Nothing is more important for the future well-being of the foal than judicious rearing during its early years, as then its constitution is most impressionable, and its development receives an impetus which ensures good muscle and bone, with perfectly-formed organs; or this is checked, and we have feebleness, insufficient growth, organs that are unsound or badly perform their function, and a constitution that will not endure strain - all depending upon careful or neglectful rearing. When half-starved and badly kept for the first two or three years of their lives, no amount of attention will afterwards compensate for the lost opportunity of promoting free growth and full development in the foals.
Therefore it is that the wise breeder will see to it that foals and young horses have a plentiful supply of good and proper food, sufficient exercise, and pay attention to their feet, limbs, and body. Their growth and condition, while being suckled, should be watched, and diarrhoea and constipation guarded against, as they are quickly pernicious to the well-being of the young animals.
If allowed to suck the first milk, constipation is not likely to occur in the young foal; nevertheless, it may happen, and to guard against it a dose of castor-oil is often given soon after birth. This does no harm, and may be productive of good.
Diarrhoea is a very serious disease in foals, and should be guarded against by keeping them and their dams in healthy places and comfortable. When it appears it must be checked immediately by the exhibition of a dose of castor-oil, given in a little milk or gruel, and afterwards small doses of alkaline medicine - such as bicarbonate or biborate of soda, with a few drops of tincture of iron, and if there is straining or evidence of pain, a similar quantity of laudanum. Boiled rice or starch-gruel should be used as the vehicle of these medicines, as well as food in small doses at intervals. The body should be enveloped in a soft warm blanket, and the dwelling kept clean and comfortable. As the mare's milk may be the cause, the foal should be kept from her except at short intervals, and her diet ought to be changed, while tonics - as iron - and alkaline medicines, may be beneficially given to her.
If the foal, because of the death of the dam or other reason, has to be reared artificially, cow's milk, diluted with water and a little sugar added, will suffice in some cases; in others the foal will not thrive upon it, and in lieu of a portion of it bean-milk has been used most successfully. This is prepared by boiling beans almost to a pulp, taking away their shells, and pressing them through a fine hair sieve. A very little salt may be added to the cream-like fluid or paste, which may be made thinner when about to be given by the addition of the diluted cow's milk.
Foals soon begin to masticate, and when a month or two old, if necessary and convenient, a small quantity of scalded oats made into a mash with bran (a little salt being added), when given every day will stimulate growth. Some breeders even add boiled beans or peas to the mash, and Reynolds says, speaking of draught-foals, that a half-pint of beans gradually increased to a quart per day, is of greater benefit than twice the quantity allowed at two or three years old.
When weaned, the same care should be exercised in giving l 2 such food as will produce muscle and bone, though the rearing should not be forced so as to produce obesity; and plenty of exercise is as necessary almost as food.
During the first year grazing will give exercise and food to some extent; but as growth is rapid at this time a good supply of artificial food should not be withheld. Oats, crushed, should be the chief grain, and a small proportion of beans, split, mixed with these, the whole being scalded or boiled if possible, and bran added to form a mash, is good and appropriate feeding, together with sound hay. In winter shelter is necessary, during the night at least, and the allowance of food must be increased. Until two years old the same treatment should be continued, and voluntary exercise allowed every day; but if a number of foals are together, the fillies ought to be separated from the colts, and the question of castrating the latter has to be considered, as also the advisability of completing the rearing in the straw-yard or at pasture. With regard to the last question much will depend upon circumstances. Whichever course may be decided upon, the food aspect of rearing must not be neglected, as under-feeding is far from being economical; and though it is very desirable to handle, and even work animals at two and three years of age, yet as they have not reached maturity, long-continued or severe labour is most reprehensible, as it brings about premature decay.