Foaling season is an exciting time around any stable. Breeding stables often have many foals being born around the same time. And, of course, a private owner will be excited to greet a new addition to their four-legged family when their beloved mare gives birth. Here are 10 facts about foals you may not have known.
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Eleven Month Production Time
It takes around 11 months for a foal to fully develop inside of the mare. Some foals can be several weeks late or early. Occasionally, a foal can be up to four weeks late. Most breeders try to time foaling for early spring, so the foal can grow and exercise throughout the summer months.
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The First Steps
Foals can stand, walk, and trot a very short time after birth. Ideally, a foal should be up and nurse within two hours of birth. If the foal takes longer, it may be a good idea to call the veterinarian. Many breeders maintain that filly foals are quicker to get on their feet and nurse than colts. Foals can gallop after about 24 hours.
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Immediate Immunity Boost
The first milk a foal gets from its mother is ‘colostrum’. This milk boosts the foals own immune system since they are born with little protection. Ideally, the foal should get colostrum within the first hours of birth, or at least within 24 hours from birth. This not only provides antibodies colostrum also helps the foal pass the first manure, called the meconium. The foal will receive about a quart or liter of colostrum in the first hours of life.
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Mares and foals bond very quickly and much of their communication is almost imperceptible to the human eye.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Because the foal has no immune system of its own, the infection can set in very rapidly. The foal’s umbilical stump must be disinfected for a few days after birth and watched for any signs of illness.
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The Perils of Tight Quarters
A foal with floppy ear tips may have been born prematurely. Many foals are born with oddly bowed legs. This is called ‘windswept’ and is common to large foals born to smaller mares. Because their ligaments and tendons are immature, they may also walk with their fetlocks almost touching the ground. Within a few days, as the foal becomes stronger, the legs should show signs of straightening up. If not, it’s time to call the veterinarian.
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In The Dark of Night
Foals are most often born at night, and birth often happens very quickly. It’s not unusual for an owner to nap by the stall then run and grab a quick cup of coffee or take a bathroom break only to find a foal waiting for them when they return. In the wild, this nocturnal and rapid birth helps to protect a mare and foal from predators when they are at their most vulnerable.
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Not By Milk Alone
A foal will start to taste grass after they are about a week old. By the time they are about 10 days old, they’ll start to eat a bit of grass and hay. By two months, the foal will need more nutrition than mare’s milk alone can provide.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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A foal's legs are almost the length they will be when they reach adulthood. One way breeders determine the height a foal will ‘finish’ at is to do a string test. There are two different ways to do this.
- Measure elbow to the mid-fetlock with a string. Hold the string against the foal’s elbow flip or turn the lower end up, and hold it so it is perpendicular to the ground against the foal’s withers. This is thought to be the foals final height.
- The second way is to hold a string between the... center of the knee and the hairline at the coronet band at the top of the hoof. If the measurement is 14 ½ inches, the foal’s final height will be 14.2HH. If the measurement is 16 inches, the foals final height will be 16HH. While breeders may use these methods to get an approximation, neither are 100% accurate.
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When Early Weaning is Best
Foals can be weaned as early as three months. Generally, they are left with their mothers longer. However, if there is a concern about the condition of the mare or the foal show signs of too rapid growth, early weaning may be best. When foals grow too fast, problems in their leg joints can occur. By four months, the foal no longer gets a substantial amount of nutrition from its mother’s milk.
A Long Time Between Foaling and Riding Horse
While it will be years before a foal is mature enough to be ridden, it can start learning good ground manners right away. It can be taught to lead quietly and to pick up its feet to be cleaned. Read what to do with your foal: What Can I Train a Foal?