WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #89
To be continued from time to time
If your mare refused to let her newborn foal nurse, would you
know what to do?
Your mare gives birth to a beautiful, perfectly formed foal, and
you're in heaven ... until she refuses to let the baby nurse or,
worse, attacks it with bared teeth.
Most mares that initially reject their foals will come around,
but it likely will require patient assistance from you. We
checked with our consulting veterinarian, Dr. Barb Crabbe, for
the important do's and don'ts of a rejected-foal scenario.
DO stay calm and keep the area around the mare and foal as
tranquil as possible. Clusters of people and/or other horses can
heighten a mare's anxiety and contribute to her antisocial
behavior. This is especially true for maiden (first-time) or
DO restrain your mare if need be to keep her from injuring the
foal and to make nursing possible. Halter her to control
her head and prevent biting, and back her into a corner to
contain her hindquarters and prevent kicking. Holding up one
foreleg and/or using a twitch (and even medication - more on that
in a moment) are other ways of making that first nursing
possible. A two-by-six board affixed to "trap" the mare in one
corner of the foaling stall can be useful later on, if needed to
keep the mare from harassing the foal between nursings.
DO assist the foal with its first suckling so it can receive that
all-important colostrum, or "first milk:" This thick, creamy
substance contains essential antibodies that provide immunity to
disease for the foal's first few months. Restraining the mare and
guiding the foal's muzzle to her udder might be all that's needed
to get the job done; you may also need to milk the mare gently
with your hand and then feed the foal out of your palm to give it
the idea. (If even this doesn't work; you might need to harvest
the first milk by hand and feed it to the foal in a bottle).
DON'T do anything that might cause pain or anxiety to
the mare as nursing is attempted, or the mare could transfer
these negative associations to the foal. If the mare's udder is
hard and painful, try gently applying a warm, wet towel to it to
help her relax and accept the foal's suckling. Rewarding her with
treats as the foal nurses might also help.
DO ask your veterinarian about medications that can help. A small
amount of acepromazine can relax the mare and is thought to
stimulate the release of prolactin, which might promote maternal
behavior. A painkiller (such as Banamine) is also a good idea to
make the mare more comfortable after the rigors of foaling.
DON'T remove the placenta and other membranes from the stall
immediately, as some researchers believe the scent of these can
help the mare associate the foal as hers. Placing the placenta
over the foal might further help the mare to "recognize" her
DO summon your vet if two hours have gone by and the foal
has still not had any colostrum. Some experts now believe a
foal's small intestine can absorb and use colostrum effectively
only during the first six hours after birth; if that window is
missed, your vet may need to give the foal a plasma transfusion
to supply the needed antibodies.
It's hard to know in advance which mares might attempt to reject
their foals. Nervous mares may be more prone to it, and maiden
mares ale definitely at greater risk than experienced broodmares.
es. (An exception is broodmares that've already attempted to
reject a foal in the past: they are at high risk of doing it
again). And, though it can happen to a mare of any breed.
Arabians seem to be at slightly higher risk.
One useful preparation is to accustom your mare to having her
udder touched prior to foaling: do this by gently washing and
massaging it. being careful not to express any of the valuable
colostrum. Some also believe that keeping maiden mares near
experienced blood mares with good maternal behaviors can also
ORPHAN FOAL-NOW WHAT?
If your mare adamantly rejects the foal and won't allow it to
nurse, you must somehow make sure the foal still receives an
adequate portion of immune-boosting colostrum.
If you can't harvest your mare's colostrum by hand, your vet may
have a colostrum bank to draw from, or will have access to
commercial products. He/she can administer either of these if
need he via a naso-gastric tube directly into the foal's stomach.
(Again--if the six-hour window for colostrum is missed the foal
might need a plasma transfusion).
For the foal's ongoing nutrition, a nurse mare is ideal (she'll
also provide proper equlne socializing). Online networking can
help you find a nurse mare and or colostrum; Cheek especially
If you wind up raislng the foal yourself, encourage it to dirink
from a bucket as soon as possible, as this is a much easier
method than bottle-feeding. Your vet can advise you on milk
replacers to use, and when to introduce solid feed.
JANUARY 2011 HORSE and RIDER