Adopting an Orphan Foal

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 02/02/2009

One of the most difficult problems that can occur on a breeding farm is the death of a mare immediately after she foals; raising an orphan foal is not an easy task. The first thing to consider is that the foal must receive colostrum, or first milk, within the first 24 hours of birth to provide immunity. It is always a good idea for a horse farm to have frozen colostrum that was collected from another foaling mare in the freezer in case it is needed. In some cases, nurse mares can be found but these are not available in most areas.

Orphan foals can be raised on milk replacer fed out of a bucket or bottle or can be fed goat’s milk. However, bottle or bucket feeding is time consuming and is not the best social training for a foal. Another option is to stimulate another mare to start producing milk and then teach her to accept the foal so she will allow the foal to nurse. Mares that are going to be given medication to start producing milk should be mares that have foaled and raised a foal before. Also, mares chosen should be in good physical condition and calm. To induce lactation, mares are given a series of hormone treatments and the mare should be milked beginning on day 4 after starting the hormones. Dr. Peter Daels from Equine Embryo Transfer Center indicates introduction of the newborn foal and mare should be done in a closed stall with no other horses around. The mare should initially be separated from the foal with a bar to keep her confined and sometimes a tranquilizer is helpful to allow the new mare to get used to the foal. Most mares actually will start allowing the foal to nurse within 1 to 2 days.