The Importance of Colostrum, Part 2

In the final part of this horse-breeding series, learn what to do if your foal should have a failure of passive transfer.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In the first part of this series, Dr. Michelle LeBlanc explained the importance of quality colostrum and proper hygiene for a newborn foal’s health. In the final part of the series, Dr. LeBlanc will detail the steps to take should your foal have a complete failure of passive transfer.

Keep It Clean

A recent study suggests that mares should be bathed before foaling to eliminate as much bacteria from a newborn foal’s environment as possible. Dr. LeBlanc said that, while this might be a good idea, mare owners should use common sense.

“For instance, let’s say we’re in Florida, and the mare is foaling in May and it’s 90 degrees F,” she says. “(The mare) has run around in the pasture, and sweat is dripping off her body. The sweat, of course, is going to have bacteria in it, and it is going to run down her udder. It would be important to rinse that mare off. But if you are in Kentucky or Michigan, it’s not the best thing for the mare if she is foaling early in the year, it’s cold, and she won’t dry off well because she has a winter coat.

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“The point that we need to get across is that the udder should be clean and dry so that, when the foal goes to the udder, he is not sucking in bacteria. Just take warm water and rinse it down with cotton. If (the mare) has oily smegma between the two halves of the udder, then use soap, rinse it, and then take a towel and dry it off. “See to it that the mare is brushed down well and not covered with manure. When the foal gets up and tries to find the udder, they start sucking on their mother in many places. If she has manure stains on her, the foal starts sucking on that manure.”

IgG Levels

A blood test to evaluate the foal’s serum antibody level (IgG) is recommended in the first 12 to 24 hours after birth. Antibody or IgG levels should measure a minimum 800 mgs. A healthy foal delivered by uncomplicated birth into a clean environment may be able to fight off disease with IgG levels between 800 milligrams and 400 milligrams, but a veterinarian should monitor the foal’s condition closely. Foals with IgG levels between 400 and 200 milligrams are considered to have partial failure and have a 50 percent chance of becoming ill; foals with less than 200 milligrams have complete failure of passive transfer and have a 75 percent chance of illness. When passive transfer fails, quick response is needed to get colostrum or plasma into the foal to bump up IgG levels before the gut closes. Areas where the horse industry is prominent typically have colostrum banks that can supply frozen colostrum, but when the real stuff is not available, commercially available plasma is the next best thing. Plasma comes in two forms: oral and intravenous. But which is better?

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“In those types of situations, if the foal is worth some money I’d do both,” Dr. LeBlanc says. “I’d do the oral within the first six to eight hours of life, then measure the antibody levels at 18-24 hours of life, and if it is not at least 800 milligrams, then I would go ahead and give it intravenous plasma. And I would also put those babies on antibiotics.” But when all is said and done, Mother Nature’s elixir is always the best remedy. So mare owners with more than one foaling mare should consider milking about one cup of colostrum from each mare and freezing it for future use. After the foal first suckles, watch which side the foal sucks from, and then milk colostrum from the other side of the udder and freeze it. It is good for a minimum of three years in a freezer that does not self-defrost. Dr. LeBlanc says, “We now know that colostrum has various enhancement factors. What that means is there are products in colostrum that haven’t all been identified that increase the absorption of antibodies and also stimulate the immune system. From the work of many people, it appears that those factors are not in intravenous or oral plasma products.”

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