Caring for Orphan Foals

Veterinarians share their recommendations for managing orphan foals, including diet challenges and behavior issues.
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Foaling lying in pasture
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How to handle your orphan’s diet challenges and behavior issues

When breeding farm owner Nicole Walden lost one of her broodmares to a slow, imperceptible hemorrhage about 10 hours after foaling, she found herself struggling with the best way to handle the orphan filly.

In the past she’d leased nurse mares, but this year Walden wanted to spend less. The $3,500 mare rental plus $1,000 in shipping each way from Pennsylvania to her Total Quarter Horses, in Farmersville, Texas, yielded a disappointing cost-benefit analysis. So, because the foal had nursed for at least eight hours before the mare died, negating the need to find a colostrum (the mare’s antibody- and nutrient-rich first milk) source, Walden called up some experienced colleagues and a reproduction specialist to discuss her options. She then formulated a plan and worked with her veterinarian to ensure a good outcome for the foal.

That filly is now 8 months old and, although slightly less socialized due to being raised outside the group, on par with her peers and doesn’t exhibit negative “orphan foal behaviors.” Read on to find out what worked for Walden, along with two veterinarians’ recommendations for managing orphans

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Diane Rice earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then married her education with her lifelong passion for horses by working in editorial positions at Appaloosa Journal for 12 years. She has also served on the American Horse Publications’ board of directors. She now freelances in writing, editing, and proofreading. She lives in Middleton, Idaho, and spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and spending time with her daughters, their families, and a myriad of her own and other people’s pets.

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