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The First Few Days

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The birth of a new foal can be an exciting and trying time for any horse owner. There are lots of things to do, and it is imperative that you pay close attention to your newest little family member. Below you will find some tips and tricks to keeping your new foal safe and healthy. We will also address some of the toughest problems like bottle feeding, which can cause undue stress if you aren’t prepared.

The Birthing Process

 While the birthing process is a natural one, it is recommended that you attend the birth whenever possible. In fact, a veterinarian should be in attendance as well if at all possible. That way, if complications arise you can be sure that your mare gets the best treatment available. Here are some more tips to make the birth go smoothly:
  • Provide a clean dry birthing area in which to labor. Usually a clean stall will do just fine. If the mare must birth outside, try to find an area away from any commotion or activity.
  • Once the foal is born, immediately remove any mucus that may be covering the foals mouth or nose. This will help them take their first breath. You should also rub the foal with a clean dry towel – this will prevent a chill and stimulate the foal to breath on its own.
  • Allow the mare and foal to bond- once you have rubbed the foal, allow the mother and child time to bond. They will likely muzzle each other, and may even begin to feed on their own.
  • Allow the umbilical cord to break off naturally. You may cut it or tie it off if you so desire, but make sure to discuss your options and the procedure with your vet prior to the birth. It is recommended that you disinfect the navel at least twice a day with a 7% iodine solution for the first few days of life.
  • Pay close attention to the foal and mare following the birth. The new foal should have a passage of manure and urine within 24 hours, be standing within an hour, and begin to nurse within 3 hours. If you have any doubts check with your vet.


Taking Vitals

If a vet is not present for the birth, you may be asked to take the new foals vitals yourself. Here are the standard measurements that you will look for in the foal.

Body temperature
     99 to 102°F

Respiratory rate
     60 -80 breaths/minute at birth
     30 -40 breaths/minute after one hour

Heart beat
     60 or more beats/minute at birth
     80 - 130 beats/minute after one hour
     80 - 120 beats/minute after 5 days (normal)

Again, when in doubt seek the help of a trained veterinarian.



A healthy foal will begin to nurse within the first three hours following birth. At first, your mare will produce a substance called colostrum, which is choked full of antibodies and nutrients. Your foal will usually consume this substance for the first few days of life, and then the mare will begin to produce milk. If at first, your mare and foal have trouble getting together you may have to help them along. After all, they may both be new to the process and unsure of where to start.

  • If the mare’s udders are very full it may be painful to nurse and they will shy away from it. You can try to relieve some of the pressure manually, which may allow for a better latch.
  • If the mare still pushes the foal away, you may want to tie the mare up to allow for easier access. Sometimes, you may even need the help of tranquilizers, so discuss your options with your vet.
  • If you feel that after a few days, your mare’s milk supply isn’t up to par you may have to look into bottle feeding and supplementation which we will address in the next section.


Bottle Feeding

If despite your best efforts, your mare and foal are unable to successfully nurse on their own, you may have to intervene. Here are some tips to make the process as smooth as possible:

  • Place a small amount of the mare’s milk on the foal’s nose and into its mouth when beginning to feed. This will help them understand what is happening. If you plan to bucket feed introduce your foal’s muzzle to the bucket immediately. If you prefer to bottle feed, introduce the nipple into their mouth immediately following the initial taste. They should be able to make the connection.
  • Choose a baby bottle or lamb nipple for bottle feedings. Calf nipples tend to be too stiff and may actually inhibit the bottle feeding process.
  • Position the bottle or bucket at the shoulder height of the foal.
  • Wash the equipment thoroughly after every feeding with hot soapy water.


Final Thoughts

Every mare and foal are different, so be prepared for just about every scenario. The more you know about the birthing process, the better prepared you will be for whatever lies ahead. The help of a good vet is critical to your overall success, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have questions or concerns along the way. Good luck!


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