LLEP Stud Services
Foaling advice sheet
While the vast majority of foaling’s, even in maiden mares, will happen without difficulty or the need for intervention and result in the birth of a healthy foal it does need to be highlighted that birth is a very critical time for mares and foals. They are both put under a lot of stress and therefore if something does go wrong it can be disastrous. It is for this reason that we strongly suggest that you plan for your foaling well in advance and know what you are looking for during the birthing process. Early recognition is the key to providing the best outcome for mares and foals and by knowing and understanding what to expect you can identify what is normal or abnormal and seek to solve them as quickly as possible. These notes should help you to know what to expect during the foaling process but we also thoroughly recommend having one of us out to examine your mare and foal the day after birth to make sure everything is ok.
CARING FOR THE PREGNANT MARE
Mares should also receive their vaccinations throughout pregnancy. They can stay on their normal annual cycle of Influenza and tetanus vaccination but we also advise giving them a booster for these in the last month of pregnancy. At this stage the extra boost will be in the colostrum and therefore given to the foal. It is advisable to cover your mare with Equine herpes virus 1,4 booster vaccines at 5, 7 and 9 months of gestation. While herpes virus is more of a problem on large breeding farms, it can cause abortions in mares and also pneumonia in foals and therefore we recommend vaccination.
A more obvious sign is development of the udder. The mammary glands
will start to increase in size in the last 4-6 weeks of gestation with
most development in the last two weeks. Secretory activity of the udder
is variable and some mares will ‘wax up’(honey coloured beads
of dried colostrum at the opening end of the teat) several days before
foaling whereas others may not. Normally the udder will fill with colostrum
in the 24- 48hours prior to foaling. Colostrum is what contains all the
essential antibodies for the foal. These antibodies form the foals immune
system to help it fight infections. If the mare has been running milk
prior to birth, the colostrum may be lost and therefore the foal will
need supplementation with plasma to boost it immune system.
WHERE SHOULD I FOAL DOWN MY MARE?
Ideally mares would be foaled in individual grass paddocks, reserved only for that purpose in the springtime when the weather is milder as this is the closest to the normal process. However due to the need to observe foaling mares in all sorts of climates we usually end up foaling mares in large loose box. Boxes should be a minimum of 3m x 3m but the larger the better. It is best for the door to open outwards and for there to be a window so that monitoring can occur with minimal disturbance. CCTV is often used these days and is great to not disrupt the mare. While the majority of foaling’s go smoothly observation is still essential as for those rare times that a mare does get into trouble, quick recognition of a problem can make the difference between life and death.
Clean straw is the best bedding to use for foaling mares. It is soft, warm and is superior to shavings. Shavings are dusty and go everywhere and get stuck to everything, including foals umbilicus and eyes. It is best to lay the straw a day or two prior to foaling and keep it as clean as possible. Boxes should also be as warm as possible and have good lighting.
WHAT EQUIPMENT SHOULD I HAVE READY?
The increase in uterine tone with the contractions causes the cervix to begin to dilate and also stimulates the foal to begin to position itself for delivery. Normal position is with both its head and forelegs pointing toward the pelvic canal of the mare. This alignment of the foal is a very important function for delivery, and failure to do so can result in a difficult birth.
• Stage Two
Within five minutes the inner set of membranes (amnion) becomes visible at the vulva. These membranes are milky white to bluish white in colour and look like a balloon. Inside these membranes should be the forelimbs with one foot a few inches in front of the other. If a red membrane appears instead of the milky white membranes then call the vet immediately. This is what is known as a ‘Red Bag’ delivery and can lead to severe compromise of the foal from a lack of oxygen supply.
Next to appear should be the nose of the foal. The shoulders are the hardest part of the process and the abdominal contractions will increase for these. Finally with one or two heavy contractions the hips are cleared from the pelvis and the foal moves out of the mare, usually about to the level of its hocks.
If the amnion (white sack) is still intact and over the foal's head when delivery is completed simply tear it away from the nose of the foal to clear the nostrils and mouth. Normally vigorous early head movements cause the amnion to tear during birth but if it remains intact then you must intervene and tear it or cut it away so that the foal can breathe.
Most mares, if undisturbed, will relax and rest at this point. The umbilical cord will break either when the mare gets up, or when the foal begins vigorous movement and tries to stand. Once the cord has broken, the stump should be treated with dilute chlohexidine or iodine. DO NOT cut the umbilical cord.
The mare and foal should then be left alone to bond. A normal healthy foal will stand usually within an hour and begin nursing within 2 hours. Nursing as soon as possible is beneficial to make sure the foal gets the colostrum which contains the essential antibodies for its immune system.
The second stage of labor is completed when the foal is clear of the mare and should only take 20 mins or less. If the waters break and after 15 minutes either nothing happens, a red bag is present, or if the foal is not presented properly, or part of the foal is out but the rest is taking too long a vet must be called!!! Any increase in the time taken can indicate that there is a problem and veterinary intervention is needed.
• Stage Three
Once expelled the placenta should be checked to make sure it is complete and intact. Only one tear should be present where the foal came out, if another piece is torn or a bit is missing then you should call your vet as there may be some left inside the mare. It is really important that no pieces are left inside the mare. This is known as retained membranes and can threaten the life of the mare. The decaying membranes inside the mare set up an environment that promotes the rapid growth of a large amount of bacteria. This large amount of bacteria then enter the blood stream of the mare and cause her to become very sick very quickly. If you are unsure if pieces are missing you can keep the placenta and we will look at it when we come to examine the foal at the post foaling check.
Overall it is useful to remember: 1hr= standing, 2hr= nursing, 3hrs=passed placenta. The foal should be nursing strongly, passing meconium (the dark foetal poo) and be bonded with its mother by 12 hours. Foals will normally sleep and rise every 30 mins or so to drink and urinate. If there is any variation on these, for example, the foal is trying to drink but can’t latch on properly, or the mare is not letting the foal nurse, then call us straight away and we will be happy to provide you with advice or come out and examine the mare and foal, no matter the time of day. Foals are very fragile and can deteriorate quickly if problems are not dealt with quickly.
POST FOALING CHECK
We spend a lot of time examining the foal, as foals can be very fragile and go downhill very quickly if there are any problems. We like to watch it and make sure it has a bright demeanour and is performing all of the normal foal behaviours like sleeping, nursing, urinating and defecating. If there if concern that the meconium is not passed then we can administer an enema to clear that and stop the foal from becoming blocked up and colicky. We will also examine the umbilicus to check for infection or hernias and make sure this is drying out normally. If there is any concern that the foal has not received enough of the essential colostrum from the mare then we may also take a blood sample from the foal to measure the level of the antibodies in the foal.
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South Kilduff Farm
Kinross KY13 0PN
Tel: 01577 840022