Newborn Foals and Their Mothers

Icon of a book Care for Newborn Foals and Their Mothers

A healthy newborn foal should be able to stand within one hour of delivery and should be nursing within two hours. The foal should be observed frequently during the first few weeks of life to detect early signs of disease. Signs of disease or illness can include lethargy and lack of strength when nursing. An overly extended udder on the mare can also be a sign that the foal is not nursing. All foals require colostrum, a substance found in the mare’s first milk, within the first 6 to 12 hours of life so they can acquire immunity to disease and infection.

The first few hours of a newborn foal’s life are critical. 

Newborn foal attempting to stand being nuzzled by it's mother in an outdoor enclosure.
Figure 3.2: Newborn foal and its mother
Image credit: AnandievanZyl (Wikimedia)

Young foals are at risk of a variety of respiratory diseases and diarrhea. Breathing rate and effort, body temperature, nursing behaviour and manure consistency should be monitored. A healthy newborn foal should consume 15 to 25 percent of his or her bodyweight in milk daily and gain on average half to one kg per day. The dam’s milk will normally meet the foal’s nutritional requirements for the first 6-8 weeks of life. Excessive weight gain, unusually rapid growth spurts or a diet unbalanced in calories, protein, calcium, phosphorous, and trace minerals may place a foal at risk of metabolic bone disease. 

“A key principle in feeding young, growing horses is to provide high quality feeds that are balanced for growth.”

– Source: NFACC COP 2013

The body condition scoring system can be used to assess the relative body fat of a mare and growing foal. The ideal body condition score for a foal is between five and six.

Specific indicators of what you should watch for are outlined in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 What to Watch For in Foals: Vital Signs & Activity

SignsWhat is Normal
Rectal Temperature (resting)Increases for first 4 days and plateaus at 37.2°C – 38.6°C (99°F – 101.5°F)
Heart Rate60-110 beats per minute
Respiration Rate25-60 breaths per minute
StandingIn under one hour
SucklingIn under two hours
First bowel movementWithin three to four hours
Nursing frequency An average of three to five times per hour

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