Raising a Foal
If you have your own horse or pony, have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a go at raising a foal of your own? Do you wonder about having a blank canvas to work with rather than having to try to put right the foal behaviour mistakes made by someone else? If you do, maybe you are thinking about raising a foal of your own. Read on to find out our top five tips to raising a foal.
1. Before you begin your journey, use a reprovet
First things first; preparation is key, so it’s advisable to use a reprovet. A reprovet, or reproduction vet, can check your mare out before you start the process: a healthy foal begins with a healthy mare. Some mares may have fluid or cysts which may prohibit fertilisation: knowing this in advance will mean you aren’t putting your mare to a stallion without any chance of success. A reprovet can help establish your mare’s fertility at the outset. In between each season, her regular cycle, is four weeks, so if your mare isn’t taking, before long, the short window for your mare getting in foal is gone.
The best season in the northern hemisphere for a mare to conceive is from May until August. This is because being born in the following spring and early summer, when the weather conditions are at the best, is optimal for foal survival.
Be aware that mares have a fairly flexible delivery date, and sometimes a foal will be born weeks earlier or later than expected.
2. Get support, help and advice
Once your mare is in foal, make sure you have regular contact with your vet if you’re worried about anything. Once they are born, a vet should perform a physical check when the foal is between 18-24 hours old. It’s important to carefully monitor the initial few hours of a newborn foal to spot any problems at an early stage. They will check that they have passed dark meconium and then soft, pale yellow milk faeces. The foal should have urinated within between six and twelve hours. Your vet will check tetanus antitoxin and perform a blood test for IgG – immunoglobulins. Having a good relationship with your vet will be paramount. They will often give free advice over the phone.
When raising a foal, make sure you have someone you can talk to that has already got experience. A mentor or experienced friend that’s ‘been there, done that’ is better than a book.
3. Consider Foal Nutrition Requirements
When you are considering foal nutrition requirements, you should know that a healthy newborn foal should ideally consume 15% – 25% of their body weight in milk daily. They often suckle up to 70 to 80 times per day from their mother. On average, they gain one to three pounds per day.
For the first three months of a foal’s life, mare’s milk contains all the foal nutrition requirements. As early as 10 to14 days of age, a foal may begin to show an interest in feed, so it may be advisable to leave some hay out for the foal to nibble on. From birth to two years old, young horses can achieve 90 percent or more of their full adult size, sometimes putting on as many as three pounds per day.
As a foal’s nutrition requirements transfers from milk to feed and forage, proper nutrition increases in importance. Follow these tips to help you meet the young horse’s needs:
- Provide high-quality hay and grass
- Supplement with a high-quality, properly-balanced grain concentrate at weaning
- Begin by feeding one percent of a foal’s body weight per day, or one pound of feed per month of age
- Adjust the feed ration based on growth and fitness
- Divide the daily ration into two to three meals because foals have small stomachs
- Feeds should contain the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, energy and protein
- Try to avoid group feeding situations – let the foal eat without it’s mother being around
- Don’t overfeed.
- Provide unlimited clean, fresh, clean water.
4. Foal behaviour: lots of handling
In the early stages, consistency and a quiet routine will help with relaxed foal behaviour. Checking on the mare will help the foals feel safe because the mare is relaxed. Then they become curious and they come to check you out. However, you need to ensure that the mare and foal have had enough time to bond with each other.
- Halter training: you can put a foal halter on when the foal is about a week old. Because they’re in the routine of being touched all the time, they’re normally quite accepting of it.
- Don’t make a big deal of something you think they may be scared of: if you’re calm, they will pick up on that.
- Regularly pick up their hooves; just for a few seconds – again don’t make a big deal out of it.
- Nip nipping in the bud: don’t hand feed the mares or foals – ever. Don’t allow the foal to suck your fingers because that’s when they’re going to start nipping. It becomes a learned foal behaviour.
- Handling your foal is good but you should also let foals be foals. The foal has to be with the mum because she is the one who’s actually raising him. It’s important that the foal isn’t afraid of humans, but the mare is the one doing the raising.
5. Enjoy Every Minutes of Your Foal
‘Georgia’s Diamond’ AKA ‘Trevor’ was born on the 14th May 2022. Straight from the horse’s mouth, his owner, Georgia Cox, has this piece of advice on raising a foal.
“You can’t take enough photos and videos. You can spend hours just watching him grow: he’s a massive timewaster. Just in the five and a half months we have had him, he has changed so much.”
So, a bit like human babies, try and make the most of every moment because they change so quickly.