Q: What options do I have if my broodmare is unable to provide colostrum for her newborn foal?
A: A broodmare may be unable to provide colostrum for a variety of reasons, such as premature leakage, fescue toxicity, sudden death or mastitis. If the broodmare owner can anticipate this need, the best option is to find equine colostrum from a donor mare or farm, and administer it to the newborn foal in the first 2 hours of life. Ideally colostrum feeding should continue for at least the first 48 hours.
Colostrum contains concentrated antibodies against important infectious diseases. Good quality colostrum is thick, yellow to gray in color, and very sticky. Colostrum can be collected from either healthy mares that bear a stillborn foal, or from healthy mares that have an abundance, and can be frozen in ice cube trays and stored for future need. This is a common practice, and carries only a slight risk of complications. The U of M offer the National Colostrum network that maintains a list of horse owners willing to give or sell colostrum to other horse owners in need. This 24 hour hotline can be reached at 651-647-8391.
If a horse owner is unable to locate equine colostrum, 2 other alternatives are equine plasma given orally or intravenously, or bovine colostrum. Equine plasma has some of the same benefits as equine colostrum, but must be given in the first 12 hours of life. Bovine colostrum offers good protection against some of the intestinal diseases that affect both calves and foals, but may cause mild destruction of red blood cells. Lastly, if economic constraints do not allow for these interventions, every effort should be made to keep the foal as clean and dry as possible. The foal will be very vulnerable to infectious diseases until its immune system matures sufficiently to make its own antibodies.
By Julie Wilson, DVM, University of Minnesota