by Amanda Bradbery, Ph.D. Collaborator

Set Up the Newborn Foal’s Immune System for Success

Set Up the Newborn Foal’s Immune System for Success

Published: June 2020 | Updated: January 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • Researchers have discovered that the mare passes her microbiome on to her foal, just like a woman passes it on to her baby.

  • Harmful microbes, or pathogens, are lurking in the new foal’s environment, so we need to provide a busload of healthy pedestrians, via FullBucket Foal Probiotic, to prevent these adversaries from doing harm.
  • Every foal is at risk for contracting life-threatening illnesses. Using the Foal Starter Kit during the first week of newborn horse life decreases those chances and sets up the foal’s microbiome and immune system for the rest of his life.
  • Your mission: to protect the gut while the baby foal’s microbiome is being established.

That newborn foal of yours simply radiates possibility. He or she is a blank slate, ready to thrive, learn, and eventually work with you to reach untold athletic goals. But before you get too far ahead of yourself, consider his or her gut—which is also a blank slate prior to passing through the birth canal—and its importance to short- and long-term health. 

The foal’s first week of life is a make-or-break time, and you need to proceed correctly.    

“Whether you’re a human infant or a baby foal, you come from a sterile environment, so there’s nothing on your skin, nothing in your eyes, and nothing in your gastrointestinal tract that’s alive,” says Dr. Rob Franklin, an equine internal medicine specialist and co-founder of FullBucket. “As an adult, you are covered with bacteria on your eyes, in your respiratory tract, and in your GI tract, and so are adult horses. 

“So, what’s the pathway between the infant and the adult?” he poses. “It begins at birth.” 

These healthy ecosystems of microbes that prevent pathogens—harmful microbes that cause disease—from doing harm are called microbiomes. Microbes start setting up camp on the skin’s surface during the foaling process. 

“Microbiome transfer from normal vaginal delivery in people has tremendous downstream effects,” says Franklin. “Most people are starting to hear about this, whether that be at a cocktail party or from their pediatrician. But a lot of health problems our kids are dealing with, like allergies, asthma, and the like, originate from the lack of a good start with their microbiome. That’s crazy to think about, but it’s true. And it’s also true in our newborn horses.”  

As the foal passes out of the mare, it picks up beneficial bacteria from the birth canal, then it hits air, the mare’s external tissues, her tail, the straw bedding. The foaling environment, no matter how carefully we’ve cleaned and disinfected it, is rife with microbes—and not just beneficial ones. Pathogens also lurk, waiting to set up an early infection before the foal’s gut microbiome is ready to fight.

Then, as the foal gets to ingesting the first meal—known as colostrum, through which it consumes all kinds of protective antibodies from the mare—the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microbes on the mare’s teat and in the surrounding environment also begin colonizing the GI tract. That GI microbiome is especially key to lifelong health.

So, what can we do to fight these invisible adversaries? 

Franklin describes a process called competitive inhibition, which he likens to crime prevention. “Imagine that the gut is a downtown street with nobody on it and it’s just full of stores, and you put one bad guy in there,” he says. “That bad guy—that pathogen—is not going to have any trouble breaking into the stores and taking what he wants.

“You fill that street with friendly pedestrians,” he adds, “and, what’s that bad guy’s chances of getting away with breaking in? That’s a direct analogy to our digestive tract and a foal’s digestive tract, because they’re starting off with nobody on the street. How do we fill the street with friendly, clinically proven microbes that are going to act as competitive inhibitors of pathogens? That’s what we’re trying to do, and the reason is we’re trying to keep peace there until the body can establish its own natural microbiome.”

The solution is to provide the foal probiotics and prebiotics (live beneficial microorganisms and the foods that feed them)—a busload of friendly pedestrians emptied into the street to deter bad guys. 

FullBucket made it simple:

  • On day 1 of life, after a foal’s birth, give FullBucket Foal Kick Start, which lines the GI tract with antibodies to initially protect against pathogens. 

  • On days 2 through 7, give a half-tube of FullBucket Foal Probiotic twice a day—those friendly pedestrians—to help crowd out the pathogens the foal will inevitably encounter in the stall, paddock, and on the dam, along with enzymes to help the foal digest milk. 

These products, plus foaling indicator strips and foal information cards, are included in the Foal Starter Kit.

“If you’re going to expend any efforts, concentrate them in that first week,” says Franklin. “The Foal Starter Kit takes away a lot of thinking of ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and it really decreases the chances baby foals are going to get one of those life-threatening illnesses that typically come from the GI tract. Any and every foal is at risk.”

By equipping the newborn horse with competitive inhibition, you assist in boosting the foal’s immune system. He or she can establish a healthy microbiome through all the normal and healthy ways—exposure to the environment, interaction with the dam, and even ingesting the mare’s feces (coprophagy). 

“With our product we’re defending that street like a NATO force until a natural population of pedestrians can go there and inhabit it,” Franklin explains. “We’re not trying to put the pedestrians in there; we don’t know enough. There are trillions of microbes in the GI tract that come from such diversity that no one can replicate in a commercial product.”

“Our job is not to create the microbiome, but rather to protect the gut while it’s being established.”

Franklin sums it up: “They are starting off with a naïve immune system, no microbiome, therefore anytime we can get them ahead of the curve with simple strategies, that’s where we need to be applying our effort, especially during the first week of life.”

Fill your foaling kit with the essentials and the best foal supplement on the market to protect your foal's microbiome at birth, and set them up for lifelong success. 

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