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Foaling is a natural process, and the birth of the foal usually follows a natural process with both the mare and the foal doing well. In horses, pregnancies range from 330 to 345 days, with many mares foaling after 12 months.
During pregnancy, it is important to maintain good health of the mare and make sure that any medications, vaccines, dewormers, or supplements will not jeopardize the pregnancy or the foal.
Preparations for foaling begin with selecting the area where the mare will foal. It should be away from other horses and in familiar surroundings. A box stall is ideal, but a small, grassy paddock can work satisfactorily. A good light source is necessary and the floor of the area should be covered with several inches of bedding. Ideally, the mare should be introduced to the area at least two weeks prior to foaling.
Equipment should include a bucket of warm, soapy water, tail wrappings, cotton towels, cloth strips for tying up the placenta, 2 percent tincture of iodine for the navel stump, and a flashlight for checking the mare every 15 to 20 minutes when signs indicate she is ready to foal.
Signs that indicate the mare is ready to foal include: filling of udder 2-4 weeks prior; softening of croup approximately 2 weeks prior; teats beginning to fill 4-7 days prior; restless walking 1-2 days prior; clear, yellow, or whitish milk up to 7 days prior.
The best predictor of foaling is through obtaining milk calcium levels. One way of doing this is to obtain a commercial water hardness test, such as Softchek. Available from many plumbing supply stores, it can be used to check the calcium level of the mare's early milk. First, a small amount of milk is stripped and mixed with 6 parts of distilled water per 1 part of milk. Wet the Softchek strip and wait 15-30 seconds. A result of 250 or more ppm means that 95% of mares will foal within the next 12 hours.
Symptoms that indicate that foaling is imminent
- Mare's teats and udder begin to swell and enlarge
- Croup muscles around the tail dock and vulva of mare begin to relax
- Mare's udder begins to fill with milk and teats become engorged
- Waxing (leaking or streaming of colostrum) forms on teats
- Mare appears agitated and restless; may appear to be colicky; may kick or bite at sides or lay down and get up repeatedly; may be sweating
Immediately before foaling, clean the stall or paddock area and add fresh straw. Wrap the tail, but not too tightly. Keep the mare's environment calm and free from commotion or loud noises.
The pattern of foaling usually occurs in this order: 1) water breaks; 2) front feet and head present; 3) feet, head, chest, hips emerge; 4) foal stands; 5) foal nurses; 6) placental membranes are passed.
Call the veterinarian if progression of feet, head and body takes longer than 15-20 minutes, the mare pushes hard for more than 10 minutes and nothing happens, or the placenta is not passed within 3-6 hours.
Many veterinarians follow the Rule of Three: By one hour after birth, the foal should be standing; by two hours, it should be nursing well; by three hours the mare should have passed the placenta.
The foal should nurse several times an hour and pass the first feces (mecononium) and urine within 8 hours. It should then urinate a few times each hour and defecate once or twice a day.
If any of these phases do not happen in a timely manner, the veterinarian should be called.
Careful attention should be paid to the placenta. If it is not expelled in its entirety, toxins can build up and cause inflammation and infection. Small perineal tears are not an emergency and can be taken care of later, but if there is major injury to the mare from foaling, a veterinarian should be called immediately.
The postpartum mare is susceptible to constipation and colic. To prevent problems, cut back on her feed by half and gradually increase to a normal level over a period of ten days. The mare and foal should be separated from other horses until the foal is 3 or 4 weeks old.
With careful preparation, foaling usually proceeds without problems. Having the necessary supplies readily available, a clean, quiet area for the foaling, and contact information for the veterinarian will increase the odds for a stress-free experience.
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