It’s an unfortunate reality that at one time or another, most veterinarians and breeders will face caring for an orphan foal. Whether a foal was orphaned because the dam did not survive parturition or because she rejected him, he requires special care from the very beginning. One aspect of his care that requires the most attention is his nutrition.
Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (LAIM), an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts, in North Grafton, Mass., offered advice on the best ways to care for orphan foals’ nutritional needs.
Paradis built on a concept basic to most breeders—that colostrum is essential for a foal’s immunologic protection—and reminded her audience that colostrum is also key to a foal’s good nutritional start. She recommended providing approximately 2 to 3 liters to orphans as soon as possible after birth. While bottle feeding is an acceptable approach, Paradis prefers to tube feed colostrum to ensure foals get as much as possible.
"It’s liquid gold," she said. "I don’t want to lose a drop."
In the event colostrum isn’t available, she said, veterinarians should administer an intravenous (IV) transfusion of plasma with high immunoglobin G (IgG) levels. Additionally, she said, owners and managers can use colostrum supplements or colostrum from other species as an adjunct treatment.
Paradis also recommended breeders and veterinarians prepare for orphan foal arrivals ahead of time by storing 200 to 250 milliliters of good-quality colostrum from other broodmares in a freezer. This banked colostrum is good for