From the Foaling Barn

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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.

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