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Veterinary Medicine

Woodrow's rough start in life

May 7, 2009

Foals born in the middle of winter, in the snow, more than three weeks early, unattended, and to a maiden mare with less-than-ideal mothering credentials, usually don't fare too well in a rough and tumble world. But Woodrow has shown that even in the direst circumstances, determination and quality care can be enough to beat the odds.

Found alone, in a snow bank

Woodrow’s story began a year ago, when he made his early entrance into the world, born to a maiden mare in the cold of night. His first night may have been his last if not for the efforts of an attentive farm manager and the veterinary medical team at the Equine Reproduction Laboratory.

The farm manager found the newborn foal cold and weak in a snow bank. Wrapped in a blanket, piled into the back seat of an SUV, Woodrow made the trip to Colorado State University and the ERL where his condition was assessed and treatment begun.

Hypothermic, dehydrated, shocky

The foal was hypothermic, dehydrated, shocky, and had a very weak suckle response. His medical team began treatment immediately with warmed intravenous fluids, plasma, antibiotics, naval disinfection, heat lamps, a warm water pad, blankets, and lots of one-on-one attention from an army of students determined to see the colt make it through his first day. An asogastric tube also was put in place to deliver colostrum directly to the foal’s stomach, and milk replacer was fed by a bottle every one to two hours.

Woodrow also was the beneficiary of a new test developed at the ERL that can quickly and accurately show the level of antibody (IgG) in the blood.

“At the ERL, we developed a blood test for measurement of antibody levels that yields immediate results,” said Dr. Patrick McCue, Woodrow’s attending clinician. “With Woodrow, the test showed his antibody levels were inadequate and that he would benefit from additional antibody in the form of frozen-thawed colostrum and plasma to provide immune protection against infectious disease.”

Adoptive mom found at ERL

After two hours of treatment, Woodrow began to improve. His mother was brought to the clinic but attempts to reunite the mare with her foal were unsuccessful.

Eventually, a suitable surrogate mare was selected from the ERL herd and treated with hormones to stimulate her to come into milk. Woodrow’s adoptive mom, who had a history of being a good mother to a previous foal of her own, allowed the orphan to nurse and his future looked promising.

Premature birth complications, umbilical infection

But Woodrow wasn’t out of the woods yet. Radiographs taken at 4 days of age showed Woodrow’s knees and hocks had incomplete ossification of the bones of those joints, probably due to his premature birth. He was fitted with a set of splints and ordered to “bed rest” for almost three weeks, still able to stand and nurse, but with limited exercise. At 12 days old, Woodrow developed another medical condition, called a patent urachus, and an umbilical infection. During fetal development the urachus is a tube that connects the bladder to the umbilicus.

After birth, the urachus normally closes. If the urachus remains open, the risk of infection is very high. Woodrow had surgery to remove the infected umbilical stump. The clinical staff waited for the next medical crisis, but Woodrow’s troubles seemed to finally be over.

Woodrow now roams a 40-acre pasture near Fort Collins

At one month, Woodrow was discharged from the clinic and returned with his adopted mom back to the ranch where his life began with so much uncertainty. Today, he roams a 40-acre pasture near Fort Collins where his spunk and spirit bring delight to all. Woodrow is a survivor thanks to state-of-the-art veterinary medical care, dedicated students, and a compassionate owner.


Originally published in the 2009 Equine Reproduction Laboratory newsletter.