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Low milk, no milk, immediate treatments, emergency situations
Low milk, no milk, immediate treatments, emergency situations

Evaluating Milk and the Newborn

Last week we discussed the importance of due diligence towards the mare and her udder.  This week we will see how important this udder is to the newborn.

In the perfect world, the newborn will stand in fifteen to thirty minutes and immediately start searching for the udder.  The mareís udder will be full of colostrum and milk.  It will not be tender and she will let the foal nurse any time it is hungry.  Because the udder is not leaking, the foal will consume two or three feedings of colostrum and be fortified with momís antibodies.  By the end of the first day (of course, most of the foals are born between two and six in the morning), the mare can be milked and we will find streams of pure white milk. Also by the end of that first day, the foal will have had several bowel movements.  All of the hard stool that accumulated during pregnancy has passed. What we see now is a soft, butterscotch colored stool, indicating the milk is moving right through.  The baby is spending a lot of time napping, and will awaken to play or nurse.

In the real world there are several things about the foal that will alert us to a shortage of milk in the mare.  We will notice immediately the foal is spending all of its time nursing.  This is not to be taken that the foal has a great appetite!  The foal only needs to nurse a couple of times per hour to be satisfied.  In addition, the poor foal will walk around humped up with its tail out.  It has not passed any significant amount of stool, but feels like it needs to.  During our exam of the newborn, we examine the rectum for stool.  We know immediately what the situation is with the mareís milk by the consistency of the foalís stool.

By the time we see the foal, it has nursed.  If we find the stool to be hard and packed into the rectum, we immediately become suspicious of the mareís milk, or the lack thereof.  Occasionally simple impaction of the stool will occur, but the most common cause of constipation is a shortage of milk coming in the front to push the old stool out.  Either condition will be greatly relieved by administering an enema.  This should be repeated every four hours until the aforementioned soft, yellow stool is passed.

Observation of the foal is a simple way to evaluate the mareís milk production.  However, our preference is to milk the mare twelve hours after you find the foal (so this will usually be the evening of the first day).  At that time you should find pure white milk.  If you do not, start the mare on the oral medicine we mentioned last week.  This will start and/or increase milk flow.  Then you and your partner draw straws to see who gives the enema and who comes to the clinic to pick up oral colostrum, milk replacer, antibiotics, and tetanus antitoxin.  We must not wait to see if the mare will start producing milk before deciding to feed the baby.  By the time we realize the mare is not producing milk, the foal is already hungry, constipated, immune-compromised due to lack of colostrum, and on its way to developing septicemia (navel or joint ill).  In addition, even if the mare does develop milk within the next three days, the short time you have spent feeding the baby six to eight times a day will help you build appreciation for the job the mare does!  If you do not start the baby on supplemental milk by the second day, the prognosis for saving the foal decreases dramatically.

There is also a potential problem with the mare that is milking well. This is during the first period of sexual activity, called foal heat.  Amazingly enough, foal heat occurs only ten days after foaling.  We will discuss breeding the mare during this time at a later date.

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