What Do You Do After The Foal Is Here?
By Eleanor Richards
Copyright 2004


       LET THEM REST!  If all is well let the mare and foal rest.  The mare will usually lie quietly for about a half hour.  The foal will still be attached to the mare via the umbilical cord.  There are still needed fluids being transferred from the mare to the foal through the cord.  When she stands the cord will break.

       Give them time to bond.  The mare will lick, nuzzle, and talk to the foal - stay back and leave them alone.
   
       In a few minutes the foal will attempt to stand.  I hope the stall has been prepared so there are no sharp edges, nails, broken boards, or other dangerous items on which the foal could injure himself.  He will be unsteady and fall several times.  But with each attempt he will gain strength and confidence.  Soon he will be standing.
       During this time the mare will expel the afterbirth (placenta).  Quietly enter the stall and retrieve it.  If you were not present during the birth you must locate it.  I put the afterbirth in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Save it for your veterinarian.  She will want to check to make sure it is all there.  The mare should pass the placenta within 4 hours of birth. If she does not, it is considered a medical emergency and you need to call your vet.  A retained placenta can cause infection or laminitis. 

      
How soon after foaling does he need to nurse?

       The sooner the foal nurses or receives colostrum, the better.  Colostrum is the first fluid the mare secretes from her udder.  It contains immunoglobulins, which protect the foal from infection.  They are more concentrated in the early hours of lactation - as time goes on milk production will dilute them.  Research has shown there are no immunoglobulins present in some mares by 12 hours after foaling. 
        In addition to colostrum's ability to protect the foal as time passes, the foal's ability to absorb the antibodies wanes.  Peak absorption time is between 2 and 4 hours of birth.  As the digestive system of the foal matures it loses the ability to utilize the antibodies in the colostrum.  As the foal ages the window of opportunity closes.
        If for some reason the foal cannot nurse - milk the mare and let the foal suck from a bottle (use a lamb nipple).  If the foal is too weak to suck, your veterinarian can administer the colostrum with a stomach tube.  Do not attempt this yourself - you can drown or injure the foal.
       An average horse foal should receive 250 ml. of colostrum every hour for the first 6 hours after foaling.  If colostrum is not available (the foal is an orphan) your vet can administer blood plasma intravenously.  The blood plasma should provide the foal with the needed antibodies.  Because it is not being absorbed through the digestive tract the blood plasma can be given at any time. 
        One thing I like to do is check the mare and make sure both teats are open and working.  Just because the foal is under there and sucking, does not mean he's getting anything.  You should be able to see milk on his whiskers and see him swallow.
        Between 12 and 36 hours your vet will take a blood sample from the foal.  This sample will be checked for IgG concentrations.  The test result will tell your vet if the foal has received the proper levels of antibodies.


    
Is there anything else I need to know?

         Make sure the foal moves his bowels.  There is a material called meconium - it dark, thick, and pasty.  Many breeding farms routinely administer an enema to the foal soon after he nurses.  I have used a Fleet baby enema with success. 
         Observe the foal for proper urination.  Call your vet if you see urine leaking from the umbilical cord.
         The umbilical stump needs to be dipped in gentle iodine or a chlorhexidine solution twice a day for 3 days after foaling.  Do not use 7% iodine; it will burn the healing tissues.
    

 
      I have read that I should go in and hold the foal down to teach him submission.  How can I do that when 
       you say to leave them alone?


     I do not agree with the extreme methods of "foal imprinting".  I do agree you need to handle the foal to some degree the first day.  It is more important the mare and foal have time to bond.  The foal also needs time to nurse and gather strength.
     During the process of treating the umbilical cord you will have your arms around the foal.  At this time you can rub him all over and pick up each foot. 

      * Go to
www.horsecoursesonline.com and enroll to take the online course "How to Feed for Maximum
         Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards.  Earn a Bachelor's of Science Degree in equine studies, a
         Professional Designation in Horse Training from Austin Education Center or a Horse Sense Series
         certificate from Scottsdale Community College. 
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