The babies are coming! The babies are coming! Yep, foaling season is well underway around here and I felt it was about time I discussed what the heck one is supposed to do with them once they get here.
Let’s start with a quick foaling review. Once your mare starts foaling, things should happen very quickly. And by quickly I mean at the same speed I come running when I hear food hit the bowl. If you don’t think anything is happening, call one of our Docs. They would rather talk to you at 2am than have something bad happen. Next: The 1-2-3 rule. Foals should stand by 1 hour, nurse by 2 hours, and the placenta should pass by 3 hours post foaling. If any of these thing don’t happen, you guessed it, call the Docs. Depending on some other stuff, they may come out right away, or they may wait until the routine new baby check time of 18-24 hours old, but these are very important things that must happen for the foal to get started in life on the right hoof.
OK, now on to the wee adolescent life of a foal. To start, it is unfortunate they come knowing what a halter and lead rope is. In fact, I’m pretty sure they think halters and lead ropes are instruments of the devil when they first arrive. Luckily, they are good at following mom. Putting a halter and lead rope on your foal daily and leading them from one place to another is excellent practice at grown up life. They do have a shorter attention span than a cat (and that’s pretty short) so keep training sessions short. As they learn one skill, add another. I try to consider what my Docs will need to do with them later in their life. So we practice picking up feet, pinching skin for shots, standing sort of still, being touched over their entire body, these sorts of things. Much like cats, foals think humans are a bit stupid in their demands for obedience. Unlike cats, they do need to listen since they get rather big, rather quick. I don’t mean to say I couldn’t kill you if I wanted to, just so we are clear on that point. I am a cat, after all.
Foals are much like teenage boys when it comes to food. They eat ALL. THE. TIME. Making sure your mare has a little extra fat at the end of her pregnancy will help her get through the intense grocery providing stage in those first few months. Notice that says a little extra fat, not a lot of extra fat. I know, who am I to discuss weight, but this is a “Do as I say, not as I do” sort of thing. Checking in with our Docs or Beth, our in-house Nutrition Expert, to be sure you are making good feed and hay choices will make sure everyone stays happy and healthy. Foals will start by eating a little bit of what mom eats, then gradually eat more and more. Make sure they have grain and/or hay of their own available, especially if mom failed Kindergarten and doesn’t share well. The rough guideline is 1 pound of grain for every month of age. Foals can be free fed if the mare can be kept away. Unlike adult horses, foals won’t just eat until it’s gone. I feel free choice feed is the best plan for this cat as well, but Dr. Lacher keeps putting me on a diet. Oops sorry about the tangent there. Not really. In fact, I would appreciate it if everyone would tell Dr. Lacher I require free choice food next time they see her. Once your foal is eating 4-5 pounds of grain per day it is safe to wean them off mom.
Weaning. How? Let’s face it, no one loves the sad whinnies from the foals on weaning day. There are several options to make this as low stress as possible. First, move the mare if at all possible, and not the foal. Second, have friends with the foal that don’t change. Third, try to take the mare out of listening range. Generally, once the foals are around 5 months of age, the weaning process goes pretty smoothly since everyone is ready for it. Mom is over this annoying child, and foal is tired of all those “rules” mom imposes. Wait until they find out adulthood isn’t what they thought!
Most of a foal’s immune system for the first few months of life comes from that first milk, colostrum, they get from mom. To make sure munchkin got enough, our Docs do a blood test called IgG at that New Baby Check I mentioned earlier (yes that was a quiz to make sure you are paying attention). At some point though, your foal will need vaccines to get their own immune system up to speed on the diseases it will see. If the mare was well vaccinated before foaling, these vaccines start at 5 months of age with boosters at 6 months and 9 months. If we don’t know mom’s vaccine history or she didn’t get vaccines, immunizations start at 4 months and include an extra booster.
Deworming for foals is different as well. The primary parasite the Docs treat for is called an Ascarid. High levels of ascarids can kill foals, so it is important to keep them in check. Unlike strongyles in adult horses, ascarid levels can’t be predicted by fecal egg counts. This means we put foals on a timed schedule. The Docs do like to check a fecal at about 9-10 months of age to be sure the dewormers are working. Springhill Equine recommends the first deworming happens at 3 months of age with a pyrantel product. From there foals get dewormed every 90 days rotating through pyrantel, ivermectin, and fenbendazole.
The care your foal gets in the first year of life sets them up for a healthy lifetime. Do your foal (and yourself) a favor and set them up for success right from the start. Then do me a favor, and bring me a cat treat!