This is a non-commercial, independent website, owned and written by Nancy Kerson, for the benefit of actual and potential adopters of BLM Mustangs and Burros and similar animals.
Horse Psychology 101 I Just Spend Time I Pressure & Release/ Approach & Retreat I Connecting / "Round Pen" work I Bamboo Pole I Rope, Flag Work & Desensitizing I Positive Reinforcement: Operant Conditioning & Clicker Training I Get Professional Help I Case Studies I Video Diary of One Horse's Journey I Orphans
Thanks to Melissa and the other Moderators of the NurseMareFoal Yahoo! Group, Dawn Lappin, and Andi Harmon for their help with this section!
Raising Orphan Foals (horse & burro)
Mustangs and burros are hardy animals, but foals who are orphaned at an early age are at great risk. They need intensive and specialized care in order to survive. Once they have made it past their first critical month as an orphan they usually grow up to be normal healthy animals and are well worth the trouble to save.
Really, orphans are just like normal foals with the exception of not
The most critical time for these little babies is the first few days to the first month, especially if they are newborns. Newborns who did not get their mother's colostrum, or first milk, are the most difficult to raise. Foals are born with no antibodies to any germs or diseases. The colostrum contains antibodies from the mare, and in this way the mare transfers her immune system to her foal. But foals who do not get this colostrum are at great risk for aquiring deadly infections. They must be kept absolutely clean, and provided extra nutrition.
STRESS CAN KILL
Any orphan foal goes through a period of extreme stress in the days following its becoming an orphan, due to being separated from its mother and having to adjust to a changed diet, changed living conditions, etc.
2. Stress of being separated from mom
3. Stress from lack of food
Orphans require continuous monitoring/food/care, especially for the first critical month. Dawn & Bert Lappin of W.H.O.A. (Wild Horse Organized Assistance) in Reno feed their new orphans every two hours around the clock for the first 2 - 4 weeks. This takes a heavy toll on the caretaker, but the Lappins have a high success rate with orphans.
Orphan horse foals drink 5-8 gallons of milk replacer per day per foal. Orphan burros drink less. Milk replacer is very expensive. Plan on $100-$150/month per foal or about half that for a burro. There are many brands on the market - which one you use will probably be the one that is most readily available in your area. In the West, Foal-Lac and Mare's Match are the most common brands. Dawn Lappin states that in her experience either is good nutritionally, but most of the foals she has raised seem to prefer the taste of Mare's Match. In the East, Melissa reports that Buckeye's Mares Milk Plus is readily available. Check with your local feed dealer for whatever is available in your area. Although milk replacer is complete nutritionally for young foals, the composition varies slightly from brand to brand. It is best to stick with one brand if possible, because the slight variations from brand to brand can cause digestive upsets.
If you have access to goat's milk, this can also be used successfully. When we had our baby burros, it was suggested to us that it would be cheaper to go out and buy a milk goat, rather than to buy the milk replacer. This is true, but we chose not to take on another animal, who we would still need to care for after we no longer needed the milk. But if you have goats anyway, they are the perfect "foster mother" for most mammalian species.
Offer your orphans free choice clean hay from the very beginning. At first they will only nibble a little, but before long they will actually be eating significant amounts of hay. Once or twice a day feeding of special foal pellets (the Lappins recommend Carnation's Calf Manna), and vitamins are also recommended.
Caring for an orphan foal is quite time consuming for this first month. Plan on a lack of sleep, just like taking on a human newborn, but it is well worth it, and the time passes quickly. After the first month, feedings can gradually be spaced further and further apart, especially the night feedings. By 2 months, the foal can usually get by with 4 feedings per day (early morning, noon, late afternoon, and bedtime), and the caretaker no longer has to get up in the night. By three months, the foal can be cut back to 3 feedings per day, and by four months, they CAN be weaned, although many people feel that continuing once or twice a day milk feeding until 6 months gives the best start.
Here's a link to a veterinary website with an excellent recommended vaccination schedule: Equine Vet Services Vaccination Schedule
WARM, DRY SHELTER
New foals must be kept warm. This can be problematic. They need more than a blanket. Straw is preferred as bedding material. Straw allows the foal to bed down in it and provides better insulation to keep them warm. If you are worried about absorption use shavings etc. on the bottom and add straw on the top for warmth. In severe weather, a heated stall or an area indoors is preferable.
FIRST MONTH IS MOST CRITICAL
Once you get them past this first month they will generally do well (first month is full of worry with nutritional problems, risk of diarrhea/etc). Then they are like normal babies in concerns to training/vaccinations (although you treat them like babies whose mothers weren't vaccinated)/etc.
Watch for problems, and if one develops, catch it quick and correct it! Diarrhea, ulcers, and colic are just a few (basically the same issues as a normal foal could have). Pneumonia is another common and potentially deadly problem. Septicemia (generalized internal infection) from infected navel stump is yet another problem to watch for and to try and prevent through cleanliness and applying Iodine to the affected area.
Pneumonia/Respiratory Distress: This is a serious problem which requires urgent professional veterinary care - beyond the scope of this website. CALL YOUR VET! ASAP!
SUPPLIES LIST FOR RAISING ORPHAN FOALS:
1. Milk Re-placer readily available in your area (Plan to spend $100-150 month per foal until 4-5 months of age. Orphan burros will cost about $70 per month)
Orphans are so fragile that we can forget that they need to be horses, not housepets. The challenge with orphans, once they are through the critical survival stages, if to properly socialize them and not allow them to become dysfunctional monsters. Even while you provide tender loving care, remember to introduce training and good behavior as soon as possible, within the limitations of the horse's physical needs. It is most important to get them back with other horses as soon as possible, too - an orphan who grows to be a 1200 pound animal who thinks he is a human and doesn't know how to be a horse is a dangerous animal!
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since 10 PM November 19, 2005
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Disclaimer: Horses are inherently dangerous. Use the information contained within this website at your own risk.