Good start for a healthy foal

December 26, 2021
Movement is good for both mare and foal (Photo: Karin Sevink)

On every breeder’s wish list a healthy foal takes the top position. The arrival of a healthy foal is largely dictated by Mother Nature but obviously, there is a lot breeders can do to give mare and foal a good start. In the January issue of Phryso veterinarian Iris van Gulik provides breeders with a few valuable tips.

Nutrition

It’s easier to get mares in foal when they are in optimal condition at the time of the first insemination. ‘And that starts with nutrition,’ says veterinarian Iris van Gulik. She has been employed as an equine veterinarian for twelve years now and finds that many horse owners are still fairly ignorant on the topic of nutrition: ‘In practice I come across many broodmares who are only fed roughage. Of course, roughage is fine but actually, nutrition analyses virtually always show that roughage doesn’t contain sufficient vitamins and minerals. In order to replenish the shortages a broodmare should be fed at minimum two kilos of good-quality mare cubes per day. In terms of energy that is definitely far too much for most mares though. Especially Friesian mares are prone to becoming overweight. So my advice usually is to supplement the feed with a so-called balancer, which contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals in just 100 grams.’ An optimal ration with sufficient vitamins and minerals improves the mare’s fertility and for instance reduces the risk of a retained placenta in Friesian mares. The foal’s health also benefits: it reduces the risk of Osteochondrosis.

What is normal?

For most breeders it is, quite understandably, great fun and thrilling to breed a foal. But Van Gulik frequently sees that breeders do cause a lot of unrest when the mare starts in labour: ‘Switching on the lights, shouting and talking close to or even in the stable. A mare needs peace and quiet to find the confidence to lie down so that the foal can rotate in the birth canal.’ Van Gulik’s advice to breeders is to learn about what is normal and not normal in equine birth giving: ‘Knowing when the birth of a foal is not going the right way, is key. Then a veterinarian can be called in and many problems can be prevented.’

Immunity via beestings

‘Within three hours the foal needs to stand, drink and the afterbirth must have been expelled, that is the rule of thumb to remember,’ Van Gulik explains. Broodmares in good condition and with good resistance will produce better-quality beestings (colostrum) once the foal has arrived. In addition to nutrients, the beestings also contain antibodies against bacteria in the foal’s environment. Foals are born without natural resistance and depend on the ingestion of beestings to receive antibodies against bacteria. The quality of the beestings is therefore the decisive factor for the foal’s development of immunity. In case a foal does not have sufficient antibodies in its blood this can be administered by way of a drip containing plasma. ‘Foals with reduced resistance are for instance much more prone to developing pneumonia,’ Van Gulik points out.

Out and about!

As far as Iris van Gulik is concerned mare and foal can be turned out right on the first day: ‘Movement is beneficial for the mare because it induces contractions of the afterbirth and helps to expel potential fluids. That prevents infection of the uterus.’ Horses are born to move and that’s especially true for foals. For foals, movement is essential for the development of tendons and muscle, which reduces the chances of OC and OCD.

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