Normal nursing behaviour of foals
Normal nursing behaviour is very important and a great indicator of your foal’s general health. Your foal should be nursing soon after birth. Usually this happens within two hours but if it does not drink within the first four hours, call your veterinarian.
The first milk is called colostrum and is rich in immunoglobulins. These are special proteins that provide immunity to the foal to fight against infections.
The mare’s placenta does not allow transfer of immunity over the placenta like it does in other animals. Thus the foal needs to receive them through drinking the colostrum and then absorbing them into the blood stream. The gut is however only absorbing these immunoglobins during the first day of life. The quality of your mare’s colostrum is linked to the amount of immunoglobulins and can be checked shortly after birth. This can easily be done with a refractometer. Good quality colostrum should have a reading on the refractometer of >1.060
Also, all the nutrients and needed hydration is provided by the mare’s milk.
During its first weeks of life, the foal will need to drink milk very regularly; multiple times per hour. After a few weeks the foal will start eating solid feed but will keep on nursing until weaning.
How can you make sure your foal is nursing appropriately? It is important to see that the foal suckles regularly and grabs the mare’s teat well. Often you can see that the tongue of the foal forms a seal around the teat. The mare’s mammary gland should not be congested and milk should be dripping freely.
A foal not drinking sufficient amounts of milk is at risk of developing life-threatening disorders, such as hypoglycemia, dehydration, septicemia. If you have any doubt concerning your foal’s nursing behavior or the quality of your mare’s milk, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
Photo: A foal nursing correctly, with the tongue making a seal over the teat.