Rhiannah shares her top tips to be aware of during foaling time
1. Know When Your Mare Is Due
The average length of pregnancy is between 335–345 days, however a mare is considered at ‘term’ after 320 days, and could go over 360 days. Therefore it is certainly not necessary to be checking your mare regularly throughout the night until at least 320 days is reached, unless there is veterinary concern. This can be upsetting and disturbing for the mare, and very tiring for you!
Remember that most mares foal at night, when it is quiet and there is no one around, so constant checking can upset the normal behaviours. A foaling camera is a good way to monitor their progress from afar, without interrupting them.
2. Prepare A Clean & Safe Environment For The Mare To Foal
This should be a large, straw filled stable, that the mare has been accustomed to for at least four weeks prior to foaling. This allows her immune system to adapt to the environment, and allows the correct antibodies to form and be present in her colostrum.
3. Know The Signs of Impending Foaling To Look Out For
If your mare is maiden (i.e. she is having her first foal), then it can be difficult to know what is normal for her, whereas mares that have had multiple foals often follow the same patterns as previous years.
Most mares tend to develop the following symptoms in the days/weeks before foaling:
2–4 weeks before – the udders may begin to swell and fill with milk. In the days before foaling it is normal for mares to ‘run milk’, but be aware that running milk weeks before foaling is due can be a sign of a problem with the placenta, so seek veterinary advice if this occurs.
Likewise if the mare is running milk for too long before foaling it is possible that she will express all the vital colostrum which should be entering the foal, so again please seek veterinary advice if you are unsure.
1–4 days before – ‘Waxing’ – a discoloured waxy discharge is often seen dripping from the teats 1–4 days before foaling will occur.
24 hours before – flattening and relaxing of the tail head muscles, relaxation and elongating of the vulva, expulsion of the ‘mucus plug’ from the vagina.
1 hour before – the mare will usually become restless, even showing signs of colic; flank watching, getting up and down, pacing etc. This is likely to be the first stage of labour, and can last several hours, however if it persists longer than this, or the mare seems overly distressed you should contact your vet for advice.
The symptoms are caused by the foal repositioning itself for birth inside the birth canal, and the start of uterine contractions.
4. Know The Normal Stages of Labour
Stage 1: the foal repositioning itself within the birth canal, usually lasting 1–2hrs, where the mare will appear restless and uncomfortable. Foetal membranes appear at the mare’s vulva, and stage one ends when they break (the waters breaking) where a large volume of fluid is released.
Stage 2: this is the delivery of the foal, usually lasting less than 30 minutes. If no progress has been made after 30 minutes then you must contact us immediately.
Stage 3: this is delivery of the placenta, usually occurring in the first few hours after delivery of the foal. The mare becomes restless and uncomfortable again as the uterus contracts to expel the placenta.
If it has not been passed within three hours after the foal, then please contact us for advice.
5. Understand The Common Foaling ‘Abnormalities’
- Normal foal presentation is like superman, with the front feet coming first, followed by the nose etc. If you notice that the soles of the foal’s hooves are pointing upwards, then this could mean that they are coming backwards, and you need to contact us immediately.
- The same goes for any presentation other than both front feet and a nose.
- Excessive bleeding – some blood is normal, but if you feel there is an excessive amount, especially if the mare is straining, then please contact us for advice.
- ‘Red bag’ – this appears as a deep red structure coming from the mare’s vulva, and can be differentiated from the mare’s bladder by its velvety feel. If you palpate the structure you should be able to feel the foal’s feet and/or nose through the sac (whereas the bladder would be fluid filled only). It is caused by premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, i.e. the foal is no longer getting oxygen from the placenta, but if the foal is still inside the sac then it cannot breathe. It is an EMERGENCY and requires you to break the sac immediately to save the foal. Bare in mind that it is very tough and is difficult to break with your fingers, so make sure you have suitable equipment to hand (e.g. scissors).
- Anything else that doesn’t look ‘normal’. Foaling complications are rare (less than 5% of births), but that doesn’t mean to say these things do not happen. Other emergency abnormalities include prolapse of the mare’s uterus through the vulva, or appearance of the foal’s foot through the mare’s anus, which both require immediate veterinary attention.
6. Remember The 1-2-3 Rule After Foaling:
- Stand within one hour.
- Suckle within two hours – optimum absorption of colostrum occurs in the first six hours of life, declining rapidly after this, becoming non existent by 24 hours. Therefore it is absolutely essential that they suckle well in the first few hours. There is some debate as to the quantity required, but for most foals 2–4 litres of good quality colostrum will be adequate to provide good antibody protection. If the foal is not suckling adequately then the vet may decide to milk the mare and either bottle feed or stomach tube the foal to ensure the colostrum has been received.
- Pass the placenta within three hours.
IF ANY OF THESE MILESTONES HAVE NOT BEEN REACHED YOU MUST CONTACT US FOR ADVICE.
7. Leave Mum & Baby In Peace
If everything seems to be going well, it is very important to leave mare and foal quietly alone to bond. A new foal is very exciting and it is common on yards that everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the new arrival, to take photos etc. Whilst this is a lovely thought, it can be very detrimental to the mare and foal and interfere with the normal bonding processes, and it is strongly advised that once you are happy that the normal milestones have been reached that they are left alone. Likewise human interruption can interfere with foal suckling – whilst it is tempting to keep checking if the foal is feeding, doing so can actually prevent them from doing so!
8. Book A Mare & Foal Vet Check
If the normal milestones have been reached, then we recommend that this check is carried out at 24–36hrs. This allows a thorough clinical exam of mare and foal to check for any abnormalities or injuries, and to take a blood sample from the foal, called an IgG test. This measures whether the level of antibodies in the foal’s bloodstream is sufficient to protect them from infection. We usually carry out a stable side test first, if there is any doubt then the blood must be sent off to an external laboratory to establish an exact level before deciding how to proceed.