The Foaling Mare Management Guidelines


When the mammary glands produce milk, but it is not suckled or milked (as happens during  late pregnancy),  a yellowish , slightly syrupy milk is produced. This "first milk" is called colostrum.
The foals resistance to disease is critical in the first two to four months of life. The foal relies on the absorption of antibodies from the mare's colostrum for this early life protection from many bacterial and viral pathogens that cause infection. The colostrum also provides a mild laxative effect for the foal, helping to prevent impaction.

If the foal has not stood and nurses within 3 to 6 hours, milk some colostrum from the mare and bottle feed the baby. A lamb nipple on a soda bottle works well for this.  Unfortunately , mares that stream  milk before foaling (some for several days) may loose large amounts of the vital colostrum. If the foal cannot receive colostrum from the dam,  because of complications from the birth, the mare not bagging or the loss of the colostrum prior to foaling because of excessive streaming,. the foal MUST be given an alternative source of colostrum.

Colostrum can be collected from mares and stored by freezing for up to 18 months. Or commercial sources of colostrum are available. Frozen colostrum should be thawed in warm water when ready to administer. DO NOT THAW COLOSTRUM IN A MICROWAVE OVEN. Microwave ovens will render the antibodies unusable to the foal. Several pints (5 to 6) will need to be administered in four or more doses over the 12 hour period following birth. Ideally the colostrum should be administered during the first eight to twelve hours.

Several testing procedures are available that estimate the antibody levels in the mare's colostrum or the level of antibodies in the foals blood. In the event the possibility exists that the foal did not assimilate enough colostrum, contact your vet to have these tests performed. There are no specific symptoms that you can look for without testing, except for the infections that may develop in the foal within the first three weeks of life.


Introducing human contact should occur soon after birth, this reduces weaning stress and there are indications that imprinting the foal can alleviate many handling difficulties in the future. There is much literature available on imprinting, but the main thing is that the techniques imprint the basic behavior of the foal toward humans to be one of respect rather than fear or flight.
Initial milk let down is stimulated by the birth process. Oxytocin release is triggered by stimulation of the uterus, vagina and vulva during parturition and later by tactile stimulation of the nerve endings in the teats when the foal suckles. Oxytocin stimulates the milk let down by forcing milk into the large ducts that supply the teat cistern, where it remains until suckled out by the foal. Oxytocin also causes the uterus to contract, helping in the process of it returning to the pre pregnancy size. Fear and excitement in the mare can block the milk ejection stimuli. Light breeds of horses produce about 3% of their body weight per day in milk for the first 12 weeks of lactation and 2% per day during the later stages. For this reason the mare's milk gradually becomes an inadequate source of nutrition for the foal.

The concentration of nutrients in milk is also less in later lactation. Shortly after 3 to 4 months of age the mare's milk is unable to fulfill the foal's nutritional requirements. The solids the foal begins to eat in early life will have to offset the foal's needs vs the mare's milk production.
Creep Feeding
Foals on creep feeding will have less weaning stress than those denied creep rations while still on the mare. Within several days following birth the foals should be allowed access to creep rations, most will not consume large quantities until 2 to 3 months old. It is best to give foals full access to creep, as long as the feed supply is kept clean and fresh. The feed for the creep rations should contain between 16% and 18% protein with a 2:1 calcium - phosphorus ratio.  Intake of creep rations will vary from between 0% and 3% of the foals body weight per day. It is important to select a feed that is easily digestible, highly palatable and suitable to the foals nutritional needs. Often milk replacer pellets may encourage the transition from formula to grain.


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This information is for educational purposes only,  please consult your veterinarian for further advise and procedures.

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