From the Foaling Barn


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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