If a foal is left alone following complications during birth, rejection from the dam or due to unrelated illnesses, the breeders tend to find themselves in an unexpected situation which requires a much higher level of care. Raising an orphan foal can present an array of challenges, with their attention being required every couple of hours and a high pressure to help them meet the full potential of their development. From providing them with frequent horse feed by hand to mixing with other animals, there are some considerations that should be made if you are facing taking on an orphaned foal.
Be prepared with colostrum
When a foal is born, colostrum is essential within the first 12 hours of their life to get their immune system in action and give them the antibodies they need during this early stage of life – afterwards it is too late. For an orphaned foal with no access to the mare, frozen colostrum can be quickly thawed in warm water and be given to the orphan by hand as early as possible. Many breeders keep an emergency bag of frozen colostrum for unexpected scenarios such as this, often milked from a mare who has the fluid to spare following a stillborn birth.
Replacing their milk source
We have come a long way over the years and can now use milk replacers to mimic the nutrients which would be provided from the mare. Often these replacers are also fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to provide the foal with the nutrients they need to grow. Ensuring that the foal is fed properly is the only way to get the nutrition needed but this requires a lot of effort from the breeder who is required to give them their milk replacer in frequent small doses. Larger quantities can cause an upset stomach and issues with the digestive tract so feeding in small amounts every couple of hours is the most successful approach.
Treat them in the same way
Although it can be a natural instinct to spoil orphaned foals and hand raise them at every step of the way, this can have a detrimental effect as they will be more comfortable amongst human company and can be unpredictable when around other horses. Keeping them exposed to other horses, letting them live amongst their natural environment and reducing their feeding schedule after the first few weeks of life will help them adapt to their surroundings and develop in the same way as other horses.
This goes for feeding too; although hand feeding with a bottle is necessary during the early stages, this should only be used for as long as it is essential. Initially, the bottle top will replicate the mare’s nipple and will require ongoing human assistance, but many breeders aim to switch this method to a feeding bucket to encourage their independence. If they are reluctant to use it, try encouraging them to take milk from your finger and encourage them towards the bucket by placing your finger inside.