Greg Scannell, CSP •

A Foal Safe Plan

The second half of winter leading in to spring is an exciting time around our homestead, Aliboo Farm.

We have been patiently awaiting new foals from our brood mares, just like many equestrian breeders, as their last trimesters run their course. As much as we like to predict, will and monitor our mares for healthy foaling, there is much to prepare before our new additions arrive. Ensuring our mares get through this angst ridden time safely is as much a hands on activity as it is hands off.

Average gestational length for mares is around 335 to 342 days but can be longer or shorter. The last trimester involves rapid changes that should be monitored closely. Leading up to the delivery, the mare’s udder becomes engorged within the last few days. Waxy accumulation occurs at the nipples from early colostrum production—the mare’s antibody-rich first milk. Occasionally, milk leaks from teats for several days to weeks before foaling, resulting in colostrum loss. If this occurs, work with your veterinarian to find an alternative source of colostrum before foaling. Always work in close contact with your reproduction veterinarian. Take premature lactation—a clinical sign of placentitis—seriously, and have your veterinarian examine the mare’s utero-placental thickness. At the same time, your repro vet should perform a vaginal exam and make sure no vaginal discharge is visible until a few days before delivery. Have sudden and excessive distention—bulging of the mare’s abdomen—evaluated to rule out excess placental fluids or excessive fluid swelling.

Pre delivery the mare becomes anxious and restless. She may appear to be colicky. She may kick at her belly, pace, lie down and get up, look or bite at her flanks, and sweat. She may frequently raise her tail and urinate. Generally, this is the first stage of labor. However, be aware that colic remains a possibility. If such behavior is prolonged for more than an hour or two without progress towards foaling, contact your veterinarian.

Mares seem to prefer to foal at night in privacy, and have some control over their delivery. Despite your frequent visits to the barn, your mare may give birth the minute you step away. While this is disappointing, don't worry. She is unlikely to need your help anyway. What your mare will need, however, is a clean, safe, quiet place to foal. If possible, the stall should have a floor that can be readily cleaned and disinfected. Provide adequate clean bedding. Straw is preferable to shavings, as it won't cling to the wet foal. Remove manure and soiled bedding promptly and periodically, and disinfect the stall after delivery. In addition, follow these guidelines for a safe foaling.

  • Write down or post your veterinarian's phone number well in advance of the birth.
  • Keep a watch or clock on hand so you can time each stage of labor. When you're worried or anxious, your perception of time becomes distorted.
  • Wrap the mare's tail with a clean wrap (vet wrap works well) when you observe the first stage of labor. Be sure that the wrap is not applied too tightly or left on too long as it can cut off circulation and permanently damage the tail.
  • Wash the mare's vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean and disinfect the stall as thoroughly as possible. Provide adequate bedding.
  • If a mare appears to require assistance during foaling, call your veterinarian.

Encourage the mare and foal to rest as long as possible. Give them an opportunity to bond undisturbed. Treat the umbilical cord with an antiseptic solution, recommended by your veterinarian, soon after the cord breaks and for several days thereafter to prevent bacterial infection. Observe the mare and foal closely for the next 24 hours. Following birth of the foal, the mare and foal should be monitored for the following:

  • Foal is breathing normally.
  • Foal is bright and alert to its new surroundings. The foal should make attempts to rise within 30 minutes following its birth.
  • Mare is non-aggressive, curious, and accepting of her newborn. Occasionally a mare will reject her foal. In such a case, the foal should be removed and reintroduced with the mare under restraint. Foal rejection is more common in maiden mares.
  • Foal should stand and nurse within 2 hours of birth. If the foal has not nursed within 3 hours, call your veterinarian.
  • Foal should pass the first sticky, dark stool within 12 hours after birth. If not, an enema may be needed.
  • Mare should be bright and alert. Allow her to eat as soon as she is ready, and supply plenty of clean, fresh water.
  • Once the placenta has been expelled, examine it to make sure it is intact. The afterbirth will be Y-shaped and should have only the hole through which the foal emerged.
  • If you suspect the mare has retained part of the placenta, call your veterinarian.
  • You may wish to check the mare's temperature and other vital signs periodically within the first 24 hours to make sure they are normal. An elevated temperature may indicate infection (normal is 100.5 F).

Nature has provided an efficient system for the mare to deliver and care for her young. Be a prepared and informed owner so you can enjoy the miracle of birth, keep your anxiety in check, and help the new mother and foal get off to a great start!

The importance of preventative safety remains paramount. Daily inspections of the environment your horses live in go a long way in preventing emergencies. We at Safety Check Inc. are trained in hazard analysis and accident prevention. For an equine safety consultation or barn walkthrough, please feel free to contact us at (815) 475-9991.

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