Your mare should be taken to the foaling location at least 3-4 weeks before the expected foaling date, so that she can produce antibodies to the bugs present in the environment where the foal will be born as it is these antibodies that will be passed on to the foal in the first milk (colostrum).
A large loose box bedded with straw is ideal.
We usually recommend a booster vaccine for influenza and tetanus in the latter stages of pregnancy to ensure high antibody levels to these diseases are present in colostrum. It is also possible to vaccinate for herpesvirus and rotavirus if required.
When is your mare going to foal?
Udder development. This can begin 3-6 weeks prior to foaling.
Distension ‘ bagging –up’ with colostrum will occur in most mares 2-3 days before birth.
Waxing of the teats. Colostrum oozes from the teats and dries forming a waxy material at each teat orifice. This ‘waxing’ occurs 6-48hrs before foaling in 95% of cases, but not in all mares. If the mare is leaking milk prior to giving birth it is essential to call the vet, as there may not be sufficient colostrum left for the foal, as it may be necessary to collect and freeze the colostrum.
Stages of Foaling
The majority of foaling’s proceed easily and excessive interference may cause problems. If possible, the mare should be observed quietly from a distance, so that any problems are seen quickly, but without disturbing the natural foaling process.
Stage 1: Positioning of the Foetus
This can last from a few minutes to a few hours, and maybe preceded by several bouts of false labour. Signs of abdominal pain and restlessness are often seen, and patchy sweating around the flank and behind the elbows often occurs a few hours before foaling.
Rupture of the allantochorion (“water breaking”) marks the end of stage one.
Stage 2: Labour
Usually takes 10-30mins. Amniotic membrane appears between the vulval lips as a white, fluid-filled structure. The mare usually has runs of 3-4 contractions, followed by a short period of rest. When the foal begins to appear one front foot usually precedes the other by ~15cm, followed by the head. If possible then observe that this presentation is correct, and ring immediately if you are concerned. Delivery should take no longer than 30mins after the water breaking, and if not, the vet should be called.
DO’s and DON’Ts at this stage
DO NOT interfere with delivery if possible.
DO remove any amnion that remains over the foal’s nose to prevent suffocation.
DO NOT pull the foal away from the mare, which may prematurely break the umbilical cord
DO dip the foal’s navel after the cord is severed. We recommend that you use a 50:50 mixture of hibiscrub and surgical spirit 3-4 times during the first 24 hours.
Red Bag: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan during the labour process. Premature separation of the outer placental membrane from the uterine wall may lead to protrusion of the intact fluid-filled chorioallantois through the vulva. The dark red colour of the outer surface of the chorioallantois gives rise to common term for premature separation of the placenta – “red bag”. This situation may lead to a rapid decrease in oxygen transport to the foetus resulting in the foetus suffering from a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) or may die of asphyxiation if the condition is prolonged or progresses. Owners or foaling personnel must quickly recognize the red bag condition and call the VET immediately.
Stage 3: Expulsion
Passing of the foetal membranes (AFTERBIRTH) normally occurs within 2-4 hours. Membranes not passed within 3-6 hrs are considered retained and are potentially serious to the mare and the Vet should be called. Once passed it is worth keeping hold of the placenta so that it can be examined by the vet.
Placenta must be checked for completeness.
Caring for the foal
The umbilical cord usually breaks within 15mins. Attempts to sever the cord manually are rarely warranted and can cause serious problems. If there are any concerns the Vet should be called.
15-60 minutes: Foal should stand upright.
30-120 minutes: Foal should start sucking.
Foal must suck within 6 hours of birth
8-12 hours: First urination
4-24 hours: Meconium (dark coloured first faeces) passed
It is vitally important that the foal drinks at least 1.5 litres of colostrum within the first 6 hours of birth. The antibodies in colostrum can only be absorbed by the foal for the first 12-24 hours of their life so if this opportunity is missed severe immune problems can result. Patient and firm handling of both mare and foal is sometimes needed to ensure that suckling occurs.
Due to the consequences of not ingesting enough colostrum we recommend a blood sample be taken from the foal at 18-24 hours old to ensure enough has been absorbed. This can be tested extremely quickly, and if levels are insufficient it is necessary to give intravenous plasma to increase antibody levels. An examination of the foal is also a good idea at this point to look for any problems such as cleft palates, heart murmurs or limb deformities.
Foaling can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience, albeit one that is frequently quite stressful!
Good preparation will help ease this stress, but remember we are always only a phone call away.