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Ready, Set, Foal!


After almost a year of preparation, matchmaking and tending to your broodmare, breeding season is almost here. Breeding your own horse can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a horse owner’s life. As the broodmare owner, it’s your job to ensure that little filly or colt has the best resources available for a healthy start in life.

It all starts with Mom

A healthy foal starts with a healthy mare. Hopefully, you have had your broodmare on a good nutrition program throughout her pregnancy. This is especially important during the last trimester of pregnancy as the majority of the foal’s growth occurs during this period. Southern States Equine Nutritionist Dr. Marty Adams recommends either Legends® Growth or Triple Crown Growth for the last trimester.

In addition to a proper nutrition program it's also important to ensure that your mare receives a series of booster vaccines prior to foaling. Given four to eight weeks prior to foaling these vaccinations help the mare produce adequate protective antibodies that will be passed on to their foals through their first milk or colostrum. Check with your local veterinarian to see which vaccines are needed in your area.

A routine de-worming program is also important during pregnancy. A de-wormer should be given to your mare either shortly before or after foaling.
If you live in the Southeast U.S. or purchase hay from the area it's important to avoid feeding your mare endophyte-infested fescue hay or grass in the last 60-90 days of her pregnancy. Consumption of this fescue can cause weak foals and/or lack of milk production in broodmares.

Successful Foaling

When the time comes for your mare to foal, chances are she will not need any assistance. However it is important to monitor both mom and baby for any signs of distress during delivery. Once the foal is born it is important to follow the 1-2-3 timeline of foaling.

Your foal should stand within one hour. Most will be up and exploring their new surroundings much sooner. The foal should nurse within two hours, if your foal is active but has yet to nurse more time can be allowed. If either of these does not happen in a reasonable timeframe contact your vet immediately. The most variable part of the timeline is that the mare passes the placenta in three hours, some may take up to eight hours, however if it has been more than 24 hours and no placenta has been passed contact your vet.
The best way to keep your foal healthy is to try to prevent chances for infection and keep an eye on them. As soon as possible after delivery, dip the foal's umbilical stump to help prevent infection. This should be done two to three times the first few days. Recent studies have shown that one part chlorhexidine (Nolvasan) to four parts water is an effective solution.

As with all horses, observation is key in evaluating the health of your new foal. Use the Foal Health Watch Guide to identify a variety of common ailments seen in foals during their first few months.

A Healthy Start

Colostrum is vital to the health of the foal. Unlike humans, mares do not pass antibodies to the foal prior to birth. Therefore, the best thing you can do for your foal is to make sure it gets the antibody-rich colostrum as soon as possible after birth. The mare will have antibodies to disease challenges it was exposed to over her life and also any diseases that she was vaccinated for. The colostrum antibodies can only be absorbed by the foal's gut during the first 24 hours after birth. Not only is the timing of colostrum is critical, but the thick, yellowish colostrum will be replaced with mature white milk 24 hours after birth.

Foals are likely to succumb to infection if they do not receive an adequate amount of colostrum. It is important to have your veterinarian exam your foal the day after he is born to do a blood test to check to see if the foal has received adequate colostrum. During this time, the vet can also examine your mare and foal to ensure no injuries occurred during birth and to determine the health of the foal.

Next Steps

Remember to a foal everything is new. The way you handle him, care for him and feed him will set the foundation for the rest of his life. While there is a natural fight or flight response, when foals are newborns they haven’t learned to be afraid of people yet. Through positive experiences the owner/handler can minimize the opportunity to learn to be afraid.

Like any aspect of horse handling and training, there are as many philosophies about raising foals as there are horsemen and women. The best way is the way that works for your situation and your foal or group of foals.

When handling foals, safety needs to be your number one consideration, for both handler and foal. Remember each day the foal gains agility and strength, so the sooner you begin handling them the better.

Imprinting

One approach to starting foals is known as imprinting. Developed by Dr. Robert Miller, imprint training is foal training during the imprint period shortly after birth. Miller believes imprint training offers a singular opportunity to permanently mold a horse's personality as there is no time a horse will learn faster than during the imprint period.

One way to begin imprinting is by gently rubbing the foal repeatedly up and down its entire body from head to tail. Special attention can be played to their head and ears where a halter and bridle will rest on a regular basis down the road. The handler should also touch the legs and feet, having the foal raise the foot and gently tapping the bottom of the foot to mimic farrier activities.

During the imprint period the foal is also introduced to potentially frightening things such as bags, clippers, and blankets. Some imprint trainers will have a foal exposed to all of these items and even wearing a halter within the first few hours after birth. It is important to be considerate of the maternal imprinting that will also take place during this time period. Make sure that you or the handler does not compromise this important bonding time between mare and foal.

Imprinting has been a controversial topic over the years, with believers saying the horse is bombproof and nonbelievers saying that no one interaction will have a lasting effect on behavior. No matter what school of thought you prescribe to, there is evidence that early interaction and handling of foals can help reduce fearfulness and make it easier to handle the foal throughout their life.

Consistency Counts

When introduced to new ideas and concepts horses learn from repetition and consistency. The biggest mistake people make when trying to handle or train a foal is to rush the learning process. Remember like babies, foals have a short attention span and tire easy. So it is much better to handle the foal three times a day for ten minutes than for one thirty minute session.

Handle your foal daily, but don't try to teach new behaviors or introduce new ideas every day. Let your foal sniff and explore new objects like halters, brushes, blankets and lead ropes. As with imprinting let the foal get to know your touch by rubbing, scratching and stroking all over their body. However this can be done over a series of handling/training experiences. Consistency is the best way to help your foal maximize their potential to be a sensible horse to be around.

Foal Training Tips

In order to have a successful training session with your foal it is important to have buy in from mom. Training should ideally start prior to the mare foaling, to get her accustomed to being handled and minimize her being nervous or defensive towards the foal handlers. The calmer mom is when baby is being handled, the more positive an attitude the foal will have towards the handling/training session.

Training can take place anywhere from the stall to a small paddock. Regardless of where you work with the foal make sure the mare is present and the area is safe, relatively small and enclosed. When working with the mare present it is best to have a handler for both mom and foal.

Don't take your frustration out against your foal. Remember, while haltering and leading are normal for you when dealing with horses they are brand new experiences for the foal.

Haltering

Once your foal is comfortable with being handled the next step is to introduce the halter. Hopefully you have either introduce it previously through imprinting or simply letting your foal sniff around at it. Start by rubbing the halter on the foal's body so she becomes accustom to it.This will teach the foal that the halter will not hurt him.

The key to halter introduction is slow and steady wins the race. Take the halter and let it sit on one ear, slip their nose in and out, and rub around their ears. When this is accepted as routine and almost boring it is time to try to slip the halter on and buckle it in place. Once the halter is on, you may want to leave it on for extended periods of time to further desensitize the foal to this new accessory.

Leading the Way

Now that your foal is comfortable with the halter it's time to teach him how to lead. One of the best ways to teach your foal this lifelong skill is to teach them to lead alongside its mother. Start your training in an enclosed paddock or small fenced pasture, this way if the foal gets loose from the handler it will be in a confined area. One handler should lead the mare at a slow pace, while another follows behind with the foal.

By taking advantage of the mare foal relationship, it will be natural for the foal to want to follow its mother wherever she is lead. The foal shouldn't be resistant to idea of moving forward; rather it should simply be a matter of controlling which direction the foal is moving forward.

In cases where the foal acts up, stop the mare and allow the foal to catch up and calm down. Remember your mood and reactions will have a direct impact on how the foal behaves.

Fueling your Foal

Southern States has two feeds for growing foals: Legends® Growth and Triple Crown Growth. According to Dr. Marty Adams, "These feeds meet all the requirements of a high quality creep feed and more, with additional digestive aids such as yeast culture, organic trace minerals and Bio-Mos, a feed additive that binds pathogenic bacteria in the foal's intestinal tract and reduces the incidences of digestive upset."

Creep feeding occurs when you set up some type of barrier so the foal has access to free choice feed, but the mare cannot access the feed. Creep feeders can be made out of portable panels or fencing material or even in the corner of a pasture. Whatever design you choose make sure it is safe enough for the foal to access and strong enough to resist the mare breaking through to the food.

Dr. Adams suggests starting creep feeding around one month of age. "The foal's digestive system does not produce enzymes in sufficient quantity to digest sugars and starches that are present in horse feed until at least three weeks of age and should be provided only a milk-based diet until then," explains Dr. Adams. During this transition period from liquid to solid food it is important to also provide good quality hay to your foal.

If your mare is producing an adequate amount of milk, feed one pound of creep feed per month of age each day to your foal. "Once your foal is consuming four pounds of Legends® Growth or Triple Crown Growth per day, it can be successfully weaned," elaborates Dr. Adams. Weaning will typically take place around four to six months of age. The weanling can remain on either of these feeds until 12 months of age.

Enjoy your foal

Now with the help of our foal health, nutrition and handling tricks you are ready for when those four little hooves hit the ground. Work with your local vet to create a preventative health care plan that will grow with your foal. Your local Southern States Equine Feed Specialist can help you design a nutrition program to get your colt or filly started in the right direction. Take the next few weeks before your foal arrives to brush up on your foal care basics. You never stop learning when it comes to horses. 


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