Caring for a new born foal
A foal's future health is often influenced by the care and attention it receives in the first days of its life, making this a crucial time for the foal. If your mare is foaling for the first time it is important to make sure that you are well prepared to care for the new arrival, and have ready access to veterinary care, should it be necessary.
A foal attains nearly 80% of its mature height and 50% of its mature weight in the first 6 months of life. During this time of extreme rapid growth the foal is building muscle and bone. As the young horse grows, minerals deposited in cartilage cause the bone to harden.
Proper nutrition is critical for your foal to fulfil its genetic potential. A lack or imbalance of minerals can lead to improper development of the bones, which can cause developmental abnormalities of the skeletal structures. The foal needs sufficient energy, protein, minerals, vitamins and most importantly calcium and phosphorus to develop normally.
Implementing a totally integrated program of nutrition, good management and proper health care will get your young horse off to a great start and form a solid foundation to carry it into maturity.
There are many foal-specific feeds which have already been pre mixed to allow the correct balance of vitamins and minerals per portion. Supplements are also available to assist in the foal’s natural development.
Keeping a foal's feet trimmed is important because of their rapid growth. Proper trimming encourages correct bone development. It is also important for your foal to learn to have its feet checked as a youngster so that you have a cooperative adult horse when shoeing or trimming. Have your farrier check your foal every couple of months to shape the hooves as needed.
Your foal will need to be vaccinated against tetanus and equine influenza. Your vet will advise you of the correct time to inoculate and the intervals between boosters.
Allowing the foal to be turned out on a daily basis is paramount to helping build bone density, strong muscles and tendons, development of coordination and to expend energy. Confinement in a stall should never exceed 10 hours.
You should make sure that the paddock is safe for a new born. Ensure there are no gaps in fences that the foal can get its hoof stuck in. Ultimately, you should have a paddock with a post and rail fence.
Make sure there is a shelter from prevailing weather. A simple shelter with a roof would be sufficient, but ultimately a stable would be much warmer and protect the foal from the sun, rain, wind or the cold. The foal should be stabled with the mare either during the day or night for a period of time to allow sufficient rest.
Make sure the feed troughs are safe and have no sharp or pointy bits. Usually a rubber skip or a tyre feeder is great.
Water should also be available. The larger the facility the better, the mare and foal should have adequate water, and unrestricted access to it. Water allows milk to be produced and water is another liquid the foal will drink. Although the foal won't drink it like the mare, the foal will play with it with its nose and when it’s time to wean, he'll know what it is.
Check your horses daily. Do a visual check to see if you notice any changes which could be indicative of illness or lameness. Also do a physical check. Look at the horse's feet, check his eyes and teeth. Monitor the feed intake to be sure the horse is eating properly. Spending time with your horse and being aware of its habits will help you more readily pick up on a problem.
It is not uncommon for some foals to be weaned at 4 months of age or younger. If foals are accustomed to eating creep feed before weaning, many of the stresses associated with weaning can be overcome. It is very stressful for foals to have to learn to eat and be weaned at the same time.
One very effective weaning procedure used with foals already trained to eat and lead involves removing the mares from the stable in the morning and taking them out of eyesight and earshot of the foals. The foals are kept in the stable on the first day and then put in a familiar pasture on the second day. Usually, it is recommended that the foals be turned out in pairs and allowed to settle down before adding other foals to the field.
The important point to remember about weaning is that it is a very stressful time for foals. Anything that can be done to reduce stress will benefit them. Therefore, all vaccination, de-worming and halter breaking procedures should be accomplished long before weaning is attempted.
It also is highly recommended that young foals be handled and taught to lead long before weaning begins. A significant part of any young horse's training is related to the experiences it has early in life. The easiest time to handle and train a young foal is before it is weaned from the mare.
It is important for every horse owner and manager to realize that the foal's experiences are lasting. While this is especially true for positive experiences, it also applies to undesirable ones. The more positive a foal's experiences before and immediately after weaning, the easier it will be to handle and train that individual as a yearling and two-year-old.