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The importance of a foals first milk

The importance of first milk for foals

We are now in foaling season, possibly the best time of year to have horsey social media! We are expecting a foal at our yard this year too. But it is important to remember just how important first milk is to these foals.

Why is the first milk important?

First milk boosts the immune system

First milk, or colostrum, is extra special milk the mare produces for up to 24 hours after foaling. This milk contains extra high levels of antibodies and for the first 18 hours after birth, the foal is able to absorb these antibodies, giving them immunity to their environment.

It is good practice to keep your mare at the place they will be foalling for a month before you expect them to foal. This is because they will develop antibodies to this environment which will then be passed onto the foal. If they do not have time to build up these antibodies before foaling, the foal will get less protection from their first milk.

It gives them an energy boost

Being born and standing up for the first time can be exhausting. We often see that if foals do not stand up within the first 2 hours, they might need to be bottle fed to give them the energy to do so. But remember not to rush your foal. It is perfectly normal for them to lie resting for 30 minutes before attempting to stand. Most foals will start to attempt to stand after 45 minutes.

Cupboard Love and her Territories colt. The importance of first milk

Why should you sample the milk after the foal has drank?

Once the foal has had their first drink, you should test the quality of the colostrum. Good quality first milk should be thick, sticky and yellow. But a more accurate way of testing it is with a colostrometer or refractometer. You take a small sample and this machine will quickly tell you the % of the first milk. Over 20% is considered good.

If the mare is producing poorer quality colostrum

If your mare doesn’t have good quality colostrum, you might need to source some from elsewhere as it is so important for your foal to recieve it within the first 12 hours to give them the best start to life. There are supplements available, similar to formula milk what can be provided by your vet. You may also be able to get good quality colostrum from another mare. Many larger breeding opperations routinely collect and store good colostrum for cases just like this.

If the mare is producing good quality colostrum

If your mare has good quality colostrum and you have other pregnant mares on the yard, you can milk a bottle or two from the mare. You can then store this in case the next mare to give birth has poorer quality colostrum. Their foal can be bottle fed some of the better quality first milk to give them a better chance of building immunity from the antibodies. The benefit of using milk from another mare on your yard is that they will have similar antibodies.

Are you thinking about breeding your mare?

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horse resting on green grass
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Last Updated on 29/03/2022

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