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University of Minnesota Extension

Feeding orphaned foals

Quick facts

  • Colostrum is the mare’s first milk containing protective antibodies for the foal.

  • The best alternative to colostrum is antibodies from equine plasma, which is given by your veterinarian.

  • The best alternative to mare’s milk is an equine milk replacer.

  • You should feed foals 20 to 25 percent of their bodyweight daily over numerous feedings.


Colostrum is the first milk a mare produces. It’s rich in antibodies that protect the foal from infection until their immune system fully develops. Foals don’t receive any antibodies prior to birth and thus, depend on colostrum.

The foals gut best absorbs the colostrum within 6 to 12 hours after birth. By 18 to 24 hours of age, it absorbs much less. In general, a 100-pound foal needs 2 to 3 quarts of colostrum within 6 to 8 hours of age.

You should have an IgG (antibody) test ran within 24 hours of age to make sure the foal absorbed enough antibodies.

The best alternative to colostrum is to have your veterinarian give the foal protective antibodies through equine plasma.

Alternatives to mare’s milk


Feeding milk

You should feed foals 20 to 25 percent of their body weight per day (NOT per feeding). Weigh the foal daily and adjust the daily feeding volume respectively as the foal grows. You can gradually increase the milk volume you feed and decrease how often you feed.

The average foal should gain about 2 pounds daily. If the foal doesn’t gain weight, increase the volume of feed or how often you feed. A general rule for feeding healthy foals is to feed every 2 hours during the day and every 3 hours through the night for the first two weeks. Make sure you divide the total amount you need to feed (20 to 25 percent of the foals bodyweight) by the number of feedings.

You can space out the feedings to every 3 to 4 hours during the day and 4 hours at night for one to two weeks once he foal is readily drinking the milk volume it needs. You can feed most foals every 6 hours by one month of age.

Author: Holly Bedford, DVM, formerly with the University of Minnesota

Reviewed in 2021

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