The anxious 11-month wait is over, the foal has arrived safe and healthy but how can we ensure they have the best start in life?
Once born the foals first mission is to stand and suck within 2 hours of life. At this stage it’s vital that the foal receives the mare’s colostrum as it is anti-body rich and will help protect the foal from disease via passive immunity.
It is good practice to measure the antibody levels of the colostrum to ensure the levels are high enough to provide sufficient immunity otherwise a milk replacer may be necessary. Good quality colostrum should have immunoglobulin (IgG) levels of 20% or greater. To ensure the foal has received adequate immunity a blood test 12-24 hours post foaling should also be carried out. Foals not receiving adequate immunoglobulins are at high risk of developing life-threatening infections therefore it is vital to work with your vet to give the foal the best chance of survival in these circumstances.
The mare’s milk will be the staple of the foal’s nutrition for the first months of its life, foals grow rapidly, quadrupling their weights by five months of age and on average gaining 0.8kg per day. During which time lactating mares will produce on average 2-3% of their body weight in milk a day. Peak lactation occurs when the foals milk demand is at its highest around 2 months of life, for older mares or those who struggle to produce enough milk, the foal can be supplemented with a milk replacer such as the Bluegrass XL-Ent Foal Pellets.
How the Foals Diet Changes
For the first three months of life milk is a sufficient diet however, foals will begin seeking other sources of feed much sooner. Under normal circumstances it is unnecessary to supplement foals with a concentrate feed until they reach 90 days of age. At this stage a fully fortified concentrate feed such as the Bluegrass Stud Range, Foal & Yearling Mix or Stamm 30 should be introduced gradually until the recommended feeding rate is reached to ensure the foal is moved onto a balanced diet just prior weaning.
As foals move onto concentrate feeds it is vital that they receive adequate levels of protein, vitamins and minerals whilst ensuring the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus (2:1) and copper to zinc (3:1) is maintained. Fortified feeds designed for broodmares and youngstock will have these minerals in the correct ratios. The diet should not over provide energy as high energy diets have been directly linked to an increased risk of Developmental Orthopaedic Disorders (DOD).
Steady, Sound Growth
This is the main goal when feeding foals and youngstock, we want continuous steady growth. Periods of rapid growth followed by slowed growth or vice versa puts the foal at risk of developing DOD’s. It’s vital that foals always maintain a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 3 on the 5 point-scale, however during weaning BCS is expected to drop slightly due to added stress. In terms of monitoring this it can be hard to visually see when a foal has gone through a period of rapid or slowed growth, therefore it’s important to have quantifiable data to be able to pinpoint this. Regularly Body Condition Scoring, Weighing, and measuring Height allows for a better idea of how the foal is growing. Using software such as Kentucky Equine Research’s Gro-Trac we can visually see the growth against an ideal growth rate (reference rate). From this it can be helpful to pinpoint when problems are arising before they happen.
For more information on how to feed your mare and foal contact our team at 02837548276 or fill out a diet request form on our website.