CARING FOR THE FOALING MARE AND NEWBORN
your mare has made it through 11 months of pregnancy, you're almost
home free. Labor and delivery, while momentous, are generally
uneventful. In most cases, you will simply need to be a quiet observer
-- if, that is, you are lucky enough to witness the birth. Mares seem to
Prefer to foal at night in privacy, and apparently 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 However, in case
problems arise, it is advisable to have your veterinarian's telephone
A SAFE PLACE TO FOAL
your mare will need, however, is a clean, safe, quiet place to foal.
Horses have been giving birth on the open range for eons, and this is
still an acceptable choice. Allowing the mare to foal in the pasture
even has some advantages. An open grassy area is likely to be cleaner
than a stall and provides a healthy environment with adequate room to
foal. You won't have to worry about the mare crowding into a corner or
foaling too close to a wall. However, many owners prefer to confine the
mare to observe her progress. Should you choose to foal your mare in a
stall, provide one that is a minimum of 14' x 14'. If possible, the
stall should have a floor that can be readily cleaned and disinfected.
Dirt or clay floors make sanitation more difficult. Also, provide
adequate clean bedding. Straw (particularly wheat straw) is preferable
to shavings, as it won't cling to the wet newborn or mare the way small
wood particles can. Remove manure and soiled bedding promptly, and
disinfect the stall between deliveries.
provide clues that they will soon give birth. However, the timetable is
far from absolute. Some mares may show all the signs like clockwork;
others show practically none. The following is a general guideline, but
be prepared for surprises:
- The mare's udder begins filling with milk 2-4 weeks prior to foaling.
- The muscles of the vulva and croup relax. The tailhead may become more prominent a few days prior to foaling.
- The teats become engorged 4-6 days prior to foaling.
of the teats occurs. (A yellowish, honey - like secretion [colostrum]
appears 1-4 days prior to foaling. The secretion may drip, and the udder
may even drip milk several days prior to birth.)
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
PREPARING FOR BIRTH
mares foal without difficulty. It usually is best to allow the mare to
foal undisturbed and unassisted. If a problem becomes apparent, contact
your veterinarian immediately.
What you can do:
- Write down your veterinarian's phone number well in advance of the birth and keep it by all phones.
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.
The watch will help you keep accurate track of the mare's progress
during labor. Take written notes so that you won't have to rely on
Wrap the mare's tail with a clean wrap 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.
strips that measure calcium in mammary secretions are available
commercially. These strips aid the owner in predicting when the mare
will foal because sudden increases in calcium are associated with
UNDERSTANDING LABOR & DELIVERY
Labor is divided into three stages:
begins with the onset of contractions and generally lasts 1-2 hours.
During this phase, contractions move the foal through the cervix and
into position in the birth canal. The fetal membranes (allantois) may
become visible at the mare's vulva. When the sac breaks, signaled by a
rush of fluid, stage one ends.
is the actual expulsion of the foal. This phase moves relatively
quickly. If it takes more than 30 minutes for the mare to deliver, there
could be a problem. Call your veterinarian immediately. If labor seems
to be progressing, wait and watch. Even in a normal delivery, the mare
may stand up, lie down, and roll several times in an effort to properly
position the foal for delivery. Normal presentation of the foal
resembles a diving position, with front feet first, one slightly ahead
of the other, hooves down, followed closely by the nose, head, neck,
shoulders, and hindquarters. If you notice hoof soles up, the foal may
be backwards or upside down, and you should call your veterinarian
immediately. If you suspect any deviation from the normal delivery
position, call your equine practitioner.
labor begins after delivery and is the phase during which the
afterbirth (placenta) is expelled. Most placentas are passed within 1-3
hours after the foal is delivered. If the placenta has not Passed within
3 hours, call your veterinarian. A retained placenta can cause serious
problems, including massive infection and laminitis.
POSTPARTUM CARE FOR MARE AND FOAL
In the excitement of birth, it is important to remember some tried and true guidelines:
- Allow the foal time to break the fetal membranes. Once the foal breaks through, be sure it is breathing.
it is not recommended to cut or break the umbilical cord. If it has not
broken during delivery, it will usually break when the mare or foal
gets up. The cord should break at a site approximately one inch from the
foal's abdomen, where the cord's diameter is slightly narrower than the
remainder of the cord. If it is necessary to manually separate the
cord, it should be held firmly on either side of the intended break
site, then twisted and pulled to separate. (Never cut the cord!)
Twisting and pulling of the cord stimulate closure of the umbilical
vessels and reduce the likelihood of hemorrhage from the cord stump. If
bleeding persists following cord separation, pressure can be applied to
the stump for several minutes by squeezing with a thumb and finger.
- Encourage the mare and foal to rest as long as possible. Give them an opportunity to bond undisturbed.
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.
IMPORTANCE OF OBSERVATION
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.
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.)
should stand and nurse within 2 hours of birth. If the foal has not
nursed within 3 hours, call your veterinarian. The foal may be weak and
in need of assistance or medical attention.
- Foal should pass meconium (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.
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.
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).
IMPORTANCE OF COLOSTRUM
is essential that the foal receive an adequate supply of colostrum.
Colostrum, the mare's first milk,is extremely rich in antibodies. It
provides the foal with passive immunity to help prevent disease until
its own immune system kicks in.
foal must receive colostrum within the first 8-12 hours of life in
order to absorb the antibodies. If a foal is too weak to nurse, it may
be necessary to milk the mare and give the colostrum to the foal via a
If a mare appears to be leaking an excessive amount of
milk prior to birth, consult your veterinarian. This pre-foaling milk is
not typically colostrum rich. However, depending on your veterinarian's
recommendation, the mare may be milked and the colostrum frozen to give
to the foal shortly after birth. For orphan foals, or mares without an
adequate supply of colostrum, it is important to locate a back-up
supply. Without it, the foal is at an increased risk of infections. Your
veterinarian can test the colostrum to determine whether it is rich in
antibodies. Also, the foal's serum can be tested at 18-24 hours of age
to evaluate IgG antibody levels. If IgC is inadequate, treatment for
Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT) should be instituted by your
OTHER FOALING CAVEATS
- If a mare appears to require assistance during foaling, call your veterinarian.
you suspect a problem during the foaling process (such as a foal which
is not in the normal birth position), call your veterinarian
immediately. If caught early enough in labor, your veterinarian may be
able to reposition the foal for a normal delivery. Remember, a prompt
delivery is crucial to the health of the newborn foal.
it is a dire emergency, do not try to pull a foal. An exception to this
rule might include a backwards presentation, because the foal can
suffocate unless delivered promptly. Under no circumstances should you
ever pull with anything more than your own muscle power, and pull only
during a contraction (when the mare is straining). Improper pulling
risks damage to the mare's reproductive tract, injury to the foal, and
premature separation of the umbilical cord, which will deprive the foal
foals begin life with weak legs. Don't be overly concerned if the baby
is down in the pasterns and fetlocks for the first day or two of life.
They will generally straighten up. However, if you see extreme
deviations of limbs or note other physical problems, or the condition
persists, consult your veterinarian.
is always a good idea to have your veterinarian do a post-partem
examination of both the mare and foal, as well as the placenta.
A FINAL NOTE
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.
brochure was developed by the American Association of Equine
Practicitioners through a grant from Bayer Corporation. Bayer
Corporation, Agriculture Division, Animal Health, Shawnee Mission,