to let down her milk and ease some of her discomfort. We then tried to get the foal in place so he could grab one of the teats. That's when we realized another problem. Although Chicky had a large, engorged udder, she had very small teats, a fairly common problem with maiden mares. The foal, who was quite tall, just could not seem to find the teats and latch on. It was now five hours from foaling and we were desperate to get some colostrum into the foal. On to Plan B, milking the mare and bottle feeding the foal.

Before foaling, Chicky had not waxed or leaked milk. Like some maidens, her milk only came in with the foaling: consequently, the first milk we were able to get from her, was thick and yellow and did not flow all that easily. It was hard work getting a third of a cup. We had a little assembly line set up, someone held Chicky while someone else knelt and milked her. Then when they had about a third of a cup, someone else poured it into a bottle and handed it off to the person who would hold the bottle for the foal while someone else held him.

Finally, after the foal had gotten several cups of milk, and we were satisfied he had enough colostrum, we turned him loose and let him try nursing on his own. At first we held the bottle underneath the udder and fed him so that he would figure out where to go. Eventually, with a little help he began to find the teats on his own. At first it was hit or miss, but pretty soon he latched on and began nursing vigorously.

Chicky by now had come out from under the drugs and seemed quite relieved to have the foal nursing, although we still had her tied. Finally, we let her go and everyone left the stall and we went up to the house to watch how things were going on our foal cam feed. Unfortunately, things didn't go very well. So we all trooped back down to the barn and once again put Chicky on a lead rope to hold her in place so the foal could feed. When the foal finished and laid down, we'd let Chicky off the rope and she would stand guard over him. After several hours of this, the vet returned and performed the foal check. We had done good work--his SNAP test was well over 800. Also, she found no damage from Chicky's fall.

Finally, we decided to let the foal and Chicky have time to themselves to try to work things out. The foal by now was stronger and more coordinated, and so when Chicky bounded across the stall, he followed right behind. After a few circuits of the stall, Chicky finally gave in, stopped and invited the foal to nurse.

The next morning, Chicky looked like an old pro feeding her foal. She is a very loving and attentive mother and the foal is thriving. All is well.

The Maiden Mare

Maiden mares make me uneasy, even though I've never had any real problems with any of the ones I've foaled out. I think my uneasiness comes from my human experience of birth. Human babies are completely helpless and remain so for several years. And human mothers have virtually no natural instincts for mothering. We need books, and labor coaches, and nursing experts,and all manner of advice from others. It's hard to imagine that a dumb (relatively speaking) creature like a mare can know exactly what to do when she gives birth for the first time.

Right now, I'm waiting for one of my two maiden mares to foal. Chicky is 10 days overdue, and if I were to go by her udder development and the quality of milk I've been able to collect from her, I'd say she still isn't close to foaling. But I say that with a caveat--maiden mares are notoriously hard to predict. I had one maiden who was a full five weeks late, and I've had maidens who were a week early. Also, maidens often do not follow the textbook description of prefoaling changes in udder development--many do not wax or let down their milk til after foaling. This can be a problem for someone like me who absolutely and positively wants to be there when she foals.

I try to be present when each of my mares foal, but it's especially important with maiden mares. While it is not common in quarter horses, mares do occasionally reject their foals, especially when the foal tries to nurse. I know  mare owners who had no experience in breeding.  When their mare exhibited aggressive behavior toward the foal, they did not react quickly enough.  The mare kicked the foal, breaking its

leg so badly the owners had to put it down.  If the mare becomes aggressive toward the foal, biting or kicking, the foal and mother should be separated immediately. The mare needs to be restrained (tied, hobbled if necessary), so that the foal can nurse and receive the colostrum it needs. Usually, once the foal has nursed several times, the mare settles down and does her job. Sometimes, the mare will need to be restrained for longer periods.

Even if the mare is not rejecting the foal, new mothers can have difficulties with the whole nursing process. We had one mare who would turn to look at the foal every time it approached to nurse, with the result that the foal would toddle right past the mother and never get close to her udder. Waiting for the foal to nurse is frustrating even with mares who are old hands, but with new mothers, I think our instinct is to jump in and try to help the foal and mother too quickly. It becomes a judgement call then as to when you stand aside to let mother and foal work things out and when you must step in to protect the foal or help the mother.

A first time mother, especially, needs the time and space to bond with her foal. Too many people watching, entering the stall, making noise can cause the mare to become worried or excited. Many of the maidens I've dealt with have been overly protective of their foals, so much so that the foal check-up was an ordeal.

I'll continue to watch Chicky closely for changes in her udder or her behavior. For the last week, I've put her in the stocks and rubbed her flank and her udder to get her used to being touched. So far, she's been pretty mellow about it all. I watch her at night on a foal cam that feeds to our televisions at the house. Also, she has a foal alert sewn across her vulva, which will alert us when her water breaks. Still, even with all these precautions, I won't rest easy til we have an healthy, nursing foal.

I'll update you when she does foals.

Losing Colostrum: The Threat To The Foal


Last year, after ten years of breeding we had our first foal with subpar results on the IgG SNAP test. The SNAP test measures the passive transfer of immunogobulins, or antibodies, between mother and foal. Without this transfer, the foal would have little ability to fight off infection during the first 3 to 6 weeks of life, which is the time it takes the foal to develop its own antibodies. The transfer of antibodies occurs at the time of the foal's first nursings when it receives colostrum from its mother. The colostrum is a kind of super-milk containing not only antibodies to various diseases, but also rich essential nutrients, including vitamins, sugars and proteins. The foal needs to receive IgG within the first 12 or so hours after birth because after that time, the foal's intestines can so longer absorb the IgG in the colostrum. There are two primary ways the antibody transfer can fail, either the foal does not nurse early enough, or the mare drips milk days or even weeks before foaling and loses the colostrum.

In the case of our foal, Mo (Jacs Electric Spark X Jodies Jac Tari), his mother was the culprit. She began to drip milk almost three weeks before she foaled. Once a mare begins to wax, I usually test the milk for calcium levels to try to pinpoint the exact time of foaling. My records show that I tested Jodie's milk for the first time 15 days before she foaled thinking, of course, that in spite of being two weeks from her due date, she was close to foaling. Over the course of the next two weeks, I watched in dismay as she continued to drip away the precious colostrum. The last few days before she actually foaled, she streamed milk.

So when the vet drew Mo's blood during his first check-up and did the SNAP test, we weren't surprised that it was well under the optimal score of 800mg/dl. At this point, we had no other options but to give the foal a plasma transfusion in order to transfer the needed antibodies. We retested Mo's blood and found little improvement, so the vet administered a second bag of plasma, and advised us to keep Mo and Jodie away from the other mares and foals for a few weeks. Eventually, they rejoined the others, and Mo has thrived since then and is a strong, healthy yearling now.

His mother, Jodie, is due to foal this year on May 3. Last weekend, I checked her bag and found that once again she was dripping milk. After talking to our vet, I decided to secure frozen colostrum before Jodie foals. Once the foal is born and able to sit up on its sternum, I will give it the warmed colostrum from a bottle.

There are big breeding farms who keep a large bank of frozen colostrum taken from mares who have just foaled. They then routinely give all new born foals bottles of the previously collected colostrum. They can then dispense with the SNAP test. While I think it prudent to keep a small amount of frozen colostrum on hand for emergencies, I don't think I want to be so interventionist with my own mares and foals.

I'll update this information when Jodie foals in a few weeks.


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