Foal Care: Vaccines, Worming & Weaning

Whether it’s your first foal or 100th foal, taking care of a newborn is no small task.

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Foals getting sick can become very serious very quickly so maximise your chance of avoiding problems with the following preventative healthcare tips; prevention is better than cure!

Vaccination

Pregnant mares should be up to date with their flu and tetanus vaccines, and ideally should receive a booster 4–6 weeks prior to foaling. This will ensure high numbers of antibodies against these diseases will be present in the colostrum produced by the mare for the first 24 hours after foaling (which will be absorbed in the foal’s gut during this time).

Foals can only absorb these antibodies for up to 24 hours after birth, with the greatest rate of absorption occurring in the first 6 hours, so it is absolutely critical that they suckle well during their first day of life. If they haven’t suckled within 2 hours, it is worth calling your vet for advice.

These antibodies from the mare will provide protection for the first 5 months of life. After this the foal will need to start its own primary course of vaccinations, consisting of 2 vaccines 4–6 weeks apart. Foals that haven’t had the best start in life or whose history is unknown can be vaccinated as early as 4 months of age. A primary course will still need to be started again at a minimum of 5 months.

Mares may also be vaccinated against the abortive agent EHV-1 at months 5, 7 and 9 during pregnancy.

Worming

Foals are especially susceptible to worms due to their immature immune system. As with vaccinations, parasite control should start with the brood mare, who should ideally be wormed 4 weeks prior to foaling.

Worm control doesn’t just consist of regular worming regimes. Careful management practices can massively reduce the risk of getting problems.

Some practices to follow include:

  • Putting foals onto ‘rested’ pasture (land that hasn’t had any other horses on it for a period of time, ideally 12 months).
  • Keeping stocking density low, 1 horse/acre is ideal
  • Regular poo-picking
  • Avoid harrowing the land, as this will simply spread the worm burden across it.

Worm egg counts are less useful at this age as it is assumed that all foals will have some burden of parasites, so it is one of the rare times when we advise empirical worming treatment for all foals. The recommendations are as follows:

  • First worming at 10–12 weeks with a benzimidazole, the most commonly used wormer being fenbendazole.
  • Second worming should be carried out 3 months later. The product used should be faecal analysis.
    Moxidectin-based products (e.g. Equest) must never be used in foals under 4 months of age, and Praziquantel-based products (Equest Pramox, Eqvalan Duo) shouldn’t be used in foals less than 6 months.
  • Once weaned at 4–6 months of age, regular treatments every 3–4 months are recommended until the age of 18 months.

At this point they can switch to an adult worming programme of worm egg count guided treatments throughout the summer and a once yearly winter Equest Pramox treatment.

It is important to note that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to worming. Should your foal come across any problems it is always worth giving your vet a call to get advice tailored to you.

Weaning

Weaning should be done between 4-6 months of age. This can be a stressful time for both mare and foal, so it’s important to make it as good a transition as possible. Top tips include:

  1. Make sure they are both in good health and are up to date with preventative healthcare as necessary. The stress of weaning can make them more susceptible to infectious diseases.
  2. Keep an eye on the weather to ensure it is not too hot or cold, or rainy. Easier said than done!
  3. Keep both mare and foal in familiar environments so that they don’t have the added stress of being in new surroundings.

There are several methods for the actual weaning process, and the jury’s out for which is actually better, although the mare and foal’s temperament must be taken into account.

The first method is to completely remove the foal from the mare and remove them from earshot of each other. This is undoubtedly stressful, however they should settle down quickly. Another common method is to separate them into adjacent fields so that they can still see and hear each other but cannot directly touch/suckle. This will inevitably take longer, however should be less stressful in the short term.

In any case it is important to keep a close eye on both mare and foal during this process as emotions will be high and the risk of one of them injuring themselves will always be present.

Hopefully this advice will help you and your foals stay happy and healthy; look after your little ones and they will look after you!

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