Some of this information will be a repeat from the article on Epiphysitis and OCD, and some will be an expansion on that article, so you may wish to refer to that one as well. As we are all learning, everything is connected to everything else!
Optimal feeding of young horses begins even before conception. The idea that you can just breed a mare, throw her out in a field and then feed her up a bit before foaling is unwise, to say the least. Many breeders feel that that mare's influence on the foal is 60 - 75% of what that baby will become, genetically and environmentally. When people say, "This mare is lame, or a raving looney, or can't cut it on track or in the arena, so we might as well just breed her............", that really freaks me out. Unless the imbalances are addressed so that you know WHY the mare is looney, or lame, or an underachiever, you are just perpetuating the imbalance. Maybe she is lame because she is structurally unsound, or maybe she is lame because she ran thru a fence because she is a raving looney, or any possible variation on the theme. Some of these imbalances, and toxicity from too much wormer or vaccine or chemicals in the feed, actually become a part of the DNA structure and energy field of the animal. Homeopaths call this a "miasm" or energetic predisposition to a certain illness (dis-ease). So, get the mare as good as you can get her, then consider breeding her. Often when a mare won't conceive (assuming the stallion is functioning properly), that is Nature's way of saying "not this one, not this time, not healthy." You may even have some detox work to do. So, optimal mineral nutrition needs to happen for the mare at least 60 or preferably 120 days before breeding. Depending on your area, either regular Dynamite or Dynamite Plus or TNT (see my article "Which to Feed: Dynamite or Dynamite Plus or TNT?" for details) and the Free Choices of 1 to 1, 2 to 1, Izmine and NTM Salt is the optimum program. If the mare has been a problem breeder or lost a pregnancy in the past, she is a candidate for Breeder Pac in addition to the basics. Another reason to feed Breeder Pac would be if a mare has been very debilitated within the last year or so. Reproductive function takes a back seat to other organs, and a mare might look good on the outside but still be under par reproductively. Many broodmares who have had a number of foals in a row will eat massive amounts of the 2 to 1; one TB mare in Oregon ate 75# in about 3 months before she was satisfied. A little calcium deficient, do you think? Ideally, if you feed grain, it will be Pelleted Grain Ration, or a dry mix of oats, corn and barley. Hay should be a grass or grass mix with not more than about 10% alfalfa. By grass, I mean orchardgrass, bluegrass, timothy, bermuda. Oat or barley hays are grain hays, not true grasses and usually contain enough grain heads to make them quite acidic. Sudan contains prussic acid and is not a great choice for horses. I won't deworm a mare chemically in the first 100 days of pregnancy, so if you are going to do that, do it before breeding and follow with 3 days of Excel at 1 tsp per day to rebalance digestion and clear up the liver.
During the last few months of pregnancy, I like to put the mares on regular Dynamite or TNT if they have been on the Plus. Dynamite and TNT contain higher levels of copper and zinc which need to be stored in the foal's liver at birth in order for proper bone development to take place, and is also higher in selenium to address any muscle problems. It is also higher in vitamins A and D at a time when the hay is lowest in A and sunlight is diminished. We have had lots of healthy foals on the Plus, the Dynamite or TNT is my personal choice at this time. Some Ester C or Hiscorbadyne is also a wise option, to assist with blood vessel integrity and boost the immune system as well as providing joint support for the developing foal. Our new TNT(tm) is proving to be a great all-in-one for mares and growing babies. It provides, per 1 and 1/3 cup dose, a full ounce of Dynamite, an ounce of Easy Boy for magnesium, 1/2 of Izmine for the organic silica and 60+ trace elements, 1/2 oz of Excel for balancing gut pH and neutralizing toxins, 20 gm of Free and Easy for joint support, and a full cup of HES Pellets for healthy fat and protein.
Once the foal arrives, DynaPro is in order for both mom and baby within a few hours after foaling. This establishes the good bacteria in the foal's gut, and helps the mare deal with the foaling stress as well. I don't do bran mashes (see the article on "Winter Feeding Tips and Healthy Weight Gain"), feeling that the DynaPro does as much as anything to keep the gut working properly. Tea Tree Oil or Solace are great alternatives to iodine for the navel, not as drying or caustic. (A little extra tip here: Relax is great for getting a first-time mare used to the idea of that little thing who just "appeared", and Release sprayed on the udder diminishes the ouchiness of that first nursing.) Gradually start increasing the mare's grain as she produces more milk, up to about the 2 month level when milk production begins to taper off a bit. Most mares on the Pelleted Grain Ration do great on 4 to 6 pounds a day while lactating, the stuff is nutrient dense.
Some people do like to creep feed the foals. I personally find that they do so well on mares fed this way, that I just give them their own bucket when the mare is eating. A half-pound or up to a pound of grain a day per month of age is a good rule of thumb, in divided feedings to prevent blood sugar spikes and dips which can affect bone development. This is just a guideline for amount, obviously mini's would get far less than that 1 pound per month of age, and big TB's might need a little more. In no case would you want to exceed about 8 pounds of grain daily. They will just sort of mimic mom and nibble some of her grain and learn to eat in that way. I will add a few pellets of the Dynamite or TNT for the baby, increasing up to the 3/4 ounce of Dynamite a day (or 2/3 cup of the TNT) by weaning time, or a little less if the foal is getting more than 4 pounds of the Pelleted Grain. If you just can't do our Grain in your area due to shipping constraints, get the HES Pellets and mix your own version. The ratio is:
17# of mixed (a third of each by weight) corn, oats and barley
3# of HES Pellets
I throw in a cup or so of dry Miracle Clay, which is used as a pellet binder in the Pelleted Grain Ration and has some detox and gut-soothing effects.
The HES provides optimum lysine and a great fat source from the whole, organic full fat soybeans it contains. Do NOT feed corn oil or other oils to horses. Since they do not have a gall bladder, they absorb fats thru the lacteal ducts instead. If oils are present, they block the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) which can result in poor calcium assimilation and bone formation problems. I take a very jaundiced view of the high-protein, oil-and/or-animal fat-containing rations. They are usually heavily preserved, and they are definitely higher in protein than is needed. Mare's milk is initially high protein (colostrum for about 12-24 hours) then is at about 12%. Regan teaches us that no mammal should have a higher protein % in the diet than was present in the mother's milk. They are never growing faster than when they are foals, and 12% is what nature provides for them. This time of year (summer as I write this) the calls come in hot and heavy from people who have weanlings/yearlings in big trouble because they have started them on a high-protein, usually heavy molasses youth ration and they are exhibiting joint problems or wobbler syndrome. Don't go there! Doing that is just like pouring nitrogen on your lawn. You will get a growth surge, but just like creating nitrogen-heavy wheat that lodges or falls over before harvest because the stems are weak and demineralized, you will be ignoring the structure of your foal in favor of growth spurts and weight gain. Keep the 4 Free Choices mentioned above available at all times for mares and foals. And yes, really do free choice them, don't dole them out in small portions and don't force feed them. The exception would be Izmine, which can be safely added at the level of 1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. per day to the grain ration at weaning, it is a great trace mineral and silica source. Silica is transmuted into calcium in the body if needed, so it is a safe way to make extra calcium available without skewing your ca:ph ratio. That ratio ideally should be at about 1.5:1, by the way. That is why you don't feed a high alfalfa diet to mares and young horses; the ca:ph is usually about 5:1. (See the article "Reasons Not To Feed A Straight Alfalfa Diet").
Digestion needs to be suppported in young horses right along, since the hindgut is not developed enough to handle fiber efficiently until they are nearly 2 years old. That is why babies can get that "pot bellied" look - Dynamite babies don't look like that! Keep the DynaPro going in daily, just 2 cc a day will do wonders, one squirt on the grain is all that is necessary. Foal heat scours respond well to DynaPro, if you need more support than that in an exceptionally bad case of scours, 1/2 tsp of Excel a day for several day is amazingly effective. One Director in Alberta says it stops bloody scours in calves with one dose............ Free choice the hay, and make sure it is a truly quality grass hay that is fine-stemmed enough for baby mouths and teeth. A pound or so a day of alfalfa is permissible.
If you see any sign of joint problems, back off on the calories a bit to slow down the growth rate. Since that subject was dealt with so completely in the afore-mentioned article, I will again refer you to that. Suffice to say, Free and Easy at a low maintenance dose as a prophylactic is awesome joint support for any youngster, cheaper by far than addressing problems down the road. Note that Free and Easy is built right into the TNT. You could also use Ester C or Hiscorbadyne for this purpose, there are articles in the database on C for joint support. Vaccinate advisedly, ideally giving the single shots instead of multi-valents and spacing them out. Use Ester C and DynaPro before and after, and Miracle Clay poultices on the injection site right away. (See the article "Deworming vs Parasite Control" for tips on the subject of parasites).
So, you should at this point have a happy, sassy weaner who sails right on into a productive life. Remember extra DynaPro and Relax at weaning time! Keep the grain meals small to avoid the blood sugar spikes and associated bone cell disruption, ideally you will feed just a small amount 3 times a day. As growth slows and fiber digestion kicks in, you can begin to reduce the grain, some horses do just fine on a pound or so a day of the Pelleted Grain Ration. You would obviously continue on the Free Choices and offer free choice grass hay with just a little alfalfa and maybe a little added HES Pellets if you need more calories or the hay is lower than 12% protein.
Feeding Young Horses and Orphan Foals - Part 2
Occasionally, despite all the best management practices, a mare is lost in foaling or shortly after, or a foal is rejected, is unable to nurse, or for other reasons must be weaned very early. Sometimes, the mare just flat has no milk. Get ready for an intense experience (aka sleep deprivation), as young foals must be fed initially at no longer than 2 hour intervals round the clock. In nature, they would nurse 15-20 times an hour at first! Colostrum is the first concern, as the gut in able to absorb the colostrum for only 12 hours. It is a good idea to network with local breeders, and work toward a colostrum bank. If you have mares foaling, you can "steal" a little colostrum from them to keep in the freezer, but no more than about 250 ml (half a pint) per mare, after her own foal has nursed several times. Colostrum will keep for a couple of years in the freezer, just be sure to thaw it in a freezer bag in warm water and do NOT microwave it, that will kill the antibodies. A newborn foal should ideally get 6 to 8 cups of colostrum in the first 8 hours of life. According to the article Feeding the Orphan Foal in The Horse, January 1999, author Karen Briggs cites the website www.cyberfoal.com as a colostrum source which can arrange emergency shipments.
Getting the colostrum and subsequent milk or replacer into the foal is the next consideration. A lamb bottle and nipple works well, but make sure the hole is small enough that the milk does not flow out in a stream when held upside down. Human baby nipples work fine for newborns. Usually a foal will suck on anything available, so it is pretty easy to get the baby to take the nipple. You can stick a couple of fingers in the mouth and tickle the palate to start the sucking, then insert the nipple and you are good to go. Make sure that the baby's nose is not higher than his eye level, you don't want to drown him. Because colostrum is so critical, you may have call your vet to tube the baby with it, if all efforts fail.
After the colostrum stage, from 12 hours on, you can use a commercial milk replacer or more ideally, goat's milk. Cow's milk does not work as well for horses, tending to cause diarrhea. Cow's or goat's milk should be diluted 2:1 with lime water or even just distilled water. Note that "lime water" is not lime as in fruit -- it is made by adding calcium oxide to water until the water is saturated and no more mineral will dissolve. Then let the mixture stand for several hours and use the clear water off the top to mix with the milk. Because both cow's milk and goat's milk are lower in sugar than mare's milk (which tastes a lot like watermelon juice, by the way, I got curious years ago....), it is a good idea to add pectin (the stuff used in making jams and jellies) which is mostly dextrose. Do not use sugar, or corn syrup or honey, they can cause diarrhea and colic. Four teaspoons of pectin per quart of the diluted milk is recommended. Also, please be clear that we are talking about unhomogenized, unpasteurized raw milk here, not the grocery store variety. Studies by the Price Pottenger foundation and others have proven that survival rates are very low on pasterurized milk. In a Scottish study, calves died when fed their own mother's milk which had been pasteurized. Ideally, find a local person with a milk goat or two or visit a local dairy daily. If you can find a nurse mare, of course, all of this can be simple, after the colostrum stage. Some foals and goats even work out an arrangement whereby the goat will jump on a bale of hay to allow the foal to nurse.
If you must use a milk replacer, look for one at your local vet or feed store that is intended for horses. You can use calf milk replacer in a pinch, just make sure it is milk protein rather than plant proteins. Dilute the milk replacers a little more than is usually recommended. And, make sure to add DynaPro to each feeding of milk or milk replacer, just a few drops, to stimulate the good gut bacteria and enhance digestion. Do not, as one article suggested, add mineral oil to prevent constipation. We know that oils will inhibit the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. Foals will generally work up to eating about 4 to 5 gallons of milk or replacer a day, so if you are feeding every 2 hours, a little over a quart per feeding would be appropriate. Ideally, smaller feedings every hour would be better for the first week or two. Some people work toward teaching the foal to drink from a bucket, which is pretty easy to do if you just let them suck your fingers and then put your hand down into the bucket. Once they learn this skill, you can even hang the bucket of milk or formula in the stall with several hours worth of feedings in it, and get some sleep, while the baby drinks at will. It goes without saying that all must be kept scrupulously clean, and remember to add at least 2 or 3 cc's of DynaPro each time if you do the bucket method of feeding two or three times a day.
Foals will usually start to investigate solid feeds by a couple weeks of age. Since they don't have a mom to copy, they don't learn eating skills unless you put a few pellets of our Complete Grain Ration in their mouth. A few dedicated people I know have even gotten down on all fours and "munched" some of the feed to demonstrate the required action! Offering the Complete Grain Ration free choice would be the best idea, and as the foal starts to consume more, you can gradually reduce the milk or replacer and switch them totally onto the grain and hay by about 3 months. Aim for grain consumption of about 4 to 6 pounds per day of the Complete Grain Ration by the time you take away the milk. All of the orphans that I have advised on this year have needed some H.E.S. Pellets in addition to the Complete Grain, usually about 1/2 pound per day of the H.E.S. mixed in with the grain. I also start them on just a few pellets of regular Dynamite, and work up to about 1/2 ounce of it by the time they are off the milk completely. The hay should be a fine-stemmed grass with about 20% alfalfa added, and again they will start to nibble on this at just a few weeks of age, so make it available then. Remember to keep up the DynaPro, as the hindgut where hay is digested does not fully develop until about age 2 years. DynaPro will help you avoid that "pot bellied" look. Because feeding is an art as well as a science, please use common sense. If your foal is looking like an Ethiopian refugee, it obviously needs more calories in the form of more Complete Grain Ration and H.E.S. If it looks ready for the Houston Fat Stock Show, back off. Allow free choice access to water at all times, even when the foal is still on the liquid diet. It goes without saying that the free choices, 1 to 1, 2 to 1, Izmine and NTM Salt need to be available in mineral feeders out of the weather where the foal can reach them.
Socialization is really important. An old "granny" mare will often allow the foal to hang with her. My 29 year old foundation mare once adoped a National Show Horse colt. He and his mom were in the pasture with her and the 40 year old Paint mare, so when I weaned him by taking his mom to the next field, he had a surrogate. She stood over him while he napped, ran and played with him, and allowed him to just generally be a spoiled brat and even to suck on her although she was dry, but she also disciplined him when he got really awful. Orphans must realize that they are horses, or they are in for a rough life. Some friends of mine raised a filly that was rejected by her dam, and it proved just too tempting for 2 teenage girls. They took her for rides in the Suburban, let her in the house, you name it. Then of course they brought her to me when she was 2 and out of control, to be trained and shown in halter. Not fun, for her or me. Older geldings will sometimes be babysitters, too, as will a donkey, goat, whatever. If you have to, borrow or go to the auction and "rescue" a foal close to the same age so your orphan can have a buddy.
Emotionally, the orphan is highly fragile by definition. Relax is awesome support to relieve fear and anxiety. You can even just spray it on the foal's body and around the stall from birth on, you don't have to wrestle to get it in the mouth. A few sprays misted on the milk or feed would be good, and aim the bottle your way as well!
By this time, you can follow the guidelines for the "regular" foals in Part 1 of this article, and congratulate yourself on giving your orphan a great start in life!