The Newborn Foal
Newborn foal information and advice from XL Equine
As foaling season is fast approaching there are many questions a first time breeder wants to ask. This article should help put your mind at rest by giving you a guide on what a healthy ‘normal’ foal should be doing and when to call the vet.
THE PROCESS OF PARTURITION (giving birth)
- Your mare will usually lie down once she is ready to give birth and
after some strong contractions the amniotic sac (a transparent bluish-white membrane) will quickly become visible.
- Foaling usually occurs at night and can take between 15 minutes and one hour (it should not exceed one hour).
- Soon after birth, the foal will start sitting up in sternal recumbency (on its chest).
- The foal will quickly start to try to stand – the mare encourages this by licking and nudging the foal. Foals normally stand within 1-2 hours.
- It is important that the foal should nurse from the mare within three hours as it needs to get the vital colostrum (first milk) from the mare in order to fight any infection. The foal’s ability to absorb the antibodies from colostrum declines rapidly after 12 hours.
- The placenta (afterbirth) will normally be passed within 1-2 hours. It is important to check it is passed intact as the mare can become seriously ill if any of the placenta is retained.
- The foal should pass urine and meconium (first droppings that are dark green, brown or black in colour and can be very firm) within 12 hours.
TIPS FOR ENCOURAGING A FOAL TO SUCKLE
Interference with the above steps must be kept to a minimum to avoid disrupting the bond between the mare and foal. Sometimes a gentle ‘push in the right direction’ for a foal is all it needs to start sucking. If further help is needed you may need to direct the foal to the udder and gently scratch the top of its rump which mimics the nuzzling of its mother. A gentle pull down of your thumb on the teat whilst cupping it with your hand will release some milk which you can guide into the foal’s mouth (ensure someone is holding the mare when you do this). Your foal should be bright, aware of its surroundings and have a close contact with its mother at all times. It is advised to have a vet check over your mare and foal within 24 hours of birth.
FEEDING YOUR FOAL
To begin with, the foal relies entirely on the mare for all of its nutritional needs. You therefore need to make sure the mare is on a high protein diet (stud nuts/stud mix and a good quality hay or haylage). It is advisable to monitor her weight visually, and adjust the feed accordingly. The foal will start to nibble at the mare’s feed (concentrate and hay) around 10-21 days but it can be as early as a week. When the foal reaches 8-12 weeks you should consider feeding a young stock concentrate, which is high in protein, vitamins and minerals.
MANAGEMENT OF YOUR NEWBORN FOAL
Exercise in the form of turn-out is important for the development of the musculoskeletal system and the interaction with other mares and foals helps their social development. The paddock should be fenced with post and rail as this is the safest for the foal, just make sure your lowest rails are low enough to keep the foal in. A foal slip (‘head collar’ ideally leather) should be placed on the foal in the first week of life; this should be checked daily as foals grow quickly. Ideally foals should be handled daily and taught how to be led.
WHEN SHOULD I WORM MY NEWBORN FOAL?
Foals can be wormed from one month of age – ask your XLEquine practice for guidance. Good pasture management is a must; picking up droppings daily, and worm egg counts from the mare and foal are advisable every three months.
WHEN SHOULD I VACCINATE MY NEWBORN FOAL?
Your mare should have all of her vaccinations up to date and a vaccination a month before parturition will ensure good levels of antibodies in the colostrum. If the mare has not been vaccinated for tetanus then the foal should receive an immediate acting tetanus antitoxin soon after birth and begin vaccinations at three months of age. Influenza vaccines should not be started until 6-9 months of age. Creating a plan with your vet for correctly vaccinating your pregnant mare and then the foal once it arrives is the best way to ensure cover and put your mind at rest!
WHEN DO I NEED THE FARRIER?
Foals should have their feet trimmed by a farrier every 6-8 weeks; this gets the foal used to the farrier, which will result in a more co-operative youngster. The farrier in some cases can also correct minor limb deviations (after being checked by a vet).
WHEN DO I NEED THE DENTIST?
Your foal will be born with no visible teeth; these will begin to erupt from the gums at around two weeks of age. You need to check to see if the incisors on the upper jaw and the lower jaw meet correctly. Some foals are born with a lower jaw that is too big or too small causing the incisors not to meet. This may cause problems when the foal is eating hay (a vet check is needed if you see this problem). Your foal should not need his/her teeth rasping until around a year old, unless you see a problem.
WHEN CAN I WEAN MY FOAL?
This can be done between 4-7 months of age, but around six months old is average depending on the mare and situation. The foal must be able to support itself without the need for the mare’s milk. Introduce concentrate feed at least two months prior to weaning. Levels of concentrate may need to be increased after weaning but this depends on how much the foal is suckling at the time of weaning. If your foal is growing too quickly concentrate feed needs to be reduced, or stopped altogether. Several orthopaedic conditions are thought to be related to rapid growth rate and inadequate minerals in the diet.
WHEN TO PHONE THE VET:
- Mare straining to foal with no progress
- Retained placenta – not passed within 3 hours
- No milk from teats
- Foal not sucking and/or not standing within 3 hours
- Foal not passed faeces within 12 hours or has diarrhoea
- Foal showing colic signs
- Mare showing colic signs before or after foaling.
REMEMBER – IF IN DOUBT OVER YOUR NEWBORN FOAL CALL THE VET OUT!
XLEquine registered practices
|608 Farm and Equine Veterinary Surgeons|
|Ardene House Vet Practice|
|Ashbrook Equine Clinic|
|Belmont Veterinary Centre|
|Bishopton Veterinary Group|
|Calweton Veterinary Centre|
|Capontree Veterinary Centre|
|Chapelfield Veterianry Partnerhsip|
|Cliffe Veterinary Group|
|Clyde Veterianry Group|
|Donald S McGregor and Partners|
|Endell Veterinary Group|
|Fellowes Farm Equine Clinic|
|Fenwold Veterinary Practice|
|Glenthorne Veterinary Group|
|Hook Norton Veterinary Group|
|Larkmead Veterinary Group Ltd|
|Midshire Veterinary Group|
|Millcroft Veterinary Group|
|Northvet Veterinary Group|
|North West Equine Vets|
|Paragon Veterinary Group|
|Parklands Veterinary Group|
|Rosevean Veterinary Practice|
|Scarsdale Veterinary Group|
|Scott Mitchell Associates|
|St Boniface Veterinary Clinic|
|Severn Edge Veterianry Group|
|Torch Farm and Equine Vets|
|Wright and Morten|
XLEquine is a group of 35 mixed veterinary practices spanning the length and breadth of the UK. They work together to share experience, knowledge, ideas and skills in order to define and deliver the highest standards of equine health, care and welfare.
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