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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)

"Sweetheart" with her foster Mom and adopter, Andi Harmon of Burns, Oregon. Little Sweetheart was a challenge who only survived after a month of dedicated hard work and attention by her foster family, but the efforts paid off and she became a healthy, beautiful young horse!

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
having mom around (you are mom). The only additional requirements
are milk replacer, special care to get them over the stress of being
transported usually within days of birth, introduction of normal gut
bacteria and a warm shelter.

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.

This group of orphans at a government holding facility are past the danger stage, are eating hay and grain readily, and benefit greatly from being outside with each other.


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.

One thing Melissa notes is that when these babies arrive at the
rescue they can be quite sick for the following reasons:

1. Stress of transport usually within days of being born

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


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.


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.

EXPENSE: You do need to plan for the expense of raising an orphan. In the case of foals orphaned at BLM holding facilities or as a result of the gather process, BLM will contract with volunteers to raise the orphans, and will usually reimburse you for your direct expenses in buying food and medicines for these babies. Milk re-placer, feed, wormer, vaccinations, supplies, and vet visits can add up.  But, are well worth it in the end to save one of these precious babies.


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.

Diarrhea/Scours: This is one of the most common killers of orphan foals. One cause of scours/diarrhea in the foals is due to the fact that foals are born with a sterile gut (lacking normal bacteria we all have in our intestines). Regular foals with their mothers will (sorry this is gross but true) eat their mom's feces to gain that bacteria. An orphan doesn't have a mom around. So, you must introduce those bacteria into their system (pro bios, other horse's feces- I would only
recommend this if they are your horses).

It also helps with scours to feed your foal one tablespoon of vanilla/plain yogurt per gallon of milk re-placer.

Ulcers can be another issue with orphans due to the amount of stress these foals experience and the particles in the milk re-placer.  However, a good preventative measure is to give your foal a DAILY over the counter antacid treatment (like Zantac/Tagment/etc generic form is good).  You crush this up and add it to their morning milk.

Pneumonia/Respiratory Distress: This is a serious problem which requires urgent professional veterinary care - beyond the scope of this website. CALL YOUR VET! ASAP!

Learn more about Nurse Mare 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)
2. Yogurt- plain/vanilla 1 tablespoon per gallon of milk re-placer (generic fine)
3. Pro Bios- give to foals to prevent scours (sometimes called "probiotic")
4. Foal Pellets (creep feed)
5. Excellent Quality grass/alfalfa mix hay
6. Cooler with lid removed- We recommend this to mix and feed milk re-placer in.  Keeps it cold and you can make larger quantity-we placed milk jugs with ice in them- if kept cold must change every 12 hours
7. Halter/lead rope- (you will need to halter train your foal)
8. Zantac to prevent ulcers (generic brand fine)
9. Bag Balm or ointment to keep bums from getting raw if your foal gets scours
10. Vaccinations - (contact vet for vaccinations needed in your area)
11. Pepto Bismol if your foal gets scours (generic fine)
12. Activated Charcoal (available from vet/hospital pharmacy) if your foal gets scours
13. Warm dry place to keep foal (barn/garage/etc)
14. Straw - keeps foals warmer then shavings/saw dust
15. Poop scoop
16. Feed buckets
17. Hay feeder
18. Water bucket - need water 24/7
19. Contact a vet let them know you are planning to adopt an orphaned foal) and make sure s/he is Avail/comfortable in helping you if needed.
20. Large syringes for medications/milk feeding if needed
21. Grooming supplies (brushes hoof pick etc)
22. Foal Blanket


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!


Horse Psychology 101
Pressure and Release

Just Spend Time
Bamboo Pole Method of Gentling
Desensitizing, Rope and Flag Work
Clicker Training & Related Operant Conditioning
       and Positive Reinforcement Training
Get Professional Help
Case Sudies
Video Examples
Adventures of a Volunteer Halter Trainer
Raising Orphan Foals
Basic Ground Work:
Leading and Standing Still
Respecting Your Space
Backing up
Forward Movement
Shoulder & Hindquarter Control
Trailer Loading
Working With Feet



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