Foaling at Home
Foaling at home
Length of pregnancy
Duration of pregnancy is approximately 330-345 days, but is very variable, with extremes of 310-370 days or even longer. In general, most individually follow similar patterns year after year. Foals are considered premature if delivered at less than 326 days of gestation and usually require immediate veterinary attention.
*Mares will foal when they’re ready, not necessarily when they are calculated to be due!*
Housing and facilities
Ideally, a mare should be placed in the foaling environment 2 to 3 weeks to her expected foaling date, to avoid stress. Whatever the choice of foaling locations, the environment should be clean, have adequate space, and be reasonably quiet. If foaling will take place in a stall, make sure it’s freshly bedded with clean, dry straw rather than shavings (shavings tend to stick to new born foals!).
Basic foaling equipment
- Clean towels to dry the foal with
- Disinfectant (e.g. diluted Hibiscrub) to dip the foal’s navel immediately after birth
- Access to worm water
- Tail bandage for the mare
The signs of impending parturition are about as variable as gestation length. Although mares show a big amount of variation, many do repeat their foaling behaviour year after year. Classical signs of approaching parturition include udder development, beginning 2 to 6 weeks before foaling. Milk is let down into the teats 4 to 6 days prior to parturition. Due to oozing of some of the colostrum, the ends of the teats become covered over and the mare is said to be waxing, which occurs 1 to 2 days before foaling. At this stage, some mares will have occasional dripping or streaming of colostrum. If this streaming is continuous, it is advised to collect and store the colostrum for possible use with the new born foal. In addition to changes associated with the mammary gland, muscular relaxation in the pelvic region occurs progressively during the last 7 to 14 days of gestation. The mare’s vulva begins to relax during the final days. Many mares show these classic signs of approaching parturition, which makes it fairly easy to determine their foaling time. On the other hand, some mares will break the rules and these signs may not be present, or may appear at varied times. Furthermore, maiden mares (mares having their first foal) may show all or none of these signs.
Parturition typically is broken down into three stages.
Stage I, normally lasting 1 to 4 hours, reflects the initial uterine contractions and final positioning of the foal for delivery. These contractions will make the mare appear nervous and uncomfortable. Typically, the mare will exhibit the following behaviour:
- Pawing the bedding
- Getting up and down frequently
- Sweating in the flanks
- Urinating frequently
During this stage, if safe to do so, the mare can be prepared for foaling. This could include washing the mare’s vulva and udder with warm water and wrapping her tail with a clean bandage.
Stage II is the most critical time, as this is when the foal actually appears. If foaling is proceeding normally, the mare should be left on her own. This second stage usually is completed in 10 to 30 minutes. Close observation, without interference unless absolutely necessary, is important throughout this stage. The mare will experience heavy abdominal contractions and lie flat on her side. In a normal presentation, both front feet with heels down will appear first. Usually one foot will be slightly ahead of the other. The feet are followed by the nose and head resting between the knees. Following birth, the mare may rest, allowing the foal’s hind legs to remain in the birth canal for a period of time before they are pushed out. Once the foal is born, patience is critical. Donâ€™t rush into the stall, as this may cause the mare to stand which can prematurely rupture the umbilical cord. Let the mare lie as long as possible to prevent early cord rupture, as the foal receives several pints of blood via the umbilicus if left undisturbed. Stage II ends when the umbilical cord is broken as the mare stands or the foal struggles. 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.
If the 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), please call your vet immediately.
If at any time during stage II you see a dark red/maroon membrane covering the foal as it emerges, you must act immediately as you may need to tear the membrane if it is a â€œred bag delivery. You should CALL THE VET STRAIGHT AWAY for advice, as the red membrane may be the mare’s inverted bladder â€“ if you push the bag firmly and feel the foal’s bones inside the membrane you must immediately tear/cut through the membrane as the foal becomes detached from its blood and oxygen supply. By tearing the membranes, you expose the foal’s head to the air so that it can breathe. You should also assist the delivery by pulling the foal out as soon as possible. The normal membranes that cover foals is a white/yellow or translucent colour.
Stage III is the delivery of the placenta (afterbirth), which should be expelled 3 to 4 hours after parturition. Once expelled, examine the placenta to determine if it is intact or if any portions may have been detached. Placenta retention can be a serious issue, leading to uterine infection and/or laminitis. Under no circumstances should the placenta be pulled from the mare!
Remember to retain the placenta in a clean plastic bag or bucket, for your vet to examine.
Knowing what to expect during a normal delivery is the key to staying calm during this exciting period, but we would encourage you to contact us sooner rather than later if you have any concerns!