Springtime is Foal Time!


Spring has sprung and the foals are beginning to arrive.  This month’s case will cover some of the basics of what to expect when you are managing a pregnant mare.

A mare carries a foal for an average of 335 to 342 days.
She should receive all regular vaccinations 4-6 weeks prior to her expected foaling date.  This ensures that the highest level of antibodies will be present in her colostrum at the time that the foal is born.

Knowing an accurate due date/breeding date for your mare can help take away some of the anxiety as you wait for the new foal to arrive.  Signs of impending birth include:

Bagging up: A mare’s udder will swell and start to fill anywhere from 4-6 weeks to a couple of days before the foal is born.  This is not always a reliable indicator, as some mares don’t ‘bag up’ until AFTER the foal is born!

Waxing:  A waxy deposit can develop at the end of the teats in the last hours/days before birth.

Loosening around the tail head:  The tail head may become more prominent in the last several days before giving birth.  This occurs because ligaments relax, preparing the pelvic area to stretch during labor.

Foaling tends to occur between the hours of 10PM and 4AM.  The saying that “the foal controls the day of birth, but the mare controls the hour” means that a nervous mare may wait until you run into the house for a bathroom or coffee break before she goes into active labor, leaving you to return to the barn to find that the foal was born while you were away!

For those lucky enough to view the birthing process – there are three stages.  Knowing how long each stage should last and what you should expect to see during each will make the recognition of any problems easier. Call us immediately if you think there is a problem.

Stage 1: 30 minutes to 4 hours
Preparing to give birth.  During the first stage of labor mares are restless and exhibit signs similar to those of colic. The mare may look back at her flank, raise and switch her tail, urinate small quantities often, perspire, lie down and repeatedly get up, and, as she approaches Stage 2, may roll from side to side.  Mares that have previously foaled may show fewer outward signs than mares foaling for the first time.  Once you have determined that the mare is in first stage labor, it is a good time to wrap her tail and clean and dry her perineal area (the area under her tail).

Stage 2: 15 to 30 minutes
Active labor. Once in labor, the foal should be delivered fairly quickly (within about 20 minutes).  Call if there is any delay.  You should first see one front foot, followed closely by the second.  Call if there is any variation of this presentation.  The umbilical cord will break naturally when the mare stands or the foal attempts to rise, do not cut the cord yourself.

Stage 3: 1 to 3 hours
Passage of the placenta.  This should be complete within 3 hours of birth.  Once the placenta has passed, place it in a large trash bag and store it somewhere cool.   Examination of the placenta by your veterinarian is an important component of the postpartum exam.

North Florida Equine Reproductive Services  - 001New Arrival!!  Photo by Dr. Tanhauser.

Once the foal is on the ground, the simple “1-2-3 Rule” can help you remember when important events should happen:

The foal should stand within one hour of being born
The foal should nurse within two hours of being born.
The placenta should be completely expelled from the mare within three hours of giving birth.

A delay in any of these events could signal a problem, and should alert you to call your veterinarian.

North Florida Equine Reproductive Services  - 003

First steps.  Photo by Dr. Tanhauser

The next morning call us to schedule your new foal exam for that day.  During this exam we will do a thorough exam of the mare, the placenta, and the foal looking for any evidence of trauma from the birthing process or congenital defects.  We will also draw a blood sample to ensure that your new foal ingested and absorbed enough good quality colostrum.  This is the most important step you can take to ensure that your foal gets off to a healthy start and help prevent serious problems down the road.

North Florida Equine Reproductive Services  - 002

Birthday. Photo by Dr. Tanhauser