Expecting a foal
Expecting a Foal?
If you are expecting your mare to foal this year it is important to plan well in advance. It should be emphasised that the vast majority of mares (even maiden) mares foal without difficulty, and produce a healthy foal. You do not need to worry about the event, but you should be well prepared!
These notes are intended to help if your mare is due to foal at home.
Preparation of the mare
Tetanus and influenza vaccination within 4 weeks of giving birth will ensure that the foal receives colostrum rich in antibodies to both of these diseases.
Regular exercise (turn out into a paddock during the day) is vital to decrease the amount of fluid retention (oedema) around the udder and abdomen.
Regular (at least twice daily) monitoring of mammary development is very important as it helps to estimate when the mare is getting near to foaling. Any changes in the mammary gland should be noted, in particular dripping of milk or waxing up.
Minimum size is 3m x 3m (10ft x 10ft), with a size of 5m x 5m (16ft x 16 ft) being desirable as this will allow more space for people should it become necessary. Make sure that the door opens outwards! A closed circuit television camera is ideal for observation, but otherwise a window from which the mare can be seen without disturbing her will suffice.
The best bedding is CLEAN STRAW as this provides a warm and comfortable bed for mare and foal. Put the bed down the day before the expected foaling so as not to create too much dust.
There should be no sharp edges, buckets or feed bins. GOOD LIGHTING is essential. The box should be warm and free from air draft.
Remember you may have to sit up with the mare for several nights so a warm room for the attendants is useful!
Basic foaling equipment.
Have some clean towels ready to dry the foal with.
Disinfectant (e.g Hibiscrub) to dip the foal’s navel in immediately after birth.
Access to hot water.
Clean protective clothing including wellingtons.
A tail bandage for the mare
Notify your vet. Make sure that your vet knows that you have a mare expecting a foal and when it is due so that should you require assistance he can be prepared for any eventuality.
If you are uncertain about any part of the foaling process call your vet for help or advice before the big day
Foaling in mares is usually a rapid event. Initially mares may show patchy sweating, pawing at the ground, looking around at the flanks, pacing uneasily around the box, and curling of the upper lip. These signs are not infrequently mistaken for colic! This first stage of labour may last from 1 to 4 hours, but can be very variable, and sometimes there may be repetitive false alarms (especially in maiden Thoroughbreds). Once it has been established that the mare has started to foal a tail bandage should be applied. The mare may lie down and roll from side to side; this is thought to help the foal move into the correct position for foaling.
Mares usually foal lying down. The first sign that foaling has actually started is often several gallons of clear fluid escaping from the vagina, it is possible to miss this as it happens very quickly. Within 5 minutes a white glistening membrane should appear between the vulvar lips. First one front foot of the foal and a few minutes later the second front foot should appear within this membrane. The nose should then follow. It is not uncommon for mares to stand up just after the feet are presented and then lie down again. If a thick red membrane appears (see below) this means that foetal membranes have not correctly separated and you should call your vet for advice IMMEDIATELY. It may be necessary for you to rupture this membrane, but you should consult your vet first.
If you see a thick red bag call your vet immediately!
If foaling is progressing normally the foal should be delivered within 15 minutes of seeing the first foot, if there is excessive delay (no progress over about 30 minutes) call your vet.
Rarely the foal is born with the clear foetal membranes unbroken around its head; this will prevent it from breathing. You must clear these membranes immediately yourself. DO NOT separate the umbilical cord; blood continues to flow from the placenta to the foal for several minutes after completion of the birthing process. The cord will separate naturally when the mare stands up.
The final stage of parturition is delivery of the placenta (cleansing). This usually occurs within one hour of foaling. If cleansing is delayed it may become necessary for your vet to manually remove the afterbirth. DO NOT pull on the placenta yourself; this can cause a prolapse of the entire uterus (which is often fatal). Mares should be cleansed within 6 hours of delivery of the foal. Remember to retain the placenta in a clean plastic bag or bucket, for your vet to examine.
Any foal born after 320 days gestation is considered full term. Some mares gestate for 365 days or more and produce totally normal foals, so in the absence of any adverse signs do not be alarmed if your mare has a prolonged gestation.
Within 5 minutes of birth your foal should be able to lift his head, and after 15 minutes should be making some attempts to stand.
Remember to treat the navel (according to your vet’s recommendations).
Foals should be able to stand within 1/2 – 1 1/2 hours of birth. It is vital that foals suckle colostrum (first milk) from the mare within 3 hours of birth. After 12 hours the foal should be nursing strongly and bonded with its mother. Some foals (especially colt foals) have difficulty in passing the foetal faeces (meconium). This should start within four hours of birth. If the foal does not pass faeces or shows signs of colic, consult your vet (see below).
This foal needs urgent veterinary attention it has a retained meconium causing colic.
Post Foaling Veterinary Check
You should ask your vet to perform a post foaling check on both the mare and your new foal. He will want to carefully check the placenta. Any tears in vulvar lips can be sutured and repaired at this time. In high risk foals prophylactic antibiotics may be administered, but only if your vet thinks that this is essential, she may also administer an enema if the foal has not passed meconium.