foal who wont eat food

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Active Member
Feb 14, 2005
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Lone Star State
I just purchased a mare with her 4 month old colt at her side, and he will not eat or drink anything besides his mothers milk. It is obvious by his body condition he is not getting enough nutrition from his momma, I have tried, tying his mom in the stall so he gets the amount of food a foal his age would need, but he still will not eat just nursed, so I thought I would try feeding them in seperate stalls but side by side, all his did was stand at the common wall by her so the next time I thought ok I put her where they could still see each other but not touch still would not eat and she went postal. So the next time I tried to put him in a pasutre by himself and put out all the food and water he wanted he would not leave the fence where his mother was he could not nurse just see her, it was not in the heat of the day but he was thursty he walked over to the water sniffed it and walked away, the vet is coming out tomorrow to make sure all is well he is not dehydrated becuase he still nurses but he needs nutrition and needs to be weaned and I can not do it or would die from not eating or drinking does anyone have any ideas? I have tried several differnt feeds as well.

Thanks Christine
I'm sure someone will come along with more information, but here's my two cents, for what it's worth.

Is the mare getting any grains or whatever you are trying to feed the foal? Usually foals learn by example. Usually, whatever momma is eating the foals will try. I'm sorry I can't be of more help, the foals (all full-size) that I have raised have all readily eaten grain or any other feed I've put in front of them.
Oh my, It sounds like that baby has never had water or feed where he could reach it. You are sure right. You can't wean him till he learns to eat and drink.

Chandab is right, foals learn to eat what mom is eating and drinking. You might try a big flat pan of some sort to feed mom from. Most mares will let their babies eat with them. If she doesn't, put out two flat pans a couple of feet will eat from one, then the other and baby will gradually get the idea. He may start just licking the pan after she finishes, but that is a start.

And all water sources should be down where he can reach. He will gradually learn to drink as mom does.

this isn't the first time I have heard of people thinking baby doesn't need any water or feed till it's ready to wean.......geez! What if the mare dies or dries up? Poor baby.

Good luck and I bet your little one learns pretty quickly.

Your situation sounds like the classic example of -- "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" !!

First, how long has it been since your new mare and the foal arrived? It may take some time for the foal to feel settled. (Plus, if the mare is feeling insecure - that will reflect on how secure the foal feels.)

Second, I would just keep puting out the hay and grain for mom with plenty of space or a large enough dish for the foal to share in. Eventually the foal will copy mom.

Third, if the foal is indicating that he isn't interested in eating anything on his may be forced to just waiting a little longer before you wean him.

I wouldn't worry too much yet...... It's rare that a mare likes their yearling colt to still be nursing on her!
(Bad joke....sorry.)

We have had them a week. Momma does eat but she ate so quickly that he was not getting anything, or so I thought, but now I see he is just not wanting to eat, as I did put two buckets in one stall at one point and that just did not work. He takes maybe one bite. My water troughs are low enough where he can get to them he sniffs it and just walks off. I dont mind waiting on weaning I am more concerned about the lack of nutrition as I was told after 3 months the foal is not getting any nutrition off the milk and he should be eating several pounds a day and he is eating a table spoon worth. I asked the previous owner what he fed so I went out and bought it so they would be on the same thing so that made me think he was feeding them, and the mare does not look like she has missed many meals. I hope he learns, I was just out of ideas and getting worried and frustrated trying to get him to eat and english was not working. thanks everyone hopefully he will just "come around"

Well, actually, he is getting nutrition from the mare's milk. But he should be eating a healthy portion of other feed by this time.

It sounds to me like he might have developed an ulcer from stress. I would start him on a daily probiotic and also an ulcer medication such as ranitidine. I would talk to my vet about it. If he's really not eating, then there is something wrong. Does he seem to be nursing regularly? Was he used to being with other foals? He might be having withdrawal symptoms!
I agree with Becky, have your vet check him for ulcers (or ask if the colt can be started on ulcer meds asap and see if it helps, as it certainly wouldn't hurt). Not eating, as a four month old, is not normal. If it is ulcers, they should clear up quite quickly, but I would wait at least a couple of months to wean him so he can gain weight and be settled in before he gets more stress. Good luck!
IME ulcers would send him off suck, but it is always worth a try- Ulcers are always my first guess these days as the treatment can do no harm. The foal is getting very little from the mares milk by four months, you are right, all the goodness has starting fading and if the milk hairs have fallen out on the foal- the soft curly baby whiskers- it cannot digest the milk anyway, as the digestive juices in it's stomach have changed. HOWEVER- because this foal has been so very reliant on it's mother- which is unusual, it is likely that things have slowed down a bit. I have a foal that is, to put it mildly, a picky eater, so what I did was line up a row of feeders with a smidgen of something different in each, and his Mama just on one side of a sheep hurdle and all his brothers and sisters on the other (they eat like piggies) so- he had a wee bit of barley, then in the other corner of the feeder he had a wee bit of barley with honey mixed in. Next feeder some plain corn, then corn with honey (or syrup/ molasses, whatever) and so on until I had exhausted my feed supplies!! I found he liked Beet Pulp, he liked soaked Alfalfa Pellets, he liked soaked Stud pellets and he loved chopped Alfalfa- that was a starting point. With all those bins to rummage through, curiosity will get the better of your foal, so give it a try!! Once you find out what he will eat just mix a tiny bit of something else into it- like a baby that won't eat his greens!!- This foal scrumped away four cups of feed like a tiny equine hoover yesterday so, Houston, we have lift off!! It takes a few days and endless patience- handfeeding might work for some but I find it's best to go away and leave them to it, instead of "hovering" I would not use pans on the floor for this- my foal already tries to climb into his feeder anyway- as the foal will kick it over and it is a difficult position for a foal to get into- it's neck still isn't long enough really, and if he is not used to it this alone will put him off. What he really needs to start him off is some good grazing, though, once he is eating he will eat anything, I find. Good Luck.

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