I have never raised an orphan foal before. I've raised baby bunnies, birds(a fledgling humming bird was the coolest) kittens, squirrels, and hamsters before, with varying degrees of success. Perhaps because I was still so distraught over Crystal's death, and because he fought most of my efforts to help him, the first few days taking care of Zeeba were terribly nerve racking for me. A foal that is used to his mother's milk does NOT want to change to drinking reconstituted milk replacer powder. I don't blame them either, in the course of trying to coax our boy into eating the milk replacer, he somehow managed to cause me to taste plenty of it myself, and it is not as good as it smells. It doesn't smell that good. Trying too hard to force the nasty stuff on them can make the situation far worse. For anyone who may find themselves in the same undesirable situation, I will out line what worked for us.
Tip number one: DON'T PANIC. I was so worried that Zeeba was going to dehydrate that I was trying everything I could think of to get him to drink. We literally went through 3 different types of bottle and nipple combinations, only to later discover that he was perfectly capable of drinking out of a bucket. Even though it was quite hot on the first few days Zeeba was alone it was a waste of time trying to force him to eat or drink until he was hungry enough to choke down the milk replacer. Zeeba had to hit rock bottom before he was going to willingly eat that junk, there was a little while when I thought he might check out on me. I had been using a syringe to gently dribble a few millilitres at a time into him, being very careful using the syringe, and even the bottles, it is so easy to drown a foal, but it was not until more than 48 hrs. after losing his mother that Zeeba finally took the contents of the syringe willingly. Immediately after he seemed glad to have had that drink from the syringe I offered the milk replacer to him from a shallow pan and he slurped it down greedily. Three weeks later, he has not stopped slurping milk as quickly as I can mix it for him. He drinks between 6-8 gallons of milk replacer every day.
Tip two: Have A Good Supply of Milk. As soon as Crystal looked ill we prepared for a worst case scenario and bought a bag of Foal Lac powder, that bag of Foal Lac was what nourished him in his first days alone, but then a veterinarian recommended a different brand, Progressive. It is meant to be better suited for free choice feeding, which is the best and most natural way to feed a foal, and helps prevent many of the behaviour issues common among bottle raised foals. Wanting to do what was best for our boy we went to great lengths to obtain this brand, we kept only a limited amount of the
Tip number three: Be Prepared For Flies! More than a tip, this is really a plea for help. Do any of you have ideas on how I can get rid of all these flies!?! I have NEVER had flies like I've got right now. Flies love the milk replacer and apparently it helps them reproduce on an astronomical scale! Under normal circumstances I spray my manure daily with a pesticide(Ok, not the most eco friendly thing, I know, but I hate flies), but since Zeeba needs to have that poo to eat I haven't been spraying anything. I have Mr. Sticky fly ribbons up everywhere and I am changing them daily in Zeeba's pen, but even the amazing Mr. Sticky has been powerless against the plague. I hope I'm not stuck with the invasion of the flies for the rest of the summer!
Tip four: Watch Out For Sand. This is something I have had to deal with in every foal I've raised here, so it's not just an orphan thing. It's a sandy soil thing. Most of my foals got diarrhoea when sand built up in their gut, but Zeeba was constipated. After talking again to Dr. Jacobson, who has been a huge help to us, (Thanks Dr. J) I tested Zeeba's manure and sure enough he was loaded with sand. Orange flavoured Metamcil mixed with mineral oil came to the rescue and our boy was regular as anything in no time. Unfortunately Zeeba learned that my horse Fargo loves orange Metamucil and he will actually carry the blob of Metamucil on his tongue over to the fence and let Fargo lick it out of his mouth. Naughty horses!
One of the first things people seem to comment on when I tell them about Zeeba is how badly behaved orphan foals can be. While that is partially a husbandry issue, it can also stem from training, or lack of training. Next week I will talk about Zeeba's progress towards having good manners.