Last Updated on October 2, 2022
A newborn foal is an adorable sight, with its long, gangly legs and fluffy faces! But do baby horses nurse from their mothers? Or do they know how to eat and drink like a grown-up horse? Let’s find out!
Do Baby Horses Nurse?
Baby horses do nurse from their mothers, by suckling milk from the teats. You might not notice a foal suckling, as it is not as obvious as in other species of mammals. Unlike cats and dogs, who lay down to suckle their young, baby horses nurse whilst standing.
The udders and teats of a horse are located in between the hind legs in the groin area. They are quite high up and you may not notice them unless you are crouching down beside the horse.
When a foal suckles, it will stand alongside the flank of the dam, facing in the opposite direction. Its hindquarters will be approximately level with the shoulders of the mare, and it will push its head and neck underneath the mare’s abdomen. This allows it to access the teats of the mare in order to suckle.
Why Do Baby Horses Nurse?
Baby horses nurse in order to get enough nutrition to survive and grow. By nursing or suckling, from the teats of its mother, a baby horse can get enough nutrition to grow into a healthy adolescent horse. The milk of a horse is highly nutritious and provides everything the foal needs without any other type of food or water intake.
A baby horse is completely dependent on its mother’s milk for the first month of its life. After this, it may start to nibble at other types of food, but will still nurse throughout the day.
When Should A Foal Start Suckling?
When a foal is born, it is vital that it starts to suckle within a few hours. This enables it to ingest the first milk produced by the dam, known as colostrum.
Colostrum is a thick, dark yellow sticky milk, which contains high levels of antibodies. When the foal drinks the colostrum, it is able to absorb these antibodies, which give it immunity against certain diseases. Foals can only absorb colostrum through the gastrointestinal system for a short period after birth, so it is vital they drink this colostrum as soon as possible.
Most foals will stand and start to suckle within two hours of birth. If your foal has not suckled by this time, it is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Foals that do not receive colostrum have very low levels of immunity against disease and may need a plasma transfusion.
How Long Do Foals Need Milk For?
Most foals continue to suckle until around six months of age, although some are weaned earlier than this. Foals will start to experiment with eating different foods from a young age, but they cannot always digest this. As their ability to digest grass and hay increases, they will gradually suckle less and less.
The milk produced by a mare contains exactly the right nutrients to enable a foal to grow strong and healthy tissues such as bones, muscles, and ligaments. If the foal does not receive sufficient milk, it may develop growth abnormalities.
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Can A Foal Survive Without Nursing?
In some situations, a foal may not be able to nurse from its dam. This could be because the mare is ill or is not producing enough milk. Some foals fail to get the hang of nursing or do not have a strong enough suck reflex.
If a foal cannot nurse from its mother, it can survive, but it will take a lot of time and effort to rear it successfully. The first step is to ensure the foal gets its colostrum. This can be milked from the dam and administered to the foal via a bottle or stomach tube.
Foals can be reared using a mare’s milk replacer and fed either through a bottle or bucket system. It’s generally thought to be easier to use a bucket, and this can also reduce the risk of the foal becoming too ‘humanized’. It is important that a hand-reared foal is given the opportunity to socialize with other horses to learn normal behaviors.
So, if you’ve been wondering do baby horses nurse, the answer is yes, they do! For the first six months of a foal’s life, its main source of nutrition is the milk from its mother. The foal must suckle from its mother’s teats at regular intervals throughout the day to get enough milk to survive and grow.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on do baby horses nurse! Have you ever been lucky enough to witness a foal suckling from its dam for the first time? Or maybe you are worried that your foal is not suckling enough and have some questions about the best way to approach this problem. Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
How often do baby horses nurse?
A baby horse will nurse for short periods throughout the day. They may nurse up to 30 times in a 24 hour period. When the foal is awake, this may be two or three times an hour.
Do horses drink milk from their mom?
Baby horses do drink milk from their mom and they need to do this in order to survive and grow. Foals cannot digest anything other than mare's milk, which provides them with all of the nutrition they need.
How does a baby horse drink milk?
Baby horses drink milk in a standing position, by tucking their nose into the between the hind legs of their mother. This enables them to latch onto the teat and suckle the milk from the udders. The reason that horses do not lay down to nurse is because they are a prey animal and need to be able to run quickly and escape from predators.
How long does a foal have to nurse?
A foal will need to nurse little and often throughout the day, enabling it to ingest up to 20% of its body weight in milk in every 24 hour period. For the first month of a foal's life, it relies exclusively on mares milk for its nutrition. After this it will gradually start to eat small amounts of other food, but will still suckle regularly throughout the day.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE