Farm Ireland
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Sunday 28 May 2017

Help is at hand for the cut-off foals

Give orphaned offspring a life boost with key nutrition choices

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Losing a mare during foaling is both heartbreaking and a serious challenge for any horse breeder. However, it happens on a regular basis and for several reasons.

Although there are no statistics available for the Irish mare herd, the number of mares lost during foaling is thought to be similar to the UK.

The most recent figures from the National Foaling Bank in Britain show that it dealt with 183 orphaned foals in 2007. The reasons for these orphaned foals were: prolapse (23), savaging (37), illness (15), mastitis (2), twisted gut (32), heart attack (6), accident (12), caesarian (1), no milk (6), haemorrhage (24), grass sickness (4) and unknown causes (21).

Vet Kevin Corley is the specialist in internal medicine and critical care at the Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital in Co Kildare, which deals with four to five orphaned foals annually.

"Foals are orphaned for a number of reasons," says Kevin.

"Maiden mares can have very little milk and reject their foal because of the pain caused by a foal nursing on an empty udder. Other mares simply reject their foal for no obvious reason.

"Mares are lost because of disease and condition issues, as well as accidents during foaling. Very occasionally, a mare can break a leg late in her pregnancy and we can do an emergency C-section to take the live foal from her.

Womb

"However, this is only possible within the last 10 days before foaling because foals mature very late in the mare and would not survive outside the womb any earlier."

The care of an orphaned foal is critical, according to the vet.

"In adult horses in the hospital, we can get away with withdrawing feed for prolonged periods [three to five days] with no marked adverse effects," he says.

"However, neo-natal foals have very little reserves in terms of fat and glycogen stores. This makes them much more vulnerable to interruptions in nutrition than adult horses."

The calorific requirements of a foal depend on its activity levels, and whether growth is being provided for. In general, critically ill foals are fed to meet resting energy requirements only. Foals recovering from critical illness and those with more mild disease are fed to meet resting energy requirements and replace energy used for muscle activity. Only orphan foals are generally fed for growth.

Following a normal birth, foals frequently nurse from the mare in the first few days of life, as often as every 20-30 minutes. They also consume a large volume of milk. This can be 20-25pc of their bodyweight. This equates to 10 litres a day, divided into feeds of 140-200ml each.

"This is important information because, when we plan nutrition, we must bear in mind not only the nutritional goals but also the normal stomach capacity," Kevin warns.

In the first few days of life, when the mare has adequate milk, the foal will often stand, urinate, nurse and then lie back down to sleep. The foal will 'latch on' to the teat for a period, often up to five minutes. It may have a short period of running around after nursing.

However, the foal of a mare with inadequate milk will spend more time trying to nurse and less time sleeping, up to a point at which it becomes too weak to sustain this behaviour.

"Often what is seen is the foal attempting to nurse from the mare, becoming detached after a short period, waiting on its feet, going back in to attempt nursing again. The foal does not seem to become latched on to the teat for a prolonged period, but appears very keen to nurse," concludes Kevin.

Irish Independent



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