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
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 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.
EARLY LIFE HANDLING - IMPRINTING
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.
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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