Ask The Vet: Foal Care

Answered by, Judy Marteniuk, DVM, Michigan State University
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: How soon after a foal is born should they start receiving grain in their young diet?

Answer:Foals will mimic their dam within the first few days of life and look like they are eating hay and grain with the mare. However, they really don’t start to consume feed until they are about 10 to 14 days of age and it is at this age that I recommend the foal have access to creep feed. Only offer small amounts of creep feed and remove any uneaten feed every day or two. Also work with your nutritionist or veterinarian to determine the best creep feed for the foal and how much the foal should receive daily once they have started to eat the creep feed.  

Question: How old should a colt be before he receives his first set of shoes so as not to damage the hooves? 

Answer:A horse should only wear shoes if needed. Many horses never need to wear shoes. Shoes are only required if the hoof wall is being worn faster than it can be replaced, added traction is needed, or if there are some therapeutic reasons (e.g. founder) to have a horse shod. Many horses wear shoes as the owner likes the way the feet look. Additionally, show horses are often shod to improve the appearance of the feet or to alter their way of going for certain equine disciplines. If you elect to shoe a horse, do not shoe a horse that is growing unless needed for therapeutic reasons. Shoes, even when applied correctly, limit hoof expansion. The restriction of a shoe is particularly concerning in young growing animals, therefore; only shoe a young horse that is being ridden or driven and only if absolutely necessary. 

Question: I have a 10 month old filly that chews boards when she is in the arena, but not in her own paddock. Why

Answer:Horses chew wood for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are lack of fiber in the diet, boredom, anxiety, wood type and possibly a nutritional deficiency. Horses are more likely to chew on soft woods like pine than on hard woods like oak. If the same type of wood is present in the paddock fence and the arena, I would be concerned the filly is either bored or anxious/stressed in the arena. Also, you may want to have your veterinarian review your horse’s ration for any problems.

Question: Is there a particular month during breeding season that is best to ensure getting the healthiest foal possible?

Answer:The health of the foal is not dependent on the time of the year, but on the health of the mare and her pregnancy. Mares cycle best in April, May and June. Additionally, close observation of the mare at the time of birth is very important for both the mare’s and the foal’s health. Birth should occur within 15 to 20 minutes after the mare is in active labor. The foal should be up and nursing the mare within a couple of hours as the colostrum (first milk) provides not only nutrition, but antibodies for protection to infection. Anything that may limit the foal’s vigor to get up and nurse will affect its health. Some factors would be birthing problems (dystocia), not nursing in an appropriate time. Extremely cold weather (hypothermia) or extremely hot weather (hyperthermia) may keep the foal from getting up and nursing in a timely manner.