Preparing for Foaling

I know that this economy brings on all kinds of stress, and probably the last  thing on your mind is foaling.  For me, I begin counting the days until foaling.  The shortest day this year is December 21, so of course it is only on to longer days from there, and my favorite part, the arrival of new babies!  Many of the horse industries have their mares foaling as close to January 1 as  possible to get the size and maturity needed for their sport.  This results in many “Decembuary” foals, although most barns will never admit to owning one.  The arrival of foals is exciting, but can be heart wrenching and exhausting as well.  It helps to know your mares signs for foaling, have a foaling kit ready, and know when to call a vet. 


Knowing your mare really helps you to know when that foal will arrive.  Many of us have mare that is either new to us, or is maiden.  Depending on when you get your mare, do your best to make sure that all vaccinations and worming are up to date.  We worm our mares a minimum of every 6 - 8 weeks.  The vaccinations for the Rhinopneumonitis abortion (Pneumabort) should be given at the 5th, 7th, and 9th month, especially if your mare is introduced to many new horses.  She should be given her normal fall shots, and her normal spring shots.  I give the normal spring shots approximately one month prior to foaling.  In addition, make sure your mare has adequate opportunities for exercise, and really watch that her 10% protein requirement on a dry ration basis is met.  With all of that said, the udder usually fills 2 - 4 weeks prior to foaling, the top area of her tail (the croup) gets soft and wiggly like jello about 2 weeks prior to foaling and  the teats fill around 4 - 7 days before the foal arrives.  You may see her walking restlessly a day or two before the foal will drop, and you can test her milk for thickness, stickiness and color.  One other option is to use a hard water test that is made by Softchek, and can be found in plumbing supplies.  You strip out a small amount of milk, use 6 parts distilled water to 1 part milk.  Wet the Softchek strip and wait 15-30 seconds.  If the result of 250 or more ppm appears, 95% of mares will foal within the next 12 hours.

A foaling kit comes in handy.  We have at least one ready to grab at any time.  If possible, it is great to have a few ready.  We put in  Softchek, a towel, iodine or Nolvosan, a syringe to milk the mare if necessary, Pepto-Bismol, enemas, a camera, vet phone numbers, numbers for colostrum replacement, and a notebook and pen to take notes to add to my file on the mare.  It is really nice if you can have a video system in the stall that records the birth, and you can check on the mare without disturbing her.  There have been lots of stories of people watching for their new arrivals, and when they take a break for coffee or bathroom, the foal arrives.  I have seen  a few arrive, but have been surprised more than not.  Hopefully you will not have to be in during the foaling process.  It is imperative that the mare and foal bond.  It takes awhile for the foal to get up, and for him to nurse.  You may worry that the mare is going to hurt her foal when she squeals, or cocks her leg.  It is all perfectly normal.  I have had very few mares refuse their foals, and with a bit of work, most of them were reunited.  Make sure your mare and foal gets enough exercise in the coming days as well to ensure proper leg and muscle development, and to lessen colic in the mare.

You need to know when to call a vet.  There is a loose time table to observe for foaling.  After the water breaks, in approximately 10 minutes, the front feet and head present.  The foal should be out completely within 30 minutes, and standing within 1 - 2 hours.  The foal should nurse within 2 - 4 hours.  Don’t plan on giving an enema until after the foal nurses, and has had his first nap, and only one every 12 hours.  The mare should have passed her placenta within about 3 hours.  Check the placenta to make sure there are no missing parts.  Do not give your mare a treat or reward until the placenta is passed.  You need to call a vet if the timeframe is way off, or if the progression of the feet, head, and body is longer than 15-20 minutes.  If the mare is pushing hard for about 10 minutes and nothing happens you need to call.  It is awful to lose a foal, but devastating to lose the mare.  Watch your mare for signs of colic for the first month.  Pregnancy moves the organs around, and it takes time for things to return to normal.  If possible, have a vet out the first day or so after the foal arrives to make sure all is well.  They will check for passive transfer of immunities from the colostrum, observe for normal defecation and urination, check the mouth for symmetry of bite, cleft palate, and the color of the gums.  The eyes, heart, lungs and legs will be checked.  They will also check for a temperature to make sure your foal doesn’t have any signs of infection. 

I have a love hate relationship with foaling.  I have seen only one foal saved that has needed medical attention within the first week of life.  It is brutal to see the ups and downs and hope and pray they make it, and see them fight so hard only to expire.  I cringe to see the perfect little foal begin to fail, and know that I have to call a vet out to most likely see them die anyway.  The worst losses are with maiden mares.  One year I had all maiden mares but one.  We lost 6 of 8 foals, and there was nothing we or the vet could do.  I have never lost a broodmare, thank God!  Even with these dire tiding, I still anticipate the arrivals of the babies, and do everything in my power to be prepared for their arrival.  In addition, I have already begun shopping for the stallions to sire their next foals, but that is another article!