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Your New Colt or Filly


                For the first 3 months of a foal’s life they should be left with their mother.  A mare’s milk contains all the nutrients a foal requires, yet it is best to also leave some hay out for the foal to eat.  Feeding hay only, without milk, can be harmful.  At 2-3 months of age you can begin feeding a creep ration at a rate of 1/4 to 1/2# per 100# of body weight (a 1# coffee can maximum daily).  At weaning, usually around 5?6 months of age, feed up to 1# of foal ration per 100# body weight, plus at least 1# hay/100# weight.  It is best to feed more hay, especially quality alfalfa hay. 

     Overfeeding grain can cause a problem with the joints called epiphysitis; this occurs because of the low calcium and high energy in grains.  Epiphysitis can easily occur up to 2 years of age if too much grain or the wrong supplement is fed in the ration.  The foal grows the fastest from birth till 1 year of age.  If OCD, epiphysitis and other leg problems occur in the herd, we advise limiting the daily amount of creep feed to a maximum of 1# per month of the foal’s age daily until weaning at 6 months; for a large 6 month old foal this is a maximum of 3# of a colt diet twice a day, or approximately 1% of body weight maximum.  We do not like to typically see foals fed more than 0.5-1# of grain or creep feed per 100# body weight a day.  If in doubt feed less grain or supplement until a month or so before weaning, as nature does a very good job and leg problems can be a long term problem.  At least half of their diet should be hay or a mixture of hay and equine junior type feeds.  We recommend the complete junior type feeds as t they are less concentrated than the creep feeds.  As a horse ages past 6 months, or after weaning, the amount of concentrates should start to decrease in the percentage of the diet.  Alfalfa hay usually has twice the protein, 5x the vitamin A, more calcium and other nutrients than grass hay.  Thus feeding alfalfa hay is similar to feeding some of the supplements recommended, such as soybean meal.  If you feed grass hay, the small alfalfa pellets for rabbits can be fed as a supplement.  After 1 year of age, decrease the grain fed to an amount at 1/2#/100# body weight or less.  We do not like to typically see foals gain more than 1.5# of body weight a day.  Studies have shown that if you allow the foal to grow naturally, versus being pushed and feed large amounts of concentrated feed to grow faster, the ending results at 2 years of age is very similar.  Underfeeding is very rare, and overfeeding causes more permanent damage than what it may help for these young foals, in our opinion.  The brown mineral salt blocks are recommended for all horses.   It is normal for a foal to eat its mother’s feces for the first few months of life.  With an orphan foal we may even encourage coprophagy using the feces of another mare which has recently given birth (or deoxycholic acid supplementation if there are no such feces available).   At approximately 7-10 days of age a foal may have a mild loose stool; this foal heat diarrhea occurs when the mare is in her first estrus after foaling and related to many factors.  For any foal with a true diarrhea we recommend that a fresh fecal exam to be brought into the clinic, and a physical exam if the foal worsens.   

     Start working with the foal from birth.  A process called imprinting can begin immediately after birth.  This handling procedure will condition a foal to accept the procedures that humans are required to perform on horses.  Imprinting does not interfere with the maternal bonding of a mare and her foal, nor will it cause the foal to think it is a human.  Within 1-3 days of birth, you should do the following procedures.  First rub the foal gently until it has become relaxed.  Each area of the body needs to be rubbed over 40 times in order for the foal to become imprinted to the procedures.  Do not routinely give up or leave until the foal is relaxed, yet do not force the foal.  A foal that is struggling and able to get away will only reinforce his natural instincts to run away from any unknown/unfamiliar feelings.  (This is similar to the kicking reaction that a horse instinctively performs if scarred or approached unknowingly from behind; it is either fight or flight.)  After the foal has been rubbed down and relaxed, or at least tolerating the feeling, you will need to perform the things that routinely are done when handling horses.  Slap the bottom of the hoofs.  Insert a gloved finger into the anus, vulva, ears and mouth.  Rub under the chin and around the belly.  Turn on a pair of clippers and gently rub them over the areas normally trimmed on a horse.  Use a spray bottle and spray around him or her.  In essence, do the things you easily want the foal to accept as an adult.  During this procedure you should keep the mare close by, preferably nose to nose, to calm the foal.  Be careful not to overly excite the mare, or get hurt yourself.  It is important to remember, once you let the foal realize that he or she can “escape” from one of the procedures or if you get the mare excited and then quit????the intended purpose of the imprinting will not occur, and in fact could be detrimental.

    After birth the procedures of halter training, brushing, picking feet, etc. can all start and we encourage doing these handling procedures during the first few weeks of life.  We recommend the first vaccinations and deworming at around 3-6 months of age;  4 months if the mother was not vaccinated at all with a 4 way before pregnancy, or up to 6 months if she was vaccinated the last month of pregnancyWest Nile vaccination may start as early as 3-4 months, or even younger if the mare had not ever received a vaccine during pregnancy, or if the foal was born late in the season and/or if the foal had a borderline low immunoglobulin test.  We recommend 2-3x West Nile vaccinations their first year, a rabies vaccine, and only 2x FEWT if there is not an equine encephalitis outbreak; this is the minimum vaccines to be given.  Rhino and Streptococcus are also recommended after 6 months of age.  If the foal was vaccinated under 3 months of age then the number of vaccinations recommended may be increased.  A newborn foal in the summer will usually have the West Nile vaccine first given at 2 months of age, if the mother was not vaccinated within the last 6+ months, and repeated every 2 weeks in some cases.  Each foal can be different on their recommended vaccination program, which also depends upon the time of year they were born.  If the foal is in a stalled or confined area, deworming at 2 months is advised.  Foot trimming can also begin by 2?3 months of age, as directed by your farrier.  If your foal seems to be growing very fast and the legs are becoming more upright and/or legs seem to be flexing a little (contracted tendons), a call to the veterinarian is indicated.

     Gelding a colt usually is done at around 1 to 1 1/2 years of age, although as early as a few weeks of age to 2+ years old this surgical procedure can be done.  We prefer to castrate a colt when there are no flies or snow and ice around (spring or early summer).  We recommend to microchip to be implanted into the colt when they are castrated, or anytime after 6 months of age.  Many horses have been reunited with their owners with microchips, and hurricane Katrina with horses was such an example in 2005.  Riding a horse can start when they are 2 years old.  Haltering from a few weeks of age should greatly help in overall breaking of your horse.  The accustomed use of being saddled can begin months before actual riding has begun.

     Waiting till a horse is 2 years old to break, halter and train only makes the procedure more difficult for you and your horse.  If you are working with the colt and they try to fight and get away, hold them tightly until they relax, THEN let them go later.  At a young age you can out-muscle them, but as they approach adulthood they will be stronger than us.  They must learn not to run away or kick/strike; you should determine when it is time for them to leave you AND when they are relaxed enough to realize it was your decision and not theirs.  If the mother loads well in a trailer, you should also periodically load/unload the mother and foal after he is a couple months of age; this will help tremendously later on.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic