How to Feed the Orphaned Foal

Feeding the Orphan or Rejected Foal




Each foaling season, a number of foals are orphaned, rejected or weaned early. The following is a highly successful program for raising these foals that has been implemented at several universities; veterinary neonatal hospitals and many horse farms. Foals raised on this program will grow and mature the same as non-orphans and will attain their normal size. In fact, when orphans are raised according to the following recommendations, there is no difference between them and those raised on a mare. This program is also very easy to implement and manage.

Research was completed at The Ohio State University, in 1999, comparing the different growth rates of foals remaining on a mare and provided a milk-based pellet in a creep, to foals weaned at three days and fed a mare’s milk replacer and provided a milk-based pellet in a creep. Researcher’s recorded weekly measurements of their body weight, heart girth, body length, wither height, hip height, and cannon bone circumference. Results showed that foals developed similarly in skeletal size and all foals received similar body condition scores (BCS) and were healthy. Foals were not negatively affected by early weaning and did not develop any bad habits.

The Progressive Nutrition®’s Foals First® Feeding Program will be helpful to those who are managing orphaned, rejected and early weaned foals. Early weaning occurs if a mare is to be put back into competition, or she is an older mare and you want to reduce her stress level to breed her back, or has had a mastectomy.



Colostrum, or the mare’s first milk, contains high levels of antibodies to protect the foal from disease. After foaling, the mare secretes colostrum for 24 to 48 hours. Foals will absorb colostrum for 12 to 24 hours after birth, or until an adequate amount of whole protein antibodies are absorbed through the small intestine. The quicker we can get the colostrum into the foals, the faster the openings in the small intestine will close. All new born foals need colostrum, preferably within the first hour after birth. A 100 lb. foal should receive 250 ml. (approx. 1 cup) of colostrum each hour for the first six hours after they are born. This is a total of 1500 ml, or about 3 pints of colostrum per 100 lbs. of body weight. All breeding farms should have a minimum of 3 pints of frozen colostrum in storage. When needed, it should be removed from the freezer and thawed at room temperature or in warm water. Pour the colostrum into a bottle, which has a ‘lamb’ nipple with an opening at least ½ inch wide, and let the foal suckle. NEVER microwave the colostrum because that will destroy the whole protein antibodies.

Foals First® - Milk Replacer ‘Powder in Solution’ is Next:

After the colostrum has been consumed, introduce the foal to Foals First® Milk Replacer powder mixed into a liquid solution. You may start them drinking from a shallow plastic bowl or from a bottle with a lamb nipple attached, depending on how aggressive the foal is. Most of the time a bottle with a nipple is not necessary because the foal can learn to drink from a shallow bowl or bucket very quickly after birth. Teach your foal to drink by placing your finger in their mouths to stimulate the suckle reflex. While they are sucking, raise the small bowl containing the liquid milk replacer solution up to their muzzle. After they start to suck and drink, slowly remove your finger from the foal’s mouth. If he stops drinking, repeat the above steps until he is drinking by himself. Always bring the milk up to the foal; do not force the foal’s head down into a bucket. The first day, warm the liquid milk replacer to encourage consumption. When the foal drinks without assistance, hang a bucket with the milk replacer solution in it from the stable wall at the foals shoulder height. This will allow the foal to drink whenever it wants, just like the mare was there. The bucket should be a contrasting color to the wall to make it easy for the foal to find.

The following management program is successful using Progressive Nutrition's Foals First® - Milk Replacer Powder and Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets. The selected ingredients in both products are very easy to digest and will help maintain the natural pH level in the foal’s digestive system. Make sure to follow the mixing directions of 1 lb. of powder per 1 gallon of water.


Mixing Amounts:

Use the following chart to mix Foals First® - Milk Replacer powder into water to assure the correct amount of milk solids (10%) for the foal to drink:

Water - Gallons Foals First Milk Replacer Powder - Enclosed Cup Foals First Milk Replacer Powder - Pounds
1.0 2.0 1.0
2.5 5.0 2.5
5.0 10.0 5.0


When fed at room temperature, the liquid milk replacer will have a tart taste. This tartness discourages a foal from drinking too much at one time when offered free choice. Foals less than 30 days old will average drinking from their dam or from a bucket containing the milk replacer solution, seven to ten times per hour. Feeding Foals First® - Milk Replacer Powder in solution ‘free choice’ will also allow the foal to drink as often as it would if the mare was present. Free choice feeding greatly reduces the chance of digestive upsets in newborn foals, because it prevents them from becoming too hungry, then drinking too much too fast, causing a digestive upset.

How Much to Feed/Day?

The average mare will produce 3.0%-3.5% of her body weight in milk per day. This means a 1,000 lb. (454 Kg.) mare will produce 30 to 35 pounds (14 to 16 Kg) or about 4 gallons (18 liters) of milk per day. Use the following chart to determine the size of the sire and dam, then the amount of milk replacer to feed the foal each day:

Mare's Body Weight (lbs.) Mare's Body Weight (kg) Foals First Liquid Mixture Per Day (gallons) Foals First Liquid Mixter Per Day (liters)
250 lbs 113 kg 1 gal. 4.5 liters
500 lbs 227 kg 2 gal. 9.0 liters
1,000 lbs 454 kg 4 gal. 18.0 liters
1,500 lbs 681 kg 6 gal. 27.0 liters
2,000 lbs 909 kg 8 gal. 36.0 liters


Start feeding the foal just like the mare would --- slowly. Begin by providing ½ of the recommended amount of the above chart on the first day, according to the size of the dam. Then gradually increase the amount provided over the next 7 to 10 days, but no faster than one-half gallon or 2 liters per day, until the recommended amount is being consumed by the suckling. If the stools become loose, slow down, you could be increasing it too fast. Remember, orphan foals can go through “foal heat” scours between 5 to 8 days of age. Mix the amount a foal should consume in 12 hours (one half of the recommended daily amount), and make it available free choice.

Giving a foal access to milk at all times is feeding the natural way, on demand. Allowing the foal to drink a little at a time, as often as it wants, will result in fewer digestive upsets, improved milk digestibility, optimal weight gain and improved overall foal health. Each time new formula is mixed, discard any milk not yet consumed and thoroughly clean the bucket before adding fresh milk replacer.



Foals weighing 100 lbs. at birth, should consume 4 gallons per day and will need eleven 22 lb buckets of Foals First® - Milk Replacer Powder until weaned at 60 days of age. Twelve 50 lb bags of Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets will be needed to feed the foal from 1 week to 4 months of age, when they should weigh about 340 lbs. (If they are to mature about 1,000 lbs in body weight)

After the foal is drinking the recommended daily amount of Foals First® - Milk Replacer Powder in solution, provide clean water in separate bucket free choice, beside the bucket containing the milk replacer.

When the foal consumes the recommended amount of the liquid milk replacer before the next feeding, add a handful of Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets into the same bucket. Foals are creatures of habit, so we must teach them it’s OK to eat the pelleted dry feed. When it’s time for the next feeding of liquid milk replacer, empty any milk pellets left in the bucket and provide the Foals First® - Milk Replacer powder in solution as usual. Once they begin to eat the Foals First® - Starter and Creep pellets from the milk bucket, provide them in a separate feed tub, free choice. Because the Starter and Creep pellet is milk based, it can be offered free choice also. A weanling feed formulated with cereal grains, and the percentage of minerals to compliment forage, is not recommended at this age. The foal will have a very small amount of maltase available in their intestinal tract and cannot digest forage. Maltase is one of the enzymes it takes to break down nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). NSC’s can cause acid gut syndrome (AGS) and lead to loose stools if too much of a cereal grain based feed is eaten. This type of digestive upset can and will decrease the absorption of nutrients fed, predisposing them to nutritional deficiencies that can lead to Developmental Orthopedic Disease’s (DOD).


Recommended Food for the Foal by Age: 1 to 60 Days 3 to 120 Days Over 120 Days
Foals First® Milk Replacer Powder in Solution X    
Foals First® Starter and Creep 'pellets'   X  

Premium Growth pellet or sweet, or ProAdvantage® Grass, or ProAdvantage® Alfalfa with Envision® Classic for additional calories, as needed



Weaning Time:

When the foal is eight weeks old, begin weaning by reducing the liquid Foals First® - Milk Replacer Powder , one gallon (4.5 liters) the first day and replace it by adding one additional pound of Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets. Once the foal consumes the added pellets, reduce an additional gallon/day of liquid and provide another pound of the pellets per day. Continue until the pellets replace all the liquid solution. This transition should take about one week. By slowly reducing the liquid milk, the foal will slowly increase the amount of Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets consumed per day.

If Orphaned After 3 Weeks of Age:

If the foal is over 3 weeks old when orphaned, provide just the Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets free choice. At this age their molars are in and they can easily chew and swallow the milk based pellets. Provide the Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets free choice up to 4 months of age. At 4 months, begin mixing equal amounts of Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets with Premium Growth; or reduce the Starter and Creep pellets by 2 lbs and increase the ProAdvantage® Grass or ProAdvantage® Alfalfa, by 1 lb, every other day. This transition to the selected ‘weanling’ feed is the best way to manage your foals feeding program. The weanling feed you select should complement the forage your foal is now eating and be fortified to supply the higher level of nutrients needed to support the young weanling’s skeletal development. Check the Feeding Directions on the tag or use Progressive Nutrition®’s ‘Growth Monitoring Chart’ to find out how much should be fed per day.



The Foals First® - Starter and Creep Pellets, is a milk-based food, formulated for the young foal with an immature digestive system. Let the foal eat as much of the Starter & Creep pellet it wants, until the foal is four months old or their Body Condition Score (BCS) becomes a 6. (On a 1 to 9 Scale)

After 4 months of age, it is not necessary to feed milk to a weanling. The enzymes have changed and they can now digest some carbohydrates and soft, immature forage.
This orphaned or rejected foal and early weaning feeding and management program, allows the manager to follow the foals’ normal developmental changes in their digestive system. It also promotes optimal growth, health and nutrient absorption, while reducing the chance of digestive upsets.