Last Updated on March 23, 2023
Do horses nurse their young? How does a foal feed from its mother? If you are wondering how horses feed their young, then we’ve got everything you want to know here in our guide on foals and how they eat.
Foals are fascinating and amazing creatures! Within a few short hours after birth, foals can stand and feed, and a day-old foal is strong enough to skip, jump, and even run! So, how do foals get their energy? Let’s find out!
What Do Newborn Foals Look Like?
The fascinating thing about foals is that they can carry out a lot of tasks that the offspring of many other species cannot. This is because horses are prey animals that live in a herd, so a newborn foal needs to be able to join the herd as soon as possible without hindering its chances of survival.
If you think of many other species of animals, such as kittens, puppies, and even human babies, they are completely dependent on their mothers for a substantial period after birth. A foal, on the other hand, can do most things required to survive and thrive right from birth.
Foals are born after eleven months of gestation. When they are born, they come out front feet first, followed by the head, shoulders, and the rest of the body. All foals are born with ‘slippers’ on their feet.
These slippers are soft tissue that protects the mother’s birth canal from the foal’s hooves. As soon as this tissue comes in contact with the air, it begins to disintegrate. By the time the foal is 24 hours old, the slippers are completely gone.
At this point, the foal will be able to stand, walk, run, play, and sense danger. However, it will still stay pretty close to its mother, as she provides protection as well as a source of food.
Do Horses Breastfeed Their Babies?
Horses do nurse their young, in a process very similar to breastfeeding in humans. The milk produced by a mare is vital to ensure the health and well-being of a newborn foal, enabling it to remain fit and healthy and grow strong bone and tissue cells.
While it is easy to call how a horse feeds its young breastfeeding, this technically isn’t the correct term. The term breasts are normally only used in humans; all other animals have udders. The reason for this is the udders of an animal only normally become noticeable when the animal is nursing a baby, whereas human breasts are permanently developed.
How do horses feed their babies?
A female horse does not have breasts, though some of the names for the anatomy are similar to humans. All mares have mammary glands located high up between their hind legs – these are commonly referred to as udders.
The location of the udders protects this sensitive area from the sun and any potential injury. In a mare that has never had a foal, the teats are small and you will barely notice them. When a mare has had a foal, the teats become larger, making it easy to see that the horse has given birth before.
All mares have two teats, one on each udder. Each teat has two or three openings, depending on how many mammary lobes each udder has. During pregnancy, the mare’s body gets ready for milk production. This does not happen until late in gestation, ready for the birth of the foal.
Different hormones stimulate the stages of milk production so that if everything goes as it should, the mare has enough milk when the foal is born.
What Do Baby Horses Eat?
Baby horses eat milk by suckling on their mother’s teats. In the first few weeks of life, the foal will suckle more frequently. A healthy foal will drink from its mother as often as every ten minutes and up to 15 liters a day.
To drink milk, the foal stands alongside its mother’s flank, facing the tail. It extends its head under the mare’s abdomen, reaching the nose upwards into the groin area. Here it latches onto a teat with its mouth and suckles milk from the udders.
The milk a foal drinks from its dam will contain everything a foal needs to grow quickly during the first few weeks of life. It is very rich in nutrients and energy and is very easy for the foal to digest. After the first week, the gaps between eating will widen, and by one month it is about one hour between feeds.
Colostrum: The first milk
A foal must drink from its mother as quickly as possible after it is born. This first drink may well be the most important meal of a horse’s life! The name of the first milk a foal drinks is colostrum, and it contains some very important life-saving nutrients.
When a foal is born it has no immunity or functioning immune system, making it very vulnerable. For the first few hours of life, the pores within the digestive tract are more open, so that it can absorb the larger proteins contained in colostrum. This is because colostrum is different from regular mare’s milk.
Colostrum contains all the nutrients and immunity from the mother that the foal needs to start to build a functioning immune system. There is only a small window when the foal’s intestines can absorb colostrum. As more time passes after birth, the pores within the digestive tract begin to shrink to their normal size, and absorption of these immune-boosting particles is no longer possible.
The first liter of colostrum produced by the mare is the most potent, containing high levels of immunoglobulins. After six hours, this potency decreases, the quality of the colostrum goes down, and the mare starts to produce normal milk.
Good quality colostrum is thick, sticky, and yellow. If it is thin and runny, it is a sign that the quality is poor. To ensure a foal has the best chance of good colostrum, it needs to drink from its mother within a couple of hours of birth.
If this does not happen, then the situation becomes urgent and needs veterinary intervention. When a foal does not drink colostrum it may need a plasma transfusion to obtain the necessary immunity. When it comes to the first milk drunk by a newborn foal, a ‘wait and see’ approach is not the best course of action!
All foals should have an IgG test at around 24 hours old. This test will check to make sure the levels of immunoglobulins are high enough, confirming the foal got enough high-quality colostrum. If the result of this test is too low, the vet will administer plasma which contains boosted levels of immunoglobulins.
Do foals only eat milk?
For the first few days of life, a foal will only drink milk. After a few days or a week or two, the foal will start to show interest in grass, hay, water, and its mother’s grain. However, their digestive system is not yet adapted to digest and process any food other than milk.
You will also see foals eating their mother’s manure. This is perfectly normal and helps the foal populate its intestines with the necessary microorganisms that allow it to freely eat and digest food other than milk.
By the time a baby horse is six months old, it will combine eating grass, hay, and grain with drinking from its mother. At six months of age, the foal can safely survive without milk. This is the most common age to start weaning.
Do Horses Nurse?
Horses do nurse from their mother by suckling on her teats. The teats are located at the bottom of her udder, which fills substantially when the mare is nursing. Making milk is very hard on a mare’s body, and you will often notice that a lactating mare will start to lose weight.
Therefore a mare must have access to good grass when nursing. It may also be necessary to feed additional grain designed for lactating mares and give access to good-quality hay or haylage. This extra feed will help the mare produce enough quality milk and prevent too much weight loss.
Lactating mares also need constant access to water, as they need to drink more to produce enough milk.
Feeding Foals from Birth to Weaning is an interesting video presented by an equine nutritionist that details all about feeding a foal.
How long do horses nurse their young?
If the foal is not weaned from its mother at six months old, it will continue to nurse. The mother will keep allowing this for some time. However, it will become less frequent and milk will no longer be the primary source of nutrition for the foal.
How long the mother allows a foal to suckle will depend on the mare. Some mares get sick of it and start to kick the foal off sooner than others. In the wild, the mare will stop her yearling from nursing when she has a new foal to feed.
So how do horses nurse their young? Horses feed their young by nursing them from their teats. They produce milk that gives all the nutrients the foal needs to grow strong. Mares will allow their foals, especially in the first weeks, to drink as often as they want.
Some mares will even encourage their foal to nurse with some gentle nudges. They will also stretch their back legs out so the foal can access the teats more easily.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a horse feed her foal?
A foal is born with the instinct to stand and nurse within an hour of birth, often with the aid of its mother. A healthy mare’s milk provides all of the energy and nutrients a foal needs to support rapid, steady growth. Colostrum is the first milk produced by a new mother. It is thick, yellow, and rich in antibodies that help build foal’s immune system. Colostrum is produced in the glands of the mare’s udder during the last two to four weeks of gestation and is available to the foal right after birth.
But sometimes a foal doesn’t get enough milk or the milk isn’t rich enough in nutrients the foal needs. This can lead to weight loss, diarrhea, and other issues. The best way to prevent these problems is to ensure that the mare is well fed and has adequate nutrition for herself.
How long does a foal stay with its mother?
The most common age to wean a foal is about 3 months. However, many foals are being weaned at 4 to 6 months of age. It is recommended that foals be kept on the milk until at least 3 months of age as it’s immune system only start to properly function around that time.
Foals need to be weaned gradually. This allows their digestive system to adjust to having less milk in their diet. Weaning a foal involves a gradual reduction in the amount of milk they consume while they are slowly introduced to a small amount of feed each day.
Can you drink horse milk?
Mare’s milk is a dairy product that is said to be a rich source of calcium and other minerals. Horse milk contains significantly less casein, so people who have an intolerance to casein should be able to drink mare’s milk without experiencing any negative effects.
Horse milk is known for its high value in vitamins and minerals. In fact, it contains more than 50% more calcium, 40% more phosphorus, and 15% more magnesium than cow milk. It also contains about 35% less sodium and cholesterol than cow milk. In addition to being a healthy alternative to cow’s milk, horse milk is also known for its ability to treat certain health conditions.
How many foals does a horse have?
The average mare can give birth to between 16-20 foals in her lifetime. A healthy mare can usually produce one foal per year. She can have her first foal at approximately 18 months of age, but it’s much better to wait for her to reach her full size before giving a birth for the first time. This happens around the age of four years old.
However, the number of foals a mare can have is not set in stone and a number of factors will influence it. Some of the variables that affect a mare’s reproduction include: the health of the mare, genetics, and fertility. A mare’s age also plays a role in her reproduction. Older mares have a higher chance of having a difficult pregnancy. It is estimated that a mare can be fertile for up to 15 years after her first breeding season. After this, she will begin to slow down her reproductive system and lose her ability to produce offspring. Another factor that influences a mare’s reproduction is her foal survival rate. A mare’s body is able to recover from a normal pregnancy, so the survival rate for her foals should be close to 100%. However, if the mare has had a difficult birth, the survival rate for her foal will drop to around 60%.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.