Care of the Growing Foal

Horses November 10, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Doyle Meadows, Professor, Animal Science; John Henton DVM, University of Tennessee 

Internal Parasite Control

Deworming on a routine basis, in addition to prevention and control measures, is an important part of a foal’s health program. Medications used to control worms and break life cycles can be administered directly into the stomach with a stomach tube, fed in combination with rations or placed inside the mouth in the form of a paste. The availability and cost effectiveness of paste dewormers make them an excellent choice for controlling worms in horses. In addition, it is generally much safer and less traumatic to simply put a paste dewormer in the mouth of a foal rather than passing a stomach tube.

There are many commercial deworming preparations available. You may need to change medications periodically to prevent parasite resistance to certain drugs. Different dewormers may work best on different parasites.

For example, some deworming medications will control:

Many veterinarians in Tennessee are recommending worming foals on a monthly basis until one year of age. However, deworming when the foal is two months old and every two months for the first year is more economical and in the long run may be a more effective parasite control program. New research on internal parasite control is currently being conducted at several universities, so it would be advisable to discuss deworming schedules with your local veterinarian annually.

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Internal parasite control is much more than simply deworming horses.

Disease Control

A series of immunizations is needed to protect the foal as it matures. Vaccines are usually administered when antibodies received from colostrum have declined, because colostral antibodies may interfere with the foal’s ability to produce long-lasting immunity. Foals should begin their vaccination program at three months of age. Second vaccinations (boosters) are needed one month later to establish sufficient immunity.

Foals should be routinely vaccinated for:

  • Tetanus
  • Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE)
  • Equine influenza
  • Rhinopneumonitis

Immunization against strangles, Potomac Horse Fever, rabies and other diseases may be warranted under certain conditions.

The following is a vaccination schedule for foals:

Birth

  • If the mare was vaccinated one month prior to foaling and the foal received adequate colostrum, no vaccination is required. If not, tetanus antitoxin should be given at birth.

Third Month

  • Tetanus, EEE and WEE, Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis

Fourth Month

  • Tetanus, EEE and WEE, Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis

Yearly boosters for all of the above vaccines are required. However, horses receiving the influenza and rhinopneumonitis (respiratory form) vaccine should be revaccinated every 60-90 days. Immunity to these diseases is short and revaccination is necessary. If winters are mild enough that mosquitoes are seen, EEE and WEE should also be repeated in late fall or early winter. Not every foal needs to be vaccinated for every disease. Vaccination programs should be tailored to a specific farm or situation. The Veterinarian is important in recommending a specific vaccination program for each horse.

Nutritional Management

An important role in early foal management is creep feeding. As foals increase in age, their dependence on solid food increases while milk intake decreases. The mare’s milk is providing only about 50 percent of the protein and energy the 3-month-old foal requires. It is necessary to provide creep feed to the foal to meet the foal’s nutrient demand for optimum foal growth.

Foals may be offered creep feed as early as two weeks of age. However, very little consumption will take place at this time. Initially, foals will start to nibble and play with the creep feed before reaching normal consumption levels of one to three pounds per day, depending on the age of the foal.

Fresh creep feed should be put into the feeder daily. Creep feed left in the feeder that day can be fed to mares or other horses if it has not become sour or moldy. The major considerations of a good creep feed include high quality protein, moderately high energy levels and adequate calcium and phosphorus amounts in the proper ratios. Presented below is a creep ration that is highly palatable and nutritionally adequate.

Creep Feeding

Creep Feeding


Example Creep Ration

Ingredient % of Ration

Oats, crimped 50.5

Corn, cracked 23.0

Soybean meal 20.0

Molasses 5.0

Ground limestone 0.9

Dicalcium phosphate 0.6


The key to a good creep feed is palatability and quality. The foal’s digestive tract is designed to take in small amounts of feed at frequent intervals, not a large amount once a day.

The grains included in a creep feed can be:

  • Crimped
  • Flaked
  • Rolled
  • Cracked

Generally the creep feed is a mixture of grains, protein supplements, vitamins and minerals. Molasses is normally added to enhance palatability of the creep feed. Creep feeds that are pelleted are not only accepted but are preferred by many horse owners. Just about any processing method, except finely ground, is acceptable. Feed processing improves acceptability and digestibility of the feed for the young, growing foal when compared to whole grain.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.