Doc’s Blog

Imprint Training of Foals

     In a conversation with an equestrienne friend, I asked if she had ever read any books written by Robert M. Miller, DVM - she had not. She also was not familiar with the concept of imprint training of foals.  I guess she  was mostly focused on her horse’ performance rather than early training of foals. 


     Dr. Miller  wears many hats — veterinarian, equine behaviorist, author, and cartoonist.  My first exposure to his work was his whimsical cartoons on veterinary life published in Vet magazines.  One of which is displayed below.

     He is best known for his pioneer work in the concept of imprinting foals.    Early in his practice, Dr. Miller observed how dangerous it was-to vets and horses alike-when adult unbroken horses were first handled for treatment.  He developed a protocol of handling foals at birth to imprint an acceptance of human contact in the newborn foals. The lessons learned in the first few days of life persists to adult and makes the grown horses comfortable around humans and safer to train and treat if necessary.

      The process is relatively simple. The newborn is touched everyplace from ears to including feet and legs.  The foal may be haltered and taught to lead.  Feet may be picked up and examined, mimicking future activities.  The goal is to get the youngsters used to all the handling they will experience as adults.  Horses have exceptional memories and will remember early lessons for life. 

     Imprinting occurs in most species.  Ducklings hatched by a chicken will imprint on the hen as their Mom and follow her around. — a strange sight to see a line of ducklings following a chicken.  

     I don’t know of anyone deliberately  imprinting dairy caves but raising calves in individual hutches is a close second as it allows the animals to bond with their human caretakers .  It does, however, lack the actual physical touching associated with imprinting.  

Dr. Miller has written several books on this subject and there is a lot of information available on the internet. 

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Cattle Massacre in New Zealand


     I see where New Zealand is planning to kill 150,000 cows in an attempt to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis.  This bacteria can cause cows to develop mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis— all of which result in production losses. Of the 39  herds known to be infected, they plan to slaughter some of the cows for human consumption and exterminate the rest and bury them on the farm. The estimated cost is  over 600 million USD.  

     I think this is a bad idea for several reasons.  If there is a possibility of other domestic or feral animals also harboring the disease, there is always the possibility of reinfection from these sources.  Here in the US. Brucellosis and Tuberculosis have been eradicated in most domestic herds but are still endemic in feral bison, elk and deer.

     I also wonder if it is a good idea to arbitrarily kill the exposed, unaffected animals in the infected herds.  It seems to me, the fact some animals in the herd are not affected indicates a degree of natural immunity to the disease that would be beneficial to preserve.

     In the last analysis, it often is not a bacteria that causes a problem but an impaired immune system.  If New Zealand cows are not managed any better than US cows they, too, are probably under a lot of stress, force fed too much protein and suffer from grossly unbalanced minerals in their diet.  An animal with an impaired immune system is more susceptible to any germ that comes along — if you eradicate one germ another will often take its place.  

     In 1961 the USDA mandated a Hog Cholera eradication program which successfully resulted in the US being declared free of Hog Cholera in 1978.  This was hailed as a great success.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before other, heretofore almost unknown, virus diseases of swine such as pseudo-rabies began to cost the swine industry almost as many dollars as had Hog Cholera before eradication.  This is a good example of the way nature uses germs as ‘censors of nature’ to eliminate substandard individuals.