Our favorite mare delivered her first foal, and he seems to be happy and growing well. He nurses from the mare, sneaks grain from her feed bin, and picks at the pasture, yet we’ve never seen him drink from the water trough. Do foals drink water? Should I be worried?
No need to worry! Most foals will start eating solid feed and nibbling pasture in the first few days of life, but few drink water because their water requirements are being met by mare’s milk.
A research study of mares and foals on pasture reported that the youngest age a foal was observed to drink water was three weeks old, with some foals never observed to drink water until weaning.
With that said, you should always allow the mare and foal to have free access to fresh water. If a nursing foal drinks a lot of water or visits the water trough frequently (more than twice daily if the environmental temperature is less than 10° C [50° F] or more than every two to four hours if the temperature is 10-35° C [50°-95° F]), the foal probably isn't receiving enough milk. Inadequate milk consumption is also indicated by prolonged or excessive periods of nursing or by below-average weight gain.
During the first month of life, the foal should nurse three to seven times per hour, with each nursing bout lasting one or two minutes. Thoroughbred foals should gain 0.8 to 1.5 kg (2 to 3 lb) per day. We recommend regular weighing of growing horses, which will help you pick up on any issues, such as low milk production in the mare.