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How to Care for Your Foal If the Mother Won't Feed It
by Patricia Hampton - North Wind Arabians

We all have times when a foal is born and the mare won't allow it to nurse. Instead of feeding her baby, she just turns away from it. She will generally clean and care for the baby and appears to love it, but will not feed it. This usually happens only with maiden mares, but is certainly possible with any mare. There are several things to keep in mind when this happens:

First, don't be angry with the mare, especially if she is a maiden. Giving birth is a very painful and often frightening experience the first time. Your mare needs your kindness and understanding.

The second thing to keep in mind is that you have a very limited amount of time to get colostrum into the baby. Every mare's colostrum and every foal's ability to absorb the nutrients it contains is different so, while colostrum can absorb for up to twenty-four hours, it is best to keep your sights on getting an adequate amount in to the foal within twelve hours. If the foal does not get adequate immunity from the colostrum, it can die from the smallest cold or infection. The only way to find out whether the foal has an adequate immunesystem is to have your vet get a blood sample and run an IgG. If the test shows an IgG below 400, the foal is in jeopardy, below 200 and chances are strong that you will lose it. The situation can still be rectified by having the vet infuse a bag or two of plasma into the foal. This is an expensive process, so let's concentrate on getting the colostrum into the foal instead.

It is good to have a foaling kit ready and waiting in the barn. I keep mine in a sealed clean rubbermaid box. It contains:

Several clean towels
Baby bottle with an extra large X shaped hole (sharp scissors do the trick)
A plastic jar of iodine
A couple shots of banamine
A "breast pump" made from a syringe (click here for instructions for making one)
A couple of gentle saline enemas, readily available at the drug store
Vaseline

After foaling, I ALWAYS give my mare 10 cc's of banamine. It eases the pain and helps the milk come down. Banamine is a prescription drug and must be obtained in advance from your veterinarian. I never exceed 10 cc's every twelve hours for a total of three injections. Most mares are fine with just one injection. If a mare (usually a maiden) is having a difficult time with labor, I had one this year who was terrified by the onset of the pain, I will occassionally give the banamine then. It does not inhibit labor.

When the foal is out, I help the mare dry the foal then back off and let them get acquainted. This is a good time to occupy yourselfcleaning wet and soiled straw from the stall and making a nice hot bran mash for your mare. She has just been through a lot and its a comforting meal for her. Mare and foal will generally be on their feet in five to fifteen minutes. The foal may need help getting up the first time if the footing is poor, like rubber mats under the straw. As soon as the foal is standing, get a good dip of iodine* on the naval. Help the foal find the right end of the mare to nurse on. There are several things that can prevent the foal from getting that precious colostrum promptly at this point. First, the foal may just fail to find and recognize the nipples. Some babies are awfully slow! Second, the mare may run away and not give the foal the chance. In either event, I choose at this point to use my syringe and baby bottle and get some colostrum into the foal. If the mare is just turning away, she may stop when you tie her or have someone hold her. If not, place your syringe gently but firmly over one nipple, and draw the plunger back. You may get barely an ounce the first time, but every drop is lifesblood to the new baby. As the mare's milk comes down, it will become easier to full the syringe. As the pressure eases on the udder, try helping the foal to nurse again. It can be an exasperating process as the little fellow tries to suck everywhere but where you want it to, but be gentle and patient. If you have fed from a bottle, the foal will follow the bottle to the correct location. If it just cannot find the right place, milk the mare some more and get that colostrum down the baby. This year I had a foal who liked being fed and decided he really didn't want to be troubled to find it himself. I endulged him until that all important first twenty-fours had elapsed and got well over sixty ounces of colostrum into him then left him to starve. He was nursing on his own in half an hour.

My second maiden mare this year was more difficult. The banamine was not enough. She is a very sensitive mare and worries about anything new. Her colt was quite aggressive about wanting to eat and was too rough with her. She ran away from but allowed me to milk her and feed the foal. When he tried to nurse by himself she raised a threatening foot and once pushed him away with it. To me, that a firm enough "no" that I knew I was not going to get her to let him nurse without help. I called my vet and kept feeding the foal every hour or so until he arrived. By the time the vet arrived, the foal was ten hours old and had consumed well over twenty ounces of colostrum. The vet gave my mare an IV shot of ace-rompun, that really mellowed her out. The foal was able to suck and as the drug wore off, it was old hat to the mare. She is a wonderful mother now and has many fine foals in her future.

In summary, have a good working relationship with a veterinarian you trust. Also, have a good working relationship with your mare. When you need to milk her is not best time to handle her udder for the first time. Cool, summer baths can get her used to being handled well in advance. Don't be angry and frustrated with your mare, she needs your help at this most critical time. Remember, with a little extra effort on your part now, you can rectify the situation. Motherhood is a strong instinct but some need a little more encouragement than others. The joy of watching your foal grow strong and healthy at his mother's side is well worth a little extra effort in those first hours.


*Some people are using Nolvasan for this, but we recommend iodine, it has a strong drying effect and helps seal the naval shut.

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