Feeding the Orphan Foal
Orphans tend to be bad news for breeders for two reasons (quite apart from the tragedy of losing a broodmare). First, they are very high maintenance, particularly in their early days, needing attention every two hours or more, and second, there’s a perception that orphan foals, no matter how conscientiously you raise them, will always be playing catch-up with their peers, and end up stunted and unable to reach their full height or genetic potential.
There’s some truth to the first assumption, but the good news is that there’s none at all for the second. Orphan foals, raised with a correct balance of nutrients and monitored for growth, food consumption, and weight gain, can be every bit as tall, strong, and athletic as foals raised by their dams. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the viability of commercial mare’s milk replacers in producing healthy and correct foals—sometimes even champions.
First Things First
If your foal is orphaned at birth, or rejected by his dam (a problem that occurs an estimated 2% of the time, and is most common with first-time mothers), your first consideration is to get him to ingest some colostrum. That all-important first milk will jump-start his immune system through a process called passive transfer of antibodies. A foal can only absorb and utilize colostrum effectively in the first 12 hours of his life, so time is of the essence
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