My Newborn Foal

My Newborn Foal

Welcome to the third post in our series about foaling.  Here we will discuss the important events that take place in a foal’s life immediately after it is born.

foal horse equine vet veterinarian doctor Cochrane Calgary Alberta breeding mare Burwash Equine 

Immediately after a foal is born, it is not unusual for the mare and foal to remain lying down for a period of time, often with the foal’s hind feet still in the mare.  Giving birth is exhausting work, so the mare will spend a little bit of time resting before she rises to see her foal.  However, during this time, the foal should become alert and move from lying on its side (in “lateral”) to lying on its chest (in “sternal”).  It should also develop a suck reflex within 20 minutes of being born.  The mare’s period of rest should not last much longer than a half hour or so.  The foal’s umbilicus will usually break as the mare rises to stand and the foal should stand shortly thereafter. 

Foals should stand within 1-2 hours of being born.  If they do not stand on their own within that time, they should be assisted to stand and evaluated by a veterinarian for orthopedic or developmental problems.

Foals should also pass their meconium (first bowel movement, consisting of small, hard fecal balls) within a few hours of birth, usually after their first drink.  Foals that cannot pass their meconium usually act colicky and require an enema or manual removal to help treat their meconium impaction.  Subsequent bowel movements will be softer, as foals are essentially on a liquid diet, but should not be malodorous or staining their hind end.  Either of these signs would be indicative of diarrhea and the need for further veterinarian attention.  Foals will also first urinate within 8-12 hours of birth and should not have urine dripping from their umbilicus.   

Once the foal is standing, it is important that it nurses within 2-4 hours after birth.  The mare’s first milk after foaling is called colostrum and contains antibodies that the foal needs to build its immune system right after birth.  Foals do not get any immunity directly from the dam while still in the uterus.  Foals that do not get adequate colostrum can become very sick and may require hospitalization, intensive care, and plasma transfusions.  Colostrum can be milked out from a mare and administered via bottle feeding or stomach tube to a foal that cannot nurse.  The best way to ensure a foal has received adequate colostrum is to have a SNAP test done by a veterinarian.  This is a quick blood test (can be done on-farm!) that is done when the foal is 18-24 hours old and indicates their current level of immunity.  Low or borderline immunity at this time can be treated with plasma transfusions, hopefully before the foal becomes ill.  A new foal exam can also be done at the time of its SNAP test to ensure it is otherwise healthy, or to address any concerns.   

In the first day of life, a foal will nurse up to 7 times an hour and this will decrease down to about once an hour over the next week or two of life.  It should cycle through regular periods of activity and sleeping, as well.  If the foal seems to be overly restless, or spending excessive amounts of time sleeping, this is cause for concern and the foals should be evaluated by a veterinarian. 

It is good to monitor your foal for nursing, rest and active periods, bowel movements and urination for its first few days of life.  Calling your veterinarian as soon as you notice any concerns with your foal is very important as they can become quite sick in a short period of time. 

Now that your foal is on the ground, enjoy your time with it while it is still young.  But at this point you might be wondering how soon you can breed your mare again.  Breeding your mare will be the topic in our next blog post in this series, so stay tuned!