Foal’s First Hours

You’ve been anxiously awaiting the birth of your foal, and now that it’s here you may be wondering what you should and shouldn’t do as far as early intervention. Fortunately, Dr. Rob Franklin from FullBucket has some advice on the foal’s all-important first three hours of life. 

Once the foal has been born, Dr. Franklin advises to stand back and observe for a while. In fact, he recommends leaving the foal's mother and newborn foal alone for at least twenty minutes to allow them to bond. 

“The only reason to intervene is if the foal is not coming all the way out,” noted Dr. Franklin. “Don’t rush in there and start breaking umbilical cords and mess with the foal. Let them be.” 

Umbilical Cord Problems 

Oftentimes, the umbilical cord will stay attached for several minutes and this is not a cause for concern. 

“It’s not until that mare gets up that that cord breaks, and there’s a big transfer of blood going on there that that foal needs, so I don’t get in there early,” said Dr. Franklin.

However, on occasion, there can be bleeding or circulation problems related to the umbilical cord, possibly putting the foal at risk for dummy foal syndrome. To be prepared for this type of scenario, Dr. Franklin recommends having umbilical tape, clamps, or even shoelaces on hand, as discussed in the recent post on broodmare preparation

“The only time that we clamp or tie off an umbilicus is if the umbilical cord is bleeding after the foal has been separated,” he said. “If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve got to separate that cord, you’ll find that about three or four inches away from the foal’s umbilicus, there’s a kind of natural tapered white area where that neck cord is and that’s where we’ll put a finger on either side and clamp it and try to bluntly break it.”

Dr. Franklin warns that the umbilical cord should not be cut with scissors, as that can prohibit blood coagulation. Instead, a blunt separation tied off with a clamp, tie, or tape is best. He also noted that having umbilical cord dip, made from 1 part chlorhexidine to 4 parts water, is important as well. If needed, povidone-iodine or betadine solution can be substituted for chlorhexidine. 

“This dip is typically going to be applied to the umbilicus a couple of times a day for the first three days to prevent umbilical infections,” said Dr. Franklin. 

1-2-3 Rule

As far as the foal’s first hours of life go, Dr. Franklin abides by the 1-2-3 rule. This means that by the end of the first hour, a healthy foal should be up and walking around, showing good strength and mobility. 

By two hours, the foal should have nursed, and by the third hour, the placenta should be, in its entirety, on the ground. If these things aren’t happening according to the 1-2-3 rule, then it’s time to get your veterinarian involved. 

Dr. Franklin also recommends putting the full placenta into a feed bag or bucket with water and storing it in a cool place so it can be shown to the veterinarian when they come to do the mare and foal exam. 

Colostrum and Passive Transfer

When foals are first born, they have what’s referred to as a “naive immune system” which means that it hasn’t been challenged or exposed to anything yet. Unlike some other animals, antibodies do not cross the placenta into the foal’s bloodstream before birth. Instead, they are dependent on colostrum in order to get those antibodies. This is known as a passive transfer

“That’s why we do a series of vaccines leading up to, and right before parturition,” said Dr. Franklin. “The mare is going to get a full dose of vaccines to get those titers up real high so that colostrum has antibodies to all those common pathogens.”

However, sometimes, there is a problem with a passive transfer that can affect foal health. The mare’s colostrum may have leaked out, the foal may not have been up and nursing in time, or there could be other issues with the colostrum. Dr. Franklin notes that there is only a 12-24 hour window for the foal to be able to absorb these antibodies into his bloodstream. 

“At minimum, it is a pint of good quality colostrum to get the foal’s antibody levels up over 2,000, where we want them to be,” noted Dr. Franklin.

After 18-24 hours, your veterinarian can perform an IgG test to assess antibody levels. Anything below 400 is considered failure of passive transfer and this is when proactive intervention is needed. Otherwise, the foal will likely get an infection of some kind. 

However, the problem is that you aren’t going to know this information until at least a day or two after the foal has been born and that can give the bad bacteria a big head start. This is where Foal Kick Start can support foal health against common pathogens.

“We typically give them half a tube of Foal Kick Start,” said Dr. Franklin. “This is not a colostrum replacement. This is a local antibody effect for the gut.”

This can be followed up with the rest of the tube 6 hours later and then the veterinarian can double-check the foal’s immune status. 

The Foal’s Gut Heath Moving Forward

Though the foal digestive system is essentially a blank slate as far as the gut microbial population goes, as they continue to nurse, they are going to acquire more antibodies from the dam over the next 3 to 5 months. 

“From day one, the immune system is recognizing foreign things - viruses, bacteria, protozoa, dust - and being stimulated. it’s reacting to the environment and starting to generate antibodies. But that response takes time,” said Dr. Franklin.

After starting off on day 1 with Foal Kick Start, on days 2 through 7, you can follow up with the Foal Probiotic Paste which has additional antibodies, enzymes to help with milk digestion, as well as prebiotics and probiotics. The Foal Starter Kit includes both of these products, as well as foaling indicator strips, and foal information cards. 

The foal’s first 3 hours of life are critical, but as long as you keep the 1-2-3 rule in mind, are prepared with a few tools in case of an emergency, and call your veterinarian out for a mare and foal wellness check, you will be giving your foal the best possible shot at a healthy start in life.  

*For many of your broodmare prep and foal supply needs, Dr. Franklin recommends Animal Reproduction Systems, Inc.*

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