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Fostering factors

by Sue Fowler

Fostering involves some risk to both mare and foal and in order to feel competent it is best to gather as much information and professional help as possible. Such things to be considered are the transportation of either mare or foal, who will pay for this and whether insurance needs to be a factor. The mare may also need to go to stud.

Bottle feeding an orphan yourself is a strenuous task and a decision not to be entered into lightly.

It is a good idea to form a contract between the foster mare owner and orphan foal owner.

It is not uncommon for a mare to lose a foal and depending on your plans for her future, she could offer an orphan foal an excellent start in life.

If your mare was in good condition at the time of foaling it is likely that she will produce a good quantity of milk. The mare may be anxious and if a maiden act confused. She may be very active and call for the lost foal.

If it can possibly fit with your programme please consider offering your mare as a substitute mother for the sake of her own contentment as a possible lifesaver to an orphan foal, even if for only 6 weeks.

Call the local contact acting as a 'Mothering Service' if one exists, to determine whether a newborn orphan is available and if possible have the foal travel to the mare. Following her initial upset she will be more likely to lose her milk if taken from her familiar environment especially in the initial mothering on stage.

The dead foal may be skinned and the skin fitted over the orphan as a coat with holes made for the legs. A perfume may be sprayed in the mares nostrils and on the head and hindquarters of the foal if no skin is available. This serves to prove to the mare that the foal is compatible with her sense of smell. Once her own milk has passed through the orphan, (over about 2 days) her own smell will be compatible, assisting acceptance and she should then mother the foal as her own.

Mares that have lost foals months before term, or have had dead foals inside of them for a time are not suitable as substitute mares. In the case of your mare losing a dead foal it is always wise to have your vet administer antibiotic cover and irrigate the uterus as often as is necessary. It is possible your mare may have a small portion of retained placenta which can be the cause of a nasty infection if not dealt with quickly.

Your vet will most likely administer Oxytocin to assist uterine contractions ensuring a natural cleansing process.

A maiden can accept a foster situation with gentle coaxing and calm surroundings. It may be necessary to raise a front leg, use hobbles or administer a mild sedative to ensure the mare stands to allow the foal to drink. Sometimes a mare may be aggressive towards the foal. Ideally your mare will have had a tetanus injection within 1 month of foaling or have life cover.

Action to take immediately after the birth of a dead foal. 1. Feed the mare and if the placenta has not yet been passed do not pull at it, this can cause a small portion to tear off and be retained causing infection of the uterus. Tie the afterbirth up to itself so as to prevent it trailing and upsetting the mare. The weight of it will assist its parturition.

2. Milk off the colostrum and store in the freezer in a sterilised container, it may assist another foal in need.

3. Inform the local fostering service and advise them that you have a possible foster mare.

4. Continue to milk off the mare every 6 hours depending on how full her udders are, if soft and milk is running as she walks then leave well alone. Note - the more milk you take off the more will be produced (natures supply and demand) so if necessary just remove enough to ease the pressure. Very hard udders are a great discomfort to the mare and may result in mastitis.

5. Remove the foal for skinning if fostering another then bury or burn the remains of the dead foal with the afterbirth material.

6. Disinfect the stable thoroughly and leave to air for as long as possible before being inhabited by another.


Ensure the foal is cleaned with a towel and umbilicus cord is treated with 2.5% iodine solution followed by antibiotic powder. Keep the foal warm and assist movement. If the weather is cold, cover him with a wool blanket. The foal should be on its feet within the first hour of birth.

Ensure the foal is fed colostrum within the first hour using a sterilised bottle.

NEVER feed water or milk before colostrum.

If possible use colostrum from another mare or if the natural mother has died through trauma and not infection she may be milked for some 5 hours before rigor-mortis has set in to gather colostrum for her foal. Wash the udder well with soapy water and gather the colostrum in a bowl, then pour into sterilised bottle.

If no natural milk is available and you do not have powdered or frozen milk on hand for such an occasion then you must act fast in order to obtain it.

Some of the larger studs may be willing to sell you some of theirs to tide you over.

If the foal is weak and will not suck then you must administer colostrum through a stomach tube. It is advisable to have a vet or other experienced person to do this as tubing can inadvertently be directed towards the lungs, drowning the foal or casing pneumonia. Initially feed 250mls and repeat in 1 hour to get the foal going. The New Zealand distributor for Heathlines 'Super-Col' dried bovine powdered colostrum is Rice Marketing - Toll Free 0508 510 510.

This product is very rich and contains a very high level of immunoglobins- antibodies.

Mix with an electric beater 9 level tablespoons per 500ml for a pony foal or 13 level tablespoons per 500ml for a horse foal. This will suffice for the first two feeds.

Alongside this also give two 20ml doses of Hokosan vitamin emulsion.

Follow with mares milk replacer and see recommended feeding chart for details on feeding regime.

Foals DO NOT thrive on cows milk substitute having more fat and less lactose. As a last resort if no colostrum can be obtained for the foal within the first hour of its life, MIX - 2 egg yolks, with one pint of boiled cooled water, add 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil and 1 tablespoon of glucose. Use this mixture but place all efforts towards finding colostrum ASAP.

Call the local mothering service and/or place an ad over the local radio station calling for a foster mare.

Call your vet to have administered a tetanus injection and antibiotic cover. As it is unlikely your foal will be receiving the full quota of antibodies, this is an essential and sensible safeguard.

A new-born foal will require approximately 6 litres of milk every 24 hours, increasing as the foal grows.

A new-born foal suckles at least every half-hour. The idea when feeding artificially is to feed small quantities frequently to mirror nature and in all cases no less than 8 times on any 24 hour period. See the below chart showing ideal regime.

Remember to STERILISE all feeding equipment well.

If your foal is having difficulty gaining the idea of sucking without a mare, place his head under your armpit and place a rubber teat in a horizontal position in foal's mouth. (Childs Nuk variety similar shape to mares teats- available at chemists.)

Ensure the foal passes meconium within 8 hours of birth. Natural colostrum is very laxative so artificially fed foals need to be watched carefully. Meconuim is often seen as hard dark pellets, watch closely for symptoms of colic or straining. Your foal may require an enema or gentle manual extraction of meconium.

By putting on a rubber glove, dip one finger in liquid paraffin oil while an assistant holds the foal. Gently insert your finger into the anus and ease hard faecal matter out gently. The foal may also be given 20mls of parrafin oil via the mouth with a small syringe.

If at all in doubt and 12 hours have passed, the foal is looking distressed and continues to strain even though you know some meconium has been passed then call your vet without hesitation.

Taking a foal's temperature, pulse and respirations daily can be an excellent guide to your foal's health. If the temperature rises above 38 degrees Celsius there could be infection present. Normal pulse is 100 beats per minute.

At birth 80 beats rising to 140 then easing back to 100. Respiration 30-40 per minute.

As the foal grows older increase the quantity of feeds and feed less frequently. By 2-3 months your foal will be consuming 12-14 litres in every 24 hour period. Watch the foal's weight and ensure that concentrates with mineral supplements are taken as soon as possible. Until your foal is 3 weeks of age or more it is best that milk be obtained from a bottle. Bucket or bowl feeding can mean too much milk is taken in any one slurp. Orphan foals also need exercise so normal function is maintained.

After a couple of days introduce your foal to a friend, this could be a sheep or goat or kind pony.

*** Be aware that it is a big undertaking to attempt to become a substitute for mares mothering. If at all possible, for the sake of the newborn, seek a substitute mare within 48 hours of birth. Not only is the initial feeding regime very challenging, orphan foals are susceptible to infection and are often inadequately disciplined by humans. Your foal might seem cute at this young age and you may be tempted to allow disrespectful behavior feeling compassion for the motherless infant. Orphans however grow into 500kg horses and for your own safety teaching the foal respect for your personal space is vital.

You will need to arrange for removal and burial of the dead mare.


Age/no of feeds per day

  1. Horse foal 16.2hh
  • Cob foal
  • 14.2hh

    C) Pony Foal


    Total Volume per day

    1st Day

    24 feeds every hour

    250 mls



    1. 6 litres
    2. 6 litres
    3. 4.8 litres

    2 days -2 wks

    12 feeds per day

    (every 2 hours)

    700 mls



    1. 8.4 litres
    2. 7.2 litres
    3. 6 litres

    2-4 weeks

    12 feeds per day but in 4th wk reduce night feed to 3 hrly







    1. 9.6 litres
    2. 8.4 litres
    3. 7.2 litres

    4-6 wks

    8 feeds per day.

    Introduce grain mix containing milk substitute


    1.3 litres


    1.2 litres


    1.1 litres

    1. 10.4 litres
    2. 9.6 litres
    3. 8.8 litres

    6-12 wks

    6-8 feeds per day

    Increase quantity of milk by 150ml per feed or substitute with grain mixed with added protein

    Increase quantity of milk by 150ml per feed or substitute with grain mix with added protein

    Increase quantity of milk by 150ml per feed or substitute with grain mix with added protein

    1. 11.6 litres
    2. 10.8 litres
    3. 10 litres

    12 wks to 5 months

    3-4 feeds per day

    Increase quantity according to condition

    Increase quantity according to condition

    Increase quantity according to condition




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