Identifying Foal Rejection

Foal rejection is a relatively uncommon phenomenon in broodmares. However, it can jeopardize the foal’s health—even his life—due to failure of passive transfer of immunity (as a result of not ingesting enough colostrum, or first milk) or severe injury. Researchers have shown nearly 20% of rejected foals have been injured or killed by their dam.

To identify foal rejection, it is important to understand the normal mare-foal interaction. Mare-foal bonding starts during parturition (birth), as the mare sniffs, licks, and nuzzles the fetal fluids and membranes. Immediately after foaling, the mare directs her attention to the foal, nuzzling, licking, scraping with teeth, allowing and facilitating nursing, and protecting. Bonding behavior includes nose-to-nose nuzzling and nuzzling of the foal’s perineum (around the anus), particularly during nursing.

Stepping away from the foal while it seeks the udder is a normal mare behavior if not accompanied by aggressive kicking or biting. It is also normal for mares to terminate nursing sessions by walking away while the foal is still nursing. Most maternal aggression occurs when the foal is suckling, and excessive suckling and vigorous bumping of the udder can trigger foal rejection behavior. Stimulating the sympathetic nervous system in aggressive mares in this way could inhibit milk production and exacerbate the

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