Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mare milking simplified

Buck Wheeler demonstrates UdderlyEZ
If you go to the expense and risk of breeding and foaling a mare, skimping on solid management practices could set you back. A universally accepted rule of having a healthy foal is making sure it gets its mother's first milk, or colostrum.

"Every foal should have colostrum milk as soon after birth as possible," said Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison extension equine specialist. "Foals should nurse within at least 24 hours of birth to help them get their immune systems going."

Colostrum is the first milk produced by a mare and is loaded with important antibodies and nutrients that jump start the entire system and help the baby fend off disease.

Sandberg said most of the time, a foal is born, gets up and successfully finds its way to the mare's udder as has happened for millions of years, but once in a while there's a delay or problem.

To maximize your chances of having a healthy foal, R.C. "Buck" Wheeler, founder of Wheeler Enterprises, a family-owned animal products business based in Ellendale, Minn., suggested getting colostrum into the newborn directly after clearing breathing passages, applying iodine to the naval and letting the mare have a chance to get up and lick her foal to start the bonding process.

Getting fresh colostrum into the foal before it stands up means you have to milk the mare.

At large breeding stables, harvesting colostrum from the mare is routine practice, Wheeler said. However, there are a series of challenges with milking a mare and then getting the colostrum into the foal.

Milking a mare by hand, getting the milk into a container and then feeding it to the foal each present unique problems.

"At first we used a modified large 60cc syringe," Wheeler said. "Cut the needle end off, invert the plunger so the flanged end went over the teat, then slowly draw and hope not to spill," he said.

Even if you got the syringe filled you had to pull a nipple of some sort over the end or get it into a bottle and then try to get the foal to nurse.

"I kept thinking about this," he said. "I lost some sleep trying to figure something out."

The result of his sleepless nights was an invention Wheeler named the "Udderly EZ Milker." The milker is fully patented and has been on the market six years.

"I sat down with some engineers at a plastics molding firm in Albert Lea, Minn., and we worked out a prototype on the extractor tubes for the milker" Wheeler said. "The first one they made worked."

Wheeler demonstrated the mare milker during the recent World Clydesdale Show in Madison. Slip the hand-held pump over a teat, pump for some gentle vacuum and an attached eight-ounce bottle is quickly filled with mare's milk.

"I want to give a foal 8 ounces of fresh colostrum right away," Wheeler said. "They get the antibodies right away, and I think that warm milk helps to warm their bodies. The sooner you give them the colostrum and the sooner they get the antibodies the quicker they can develop immunities."

If you plan to milk the mare, Sandberg suggested washing the udder and teats with a milk soap and warm water. Wash and dry the udder to avoid contaminating the milk.

If using the Udderly EZ Milker apply a small amount of bag balm to the teat first. This helps set the seal for the vacuum pump.

"You can also bank colostrum," Sandberg said. "It can be frozen and used later if you have an orphan or if a foal won't nurse for some reason. You can keep it in a freezer two or three years."

The Udderly EZ Milker has a freezer-safe bottle attached. Each unit sells for about $165 and includes the pump, two extraction cylinders, 1-pint colostrum/milk collection bottle with cap, two 8-ounce colostrum/milk collection bottles with caps, bottle nipple, udder wipes, manual and a free instructional DVD.

There also are simple tests available to check the quality of the colostrum by measuring density. The more dense the colostrum, the higher the colostrum quality.

"After a while you can tell a lot by just looking at it," Wheeler said.

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