It may be not surprising to learn that horses are mammals. But these large, four-legged animals have a lot in common with humans when it comes to their young.
Like human babies, horse foals (baby horses) drink milk from their mothers and grow up at an incredible rate.
However, there are a lot more interesting things when talking about how horses feed their young, and what baby horses actually eat in their infancy.
If you’re wondering about this topic, then let’s take a closer look.
What you need to know about foals (baby horses)
A baby horse is called a foal. It is born after eleven months of pregnancy. The foal comes out in a different order than a human baby: the front feet, head, and shoulders first. All horses are born with ‘slipper’ feet that protect them when they walk on slippery ground.
The foal’s hooves are hard. If the mother’s birth canal is not protected by these tissues, then it will be hurt. The foal’s ‘slippers’ are there for protection purposes. These tissues then come in contact with air and begins to break down quickly after 24-hours.
How horses breastfeed
It is called breastfeeding, but that isn’t really correct. Horses don’t have breasts like humans. A female horse will have nipples near her back legs though.
These nipples are protected from the sun and injury because they are high up between the hind legs of a mare who has never had a foal before.
When a mare gives birth to a baby, this area and the nipples get larger so you can see she has given birth before.
Mares have two teats, each with two or three openings. They are for milk. It is not until late in the pregnancy that the mare’s body gets ready for milk production, to protect the area.
Different hormones stimulate the stages of milk production so that if everything goes as it should, there will be enough milk when the foal is born.
What do baby horses eat?
Baby horses eat milk from their mother’s teats.
They will drink a lot of milk during the first few weeks of life. When a healthy baby horse drinks from its mother, it can drink up to 15 liters of milk in one day.
The milk contains everything that the baby horse needs to grow quickly for the first few weeks. After one week, they drink less often.
In one month they drink about an hour apart from each other.
The importance of the first milk
It is important for a newborn foal to drink from its mother right away. The first milk that the baby drinks is called colostrum. When a foal is born, it cannot protect itself because it doesn’t have an immune system yet.
So for the first few hours of life, the digestive tract is open so it can absorb colostrum, which makes the baby stronger and less sick.
Colostrum tastes different than regular milk and should be fed within an hour of birth.
Colostrum is a liquid that is found in the mother’s breasts. This liquid has all the nutrients and protection for the baby horse.
The foal can only absorb colostrum when it first comes out of the mother’s breasts. As time goes on after birth, more of this liquid will come out into breast milk, which makes it less potent for babies to use.
The colostrum is thick and yellow. If it seems thin, the colostrum might not be good. The colostrums need to come from the mother’s udder. Or else the foal will need a plasma transfusion.
Every foal should have an IgG test at around 24 hours old. This is to check if the levels of IgG are high enough. If they are not high enough, the vet will give them plasma.
Is milk the only thing foals eat?
Foals drink milk for a few days. After a week or two, they will start to eat grass and hay. When they are young, foals don’t eat much.
The mother’s milk has all the necessary nutrients in it that the foal needs to grow healthy and strong without any other food.
A baby horse will mostly drink milk until they are six months old. But by the time they are six months old, they can survive without milk. So this is when people usually start to wean them.
Do horses nurse their young?
Yes, horses do nurse their young. But this won’t last long.
If the foal is not weaned from its mother before it is six months old, then the foal will keep nursing. The mother will allow this for some time.
But it will happen less often than when it starts happening. It might stop altogether depending on the horse’s mood and how long she was nursing before she had a new baby to feed.
How many foals can a horse have?
On average, a horse can have about 16 babies over the course of its life. People usually start breeding horses around 4 years old.
The prime time for breeding is from 4 to about 15 years old, but after 15 years up to 20, the fertility rate goes down significantly.
What is a dummy foal?
A dummy foal is a baby horse that cannot walk or do other things that horses can. They might even sleep all the time. This is called neonatal maladjustment syndrome.
Now you know it.
Horses, like humans and most other mammals, feed their young with milk.
The protein content of the colostrum is high enough to sustain a nursing foal for four days after birth; thereafter it must be supplemented by hay or grain as well as water.
Foals can begin eating small amounts of solid food at three weeks old and wean themselves from the mother’s milk at about six months old if they are not being bred again.