From the Foaling Barn


At Last: The Orphans Have a Herd

Last week, our two orphan foals were three and half months old--and it was time. We fed the colts their last meal of milk replacer and with great trepidation led them out to the pasture to meet the six other weanlings they would be spending the next year with.

The six older weanlings were standing at the hay bale, and they all turned to look. There was a moment of quiet as the two groups sized each other up, and then pandemonium broke out. The orphans took off running with the six in hot pursuit.


Gradually, things calmed down and the two groups went to their separate corners.   When it came time to grain,  I was afraid Viktor and Colin would be too timid to stand their ground, so I put the grain in the pans and then went and stood between the orphans and the older weanlings until everyone was finished.  I did this for a couple of days and then decided to let nature take its course.  To my great surprise, when Armando and Mort tried to shoulder the orphans away from their feed pan, both Viktor and Colin double-barreled them.  Armando and Mort beat a hasty retreat, looking over their shoulders and I'm sure thinking,  "Wow, those guys are tough."  I was so proud of my little guys!

Since then while the orphans stick pretty close to each other, they are gradually insinuating themselves into the life of the little herd.  I'm feeling pretty confident that they will be well-adjusted horses.

How He Got This Way

This is Colin. At three months of age, he is big, well-muscled, straight-legged, and handsome. His eyes are bright; his coat shiney.  Colin is an orphan, fed from age three days on milk replacer. While many commercial milk replacer are quite good, we credit Colin's good health to these two products, Silky Coat Milk Replacer and Silky Coat Milk Pellets.

Perhaps the reason that it has proven to be such a good substitute for mother's milk is because it is made by a local company that specializes in making species specific milk replacer, Royal Milc, in Lakeville, MN, about 45 minutes from our farm. It is made up fresh every week right before our wonderful feed rep, Travis Lemke, picks it up and delivers it to our farm. Freshness is important in milk replacer because it contains a great deal of fat and can become rancid if it sits on a shelf too long.

I just started feeding the last bags of milk replacer and pellets tonight. We plan to wean the orphans next week and turn them out in pasture with other weanlings. I have absolutely no connections to Royal Milc, except as a customer, so this product endorsement is completely unsolicited and heartfelt. I truly believe this product gave my beautiful orphans the best start in life they could possibly get.


Colin and Pappita

Allogrooming or social grooming is common behavior in humans and many animal species, expecially in horses. Allogrooming is practiced by almost all horses living is herds, but it is most prevalent among mares. Mares tend to form long term pair bonds in which allogrooming is an important acitivity. In feral herds, mare bonding and allogrooming create herd cohesion and defuse aggressive behavior. Because it increases endorphins and diminishes stress, allogrooming is also beneficial to the well-being of individual mares.

Mares groom more than stallions or geldings, fillies groom more than colts, and young horses groom more than older horses. Allogrooming pairs tend to be loyal to one another over time. They tend to be similar in age but not necessarily rank. The one exception is the pair formed by dam and foal. The foal will begin to exhibit allogrooming behavior toward its mother within three days of birth, and begin to groom other foals within a few weeks.

When we put our old mare, Pappita Sunrise, out with the orphans, she eventually accepted Colin and allowed him to nurse. I often wondered if she accepted him and not Viktor because he is the same color as she and actually looks like he could be her own foal. However, he was much more persistent in wooing her. It took him several weeks until she was willing to let him nurse. I should say here that we realize he's getting nothing nutritional from her, but we are glad he was able to form this bond with her so that he would have a more normal foal experience.

And part of that foal experience he is having is allogrooming with his foster mom. But even before he and Pappita formed their bond, Colin and Viktor groomed one another. Colin was only with his mother Jodie for three days, but he may have experienced allogrooming behavior with her. But Viktor never had that early foal experience, so his embrace of allogrooming must be seen as instinct.

But even if it is only an instinct, to we humans it's an endearing trait in horses.

Updates: Shiney, Orphans, and Erhlichiosis

Now that foaling and breeding season is over, there's nothing too exciting happening on the farm, so I thought I'd update a few earlier stories.Shiney, our mare who foundered after foaling, seems finally to be out of danger. Since the crisis stage of the laminitic episode five months ago, Shiney has never been entirely sound. Last month her lameness suddenly became much worse as the result of a large abcess. We began to worry that the laminitis had returned. However, within a week, Shiney just as suddenly began to walk normally--she looks completely sound. We now wonder how long that abcess had been brewing. She no longer needs her Soft Ride boots, or the lilly pads, or any special shoes. She is barefoot and turned out in a small paddock. Dr. Brian does not want her to be out with the other mares until the damaged area of her hoof is completly grown out. He is concerned that the hoof wall below the damage is too fragile to stand much pressure and if it were to crumble we would have another crisis on our hands. So for the time being, she'll remain in the barn at night and turned out in her paddock with Jewel during the day.We had another case of erhlichiosis a few weeks ago, our second of the year. One of the yearlings (Finn) failed to come to his feed pan. When we took his temperature it was only slightly elevated, but we were still suspicious. We waited an hour and found the temp had gone up about a half a degree. An hour later, it was up again. So we called the vet and relayed our belief that we had another case of erhlichiosis. The vet came out, took some blood and gave Finn the first of five daily shots of tetracycline. The bloodwork came back positive. Usually, by July, the ticks have disappeared, but for some reason, the warm, wet summer perhaps, this year we are still seeing ticks on the dogs, horses and even ourselves.Now as to the Ophans--they look fabulous. In fact, I think they look better than the foals who've been nursing for five months on their dams. They are big and well muscled, with nice straight legs and beautiful, shiney coats. They turn three months next week, at which time we will wean them completely from the milk replacer. Right now they are only drinking about three quarts a day, supplemented with milk pellets, grain and supplement (we use Assurance Alfalfa Balancer). They are also offered all the hay they want. As soon as we wean the last three foals, we plan to put them and the orphans together.

Orphan Foals on Milk Replacer

Colin Drinking His Morning Ration of Milk Replacer

This year we had to deal with two orphan foals and another foal whose mother foundered shortly after foaling. In all three cases, we were forced to use foal milk replacer. With the foal (Hermione) whose mother foundered, she was fed milk replacer to supplement her mother's reduced milk production. Hermione only needed supplements for about three weeks,and except for the first day or two, she drank from a bucket. Eventually as her mother's health improved, Hermione was weaned off the bucket and went back on her mother exclusively.

However, with the orphans, Viktor and Colin, they have been drinking milk replacer for two and half months. Fortunately, in both cases, the mother's lived long enough to supply each foal with sufficient colostrum (See my earlier post on low IGg in foals). Both dam's were euthanized at the vet clinic. The staff at the clinic kept the foals overnight in order to train them to the bucket. To feed a foal with a bottle would require super-human effort, or an employee devoted solely to feeding the foals every hour.

The first problem we faced was securing a supply of fresh milk replacer when we needed it. Milk replacer has a shorter shelf life than other feeds, and because it is so rarely needed, most feed stores carry very small amounts of the stuff. Many feed stores carry a generic, multi-species milk replacer, but this is not ideal. Only use milk replacer formulated specifically for horses. Most of the major feed companies make milk replacer. Milk replacer is quite expensive and foals go through a lot of it during a week.

We were lucky, because the Silky Coat company, which makes milk replacer for many species, is about 25 miles from us in Lakeville, MN. Our feed rep, Travis Lemke of Assurance Feed, set us up with Silky Coat. When we needed milk replacer, Travis would pick up a week's supply that had been made freshly that day and bring it out to us. After several weeks, we also began to offer the foals milk pellets made by Silky Coat.

Once we secured a steady supply,  the hardwork fell to us. During the first six weeks or their lives, the foals were fed on a four hour schedule, 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 6PM, 10 PM and 2 AM. My husband took the 10 PM and the 2 AM feedings, and I did all the other ones. It's pretty hard to have much of a social life, or even go out to dinner with this kind of schedule. We spread four gallons of formula over these six feedings. We thought it important to hang the bucket at approximately the same height as a mother's udder, rather than setting the bucket on the ground.

After six weeks, we began slowly to wean the foals off the formula, reducing the amount of formula by two quarts each week with fewer feedings. We first went to four feedings a day, and now we feed three times in twenty-four hours. However, as we reduced feedings, we discovered a new problem. The foals began to gulp down a gallon of milk in a matter of minutes, so we had to come up with ways to parcel out the milk so that the foals would eat more slowly. Drinking too much at one time, can cause foals to have loose stools, which in Viktor's case was exactly what happened. At Travis's suggestion, we began to freeze portions of the formula, so that it took the foals longer to get through a gallon. This worked well, and Viktor's diarhea disappeared. As we decreased the milk replacer, we increased the amount of milk pellets and began offering them the same grain and supplement the other foals eat. They are also now eating hay and pasture during turnout.

The foals will be on milk replacer for about three more weeks. Once they are weaned from the milk replacer, we will continue to add milk pellets to their grain rations for another month or so. At that time we will wean them completely and they will be turned out with the last three of our other foals to be weaned.

And my husband and I will let out  big sighs of relief.

Orphan Foals at Two Months

Colin at two months

Right after our two foals were orphaned within a week of each other, we were inundated with advice and offers of help from well-meaning folk. Some of the advice was helpful, but a great deal of it was discouraging and, frankly, incorrect. We were treated to so many nightmare stories of foals' physical developmental problems. And, even worse, many people assured us our foals would not know how to act like horses or would be spoiled by an excess of attention from humans. Some really tactless souls told us the foals were more or less doomed.

Our foals are now two months old, and I'm happy to report none of the depressing prognostications have come true. We did not find a local nurse mare and rejected the rent-a-nurse-mare organizations on ethical grounds. Instead, we worked with our great feed rep, Travis Lemke of Assurance Feed, who linked us up with a local company, Silky Coat, who specializes in making milk replacer for many different breeds. Every week, Travis would bring us fresh bags of milk replacer and milk pellets right from Silky Coat. That meant that we were always feeding the foals fresh milk. Both foals have done very well on the replacer, although Viktor had loose stools for the first six weeks, which is not an unusual problem for foals on milk replacer. At six weeks we began to wean them off of the replacer and on to the milk pellets. Since then, Viktor's stools have become more solid. At two months both foals are plump and well-muscled. Our vet has routinely drawn blood to check on the foal's protein levels, and has monitored their growth.

Because we have had to feed the foals frequently (every four hours for the first six weeks), it has not been practical to put them outside with other horses. We do get them outside together, several times a day for two to three hours at a time. If there is any upside to having two orphan foals, it is that they are company for one another, and their horse instincts kicked in right away when we put them together. To see them playing their little colt games, you would never think they were any different than any other foals. They spend their nights in large, open-grill stalls across the aisle from one another. Tomorrow, we plan to put them out in a small pasture with our twenty-three year old mare, Pappita Sunrise, for most of the day since we are now on an eight hour feeding schedule.

Viktor at two months

During this whole process, we have been mindful of the need to treat Viktor and Colin as horses, not pets. We do not coddle them, and we correct aggressive behavior immediately and firmly, just as their own mothers would have. The only time we handle them is when we take them in and out of their stalls. They are both halter broke and lead fairly well. There are other horse in the barn with them, and when they are outside they are in a pasture adjacent to other pastures holding mares and foals.

At three months, we plan to wean Viktor and Colin from their milk replacer, and by then they should be able to be in pasture twenty-four hours a day, At that point we will introduce them to other foals.


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