Feeding Orphaned Foals

Isabel Stewart BSc (Hons)
SPILLERS Nutritionist

No-one would wish this on anyone, but tragically, this situation arises, necessitating emergency action to ensure the foals survival without the mother.
The first aim is to find a surrogate mother, but failing that foals can be reared successfully by hand.

Feed tactics
  • Colostrum: this, the so-called "first milk" contains the essential antibodies necessary for the foal to be able to develop a healthy immune system with which to fight disease. The foal loses its ability to absorb the immunoglobulins in colostrums within a few hours of birth, and so it is essential to feed colostrum immediately to prevent the foal succumbing to disease. If mares colostrum is not available, then there are several commercially prepared colostrums available.
  • Hygiene: cleanliness is next to godliness with rearing foals, as they are susceptible to infection and disease. Clean buckets, utensils and cleaned down housing (preferably steam cleaned) are essential.
  • Train to suckle: the suckling reflex is also lost early in the foals life, and must be established within the first few days. Once a foal has learnt to suckle, it can then be trained to drink from a bucket.
  • Feed frequently: Feed every 2 hours at first, then expand to four hourly until the foal is about a month old, then three times a day after that. Feeding large amounts at once increases the likelihood of diarrhoea or colic.
  • Follow manufacturers instructions: if using a commercial milk replacer, use the correct proportion of powder to water: 10-15% dry matter is the ideal; more concentrated mixtures may cause constipation.
  • Make changes gradually: Increases in the amount of milk offered should be made gradually. Solid feeds such as milk pellets can be offered early on: foals can and will eat about half a pound of such products in addition to milk in their first 2 weeks of life, rising to 2lbs by 8 weeks. You can wean a foal around this time. Once weaned a foal’s consumption of dry feed will increase rapidly to 2-3 kg per day.
  • Don't spoil the foal: It is human nature to overprotect, but the helpless little foal will soon tune into a larger young horse. Foals accustomed to such privileges as ad-lib titbits and treats, may become awkward to handle when you subsequently wish to take a more disciplined approach training.
Milk replacers
  • Mares milk replacer: in dried powdered form ready for mixing: these are the preferred choice. However if unavailable:
  • Cows and goats milk can be used but are richer than mares milk and should be diluted 50:50 with skimmed milk to achieve a similar nutritional content to mares milk.
  • Milk pellets, based on cows milk are also an alternative, providing high protein (20-25%) and high fat (12-15%) for fuelling growth.
  • Calf milk replacers have been used successfully in foals, and should contain at least 20% protein and 15% fat.
  • Lambs milk replacers are less suitable

If you require any further advice on feeding your foal or youngster please contact the SPILLERS careline on 01908 226626 or email: careline@spillers-feeds.com

SPILLERS Speciality Feeds Ltd
Old Wolverton Road
Old Wolverton
Milton Keynes
MK12 5PZ

Tel: 01908 222888
Fax: 01908 222800


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