Why do foals need colostrum?

Colostrum, the mare’s first milk, provides foals the antibodies and nutrients they need to stay healthy. You can monitor the antibody levels in a foals blood through tests. If a foal doesn’t receive enough antibodies, they are more prone to disease. 

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk that a mare makes to feed her foal. 

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Monitoring colostrum intake

It’s important the foal begins nursing shortly after birth. Foals can only absorb the antibodies from the colostrum for a short time period. Each hour after birth the foal’s ability to absorb colostrum lessens.

You can monitor the amount of antibodies a foal receives using a Foal IgG SNAP test. This test measures the antibody level in the foal’s blood. The goal is to have antibody levels higher than 800 milligram per deciliter. Levels between 400 to 800 mg/dl is only a partial transfer of antibodies. Levels less than 400 mg/dl is a failure of transfer.

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Failure of passive transfer

Failure of passive transfer isn't a disease, and has no clinical signs. These foals are at an increased risk of:

  • Pneumonia

  • Diarrhea

  • Infected joints

  • Infected umbilical cords

  • Other diseases

Contact your veterinarian if your foal has failure of passive transfer. Often a veterinarian will give a plasma transfusion.

Jennifer Johnson, DVM formerly with the University of Minnesota

Reviewed in 2018

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