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How to Raise an Orphaned Foal the Right Way
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How to Raise an Orphaned Foal the Right Way

Wondering how to successfully raise your recently-orphaned foal into a happy, healthy and mature horse? Wonder no more since that is exactly what I want to teach you here.

First, when a foal has been orphaned, your most immediate concern should be nutrition. For very young foals, you’ll need colostrum. It contains vital nutrients for both his immune system and general body nourishment. You can buy this from a colostrum "bank” at some horse farms or a veterinary clinic. Your vet will also help you to determine whether your foal requires any intravenous plasma to secure his immunity, or a course of antibiotics to prevent sepsis.

Once your orphaned foal has transitioned to alternative milk sources, you will need to be sure that you’re using a horse-specific milk replacer. Avoid "multi-species” milk replacers that are also meant for calves, sheep and goats. They are NOT appropriate for foals. And certainly, avoid the quick-fix, cheap options!

Ensure the milk replacer is made up according to package instructions, otherwise you may be risking some deadly electrolyte abnormalities that may be caused by an improperly mixed milk replacer formula for your foal. Be sure to find out how much of the milk replacer to feed your foal based on his body weight. The vet can help with the math if need be.

Until your foal has reached 2 to 3 weeks of age, try to maintain feeding intervals of 2-3 hours, which can then be expanded to 4 hours after that. Start introducing your foal to hay and grain to help fill the 4 hour time gaps. Don’t feed him from a bottle; use a bucket. Using a bottle may cause the foal to aspirate milk into his lungs and cause deadly pneumonia. This also helps avoid his associating you with food every time.

Don’t try saving time by mixing up too much of his replacer milk ahead of time. It has a very short ‘shelf life’, especially when hanging in the stall in hot weather conditions.

When your foal starts getting accustomed to consuming hay and grain, continue increasing the amounts of these two as you lower the milk replacer volume. This way, by 6 to 8 weeks of age, he may be completely weaned from milk. Normally, most vets recommend one pound per day for a one-month-old foal, though your vet is best placed to give more advice.

A foal also needs to ingest some of his mother’s feces to introduce some good bacteria that help colonize his gastrointestinal tract and help with his digestion. Since his mother isn’t around, give him access to some feces from an adult horse.

Finally, as your foal grows, don’t let him get spoiled. Prevent him from too much playing with people, even your children. Such seemingly harmless behaviors like putting his front feet on your shoulders should be discouraged. Don’t allow him to kick or bite people. No rearing. No disrespect. It may seem cute and harmless now that he weighs just 100 pounds, but can you handle it when he weighs 1000 pounds?

You can get him a nurse mare to provide some ‘motherly influence’ as she teaches him how to feed and behave well. An old and retired broodmare, or a patient older gelding, can also teach him a thing or two in addition to offering some good companionship. Certainly, he’ll also need some lessons and guidance on how to fit in the equine social hierarchy.


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