All About Foaling
Your mare is within weeks of foaling and time passed quicker than you imagined. The day is quickly approaching and you realize you are NOT ready. Take a deep breath, relax and get prepared!
Stall preparation: If the plan is to have your mare foal in a pipe corral or pen instead of a barn stall you’ll need to make a few changes. Foals can easily slip through between the lower rail and the ground thus getting separated from their dam. Both foal and mare will suffer….foals won’t get to drink right away which could be disasterous and mares will be going crazy which can lead to injuries. Therefore we need to foal-proof the pen. This is easily done by either securing ½” plywood to the corral panels making sure the edge comes all the way to the ground. Securing can be done by drilling holes in the plywood and using zip ties around the vertical poles. You must include gate panels too. The added benefit is it also allows privacy if there are other horses nearby. The other way to make a pen safer is to use bales of straw (placed on their edge) around the inside perimeter of the pen. This works well for both pipe corrals or chain link (wouldn’t want baby to catch a foot through or under the chain link). A shelter is also imperative. It is no fun and unhealthy to have a foal out in the rain. We’d hate to have to have you clear out the garage to serve as a nursery (yes, it has been done)! Make sure it is tall enough for your mare and that there is enough room for mom and baby to lie down. A 14X14 shelter is adequate for most average size mares.
Safety check: Make sure all bolts are to the outside of the pen and there are no stray wires, hooks etc. Water placement: It is dangerous to have a large tub of water on the ground as the foal could drown in it. Hanging a bucket or an automatic waterer is much safer.
Creature comforts: While a mint on the pillow is not necessary there should be plenty of straw bedding in the pen. Make sure you clean this daily. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain but it’s less dusty than shavings. Dust can irritate the foals respiratory passages and predispose it to infections. While you’re at it make sure you have some creature comforts for yourself nearby…i.e. lounge chair and sleeping bag, stocked cooler, pillow, a good book etc. or a nice travel trailer or better yet a monitoring system with video and sound! There are foaling alert systems available as well that alert you when the mare goes into labor.
You’ll also want to gather a foaling kit: a plastic tool box works wonders. It should include: 1)Vets phone number 2) towels 3) Nolvasan or betadine solution to dip the naval 4) shot glass (for the nolvasan not you!) 5) a watch 6) timeline for normal foals 7) Fleet enema 8) Land O’ Lakes Mares Match milk replacer (incase your mare does not produce enough milk) 9) flashlight and extra batteries. 10) camera. A bucket with a lid should also be nearby for the placenta ( and rubber gloves for the squimish).
Whew, now that the hard part is over…you get to look for clues of impending foaling:
1) Beginning of udder filling 2-4 weeks prior. Some sneaky mares don’t fill until just before or even after foaling.
2) Distension of the teats 4-6 days pre-foaling. (except in those sneaky mares mentioned above).
3) Waxing of the teats 1-4 days pre-foaling (does not always occur)
4) Softening of the muscles of the croup (look around the tail head)
5) The mare may get anxious/restless or even appear colicky. She may kick at her belly, bite her flanks, lie down and get up. This should not last more than an hour or two. This would be first stage labor and can occur for several days. Usually these signs diminish and your horse will go back to eating or she will progress to actual labor. If this does not occur it may be a true colic instead and you should call your veterinarian.
If it appears that all is proceeding, have your cell phone and watch handy. The end of the first stage is the water breaking. Contractions are strong and the foal should be expelled within 30 minutes, call your vet if it is taking longer. If there has been no progress (no portion of the foal is showing) within 15 minutes call your vet for help. Otherwise sit back, be quiet and wait. Mares appreciate quiet and no bright lights.
Avoid the urge to “help” unless instructed by a veterinarian.
Wow, that was fast! Now what? The mare and foal should lay quietly for several minutes. Don’t go in until the umbilicus breaks (usually after the foal struggles a bit or the mare gets up). Get the nolvasan in the shot glass, if it’s cold take some towels with you to dry the foal a bit. Dip the naval in the nolvasan. Repeat the dip every 12 hrs for the next few days. It is ok to do a little imprinting (5 min or so), touch the foal all over including ears and nose. Then leave the foal alone. The timeline for normal foals is:
1) starts attempting to rise in 30 min.
2) stands and nurses within 2 hours (call vet if longer). Watch for actual latching onto the teat and swallowing. Make sure your mare stands for these attempts. Foals get discouraged quickly. If necessary halter the mare and restrain as necessary. If you are not comfortable with restraint (i.e. a twitch or lip chain) make sure you have someone with you that is, just in case.
3) passes meconium (dark sticky first stool) within 12 hours post birth. If not or you see straining call your vet.
4) Mare should pass the placenta by 3 hours, if not call the vet. A retained placenta can be life threatening. Save the placenta in a bucket and cover with water and a lid (dogs think placenta is a lovely treat) for the vet to check later.
5) Allow the mare access to food and water
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having your foal nurse successfully in the outlined time. Foals must have that first milk (colostrum) starting at 2hrs and continuing through the first 8-12 hours. This is the only way a foal gets immunity to fight diseases early in life. They are also susceptible to dehydration.
Call your veterinarian or leave a message within the first few hours to schedule a mare and foal exam. This is typically done after the first 12 hours unless there are problems. The veterinarian will tell you anything they are concerned about. A blood sample is collected from the foal to run an IgG test which gives us a level of antibodies (immunity) the foal has received from the colostrum. If it is below an acceptable level the foal may have to be treated.
If all this is overwhelming we can also help refer you to an experienced person who can take your mare prior to foaling and do all the work and worry for you!
Most importantly enjoy watching your foal and take lots of pictures….they grow up fast!
A.C.E.S. wishes you a healthy and happy foaling!