Reproductive services offered are mare and stallion pre-breeding evaluations and testing, pregnancy scanning, management of infertility, Artificial insemination (AI) with chilled or frozen semen (we are a British Equine Veterinary Association approved AI centre), and new born foal checks including immunoglobulin testing (IGG) and plasma transfusions if necessary. Mares can be hospitalised for scanning to allow accurate timing of insemination.
We have put together some information to help you through the process of foaling and to ensure a healthy foal and mare:
Guidelines for owners of pregnant mares:
Know when your mare is due: Gestation range 310-374 days, (average 340 days). NB: Mares foaling in subsequent years can carry foals for different lengths of time even to the same stallion.
Abortion is unusual in mares except in the early stages of pregnancy due to twin foetuses and in later stages due to infectious causes. It is possible to vaccinate against Herpes abortion and against Equine Viral Arteritis. Please ask us for details.
Feed adequately – most mares require little supplementary feeding during pregnancy, this is very individual. A multivitamin and mineral is recommended in the last third of pregnancy. Please contact us to discuss and ensure your horse is:
- Wormed normally
- Pre-foaling tetanus four weeks before due
- Open caslick (stitches) two weeks before due
- Decide where to foal – move to this place seven to 14 days before due date, to allow development of specific antibodies to be passed to the foal in colostrum. The mare should have access to a large well bedded box if at all possible.
- First Aid Kit: clean bucket, cotton wool*, disinfectant* eg pevidine surgical scrub*, clean straight sharp pointed scissors*, tail bandage, string, navel treatment* (antibiotic spray), obstetrical lubricant*, respiratory stimulant* Dopram drops. Vets telephone number 01670 897597.
- Know what is normal and when you should intervene / get help.
*available from the practice
Signs that your mare is close to foaling
- Mammary gland development two to six weeks prior to foaling. Often mares will run milk, sometimes for several days or even weeks prior to foaling.
- Waxing of teat ends – 24 to 48-hours before foaling.
- Lengthening/softening vulva.
Foaling is triggered when the foetus is physiologically ready, the mare has limited control of the timing, but can delay foaling if stressed or disturbed.
Stages of Labour
First stage labour
Abdominal discomfort/pain, patchy sweating this can look like colic, but signs are very variable. It can occur then stop, but on average lasts one to four. No abdominal straining, mare tends to get up and down, first water bag will burst at end of first stage.
Second stage labour – foal born
The mare will generally be lying down on side – forceful abdominal straining. After five minutes a clear whitish water bag appears at vulva. Foal should be coming head first inside water bag with head to side, and one leg 15cm in front of the other. Maximum effort to get shoulder out, and straining stops when hips out.
Average time for second stage labour is 20 minutes.
Third stage labour – membranes (placenta) is expelled.
If the mare has not passed the placenta within three hours, we advise contacting the vet. Mares which retain placentas for more than eight hours are highly likely to develop metritis, endotoxaemia and laminitis.
Dealing with the umbilical cord
The cord should stay attached for as long as possible. In eight minutes of attachment, one litre of blood is passed to the foal – so do not break too soon!
To break – hand on foal’s stomach around cord and pull hard (best) or tie off 3cm from umbilicus, and cut. If there is excess bleeding this requires vet attention. It is useful to treat the foal’s navel using a spray antibiotic or antiseptic to help prevent infection.
Tips for the supervision of foaling
- Avoid excessive noise
- Baby alarms
- Head collars with trigger switch
- Close circuit TV
- Peak time of foaling just before midnight
Difficult births – about four in 100 ie rare
Only 1 in 500 foals are born backwards. Problems with parturition are most prevalent in maiden mares. In all cases of a potentially difficult birth phone the vet immediately it is suspected – often a combination of owners observations and telephone assistance will allow delivery of a healthy foal before we get there – do not wait until you are stuck before calling for help – we do not have much time on our side once straining starts.
When to get help
- If first stage labour is longer than four hours
- If second stage is not continuous and productive
- If a thick red membrane with white star area on it (“red bag”) appears at the vulva – vet help urgently required as this is a premature separation of the placenta, which results in oxygen deprivation to the foal.
Owner examination of foaling mare
Clean the vulva and wash hand with disinfectant then apply a generous amount of obstetrical lubricant to hand. Insert hand in a cone shape only to wrist. Never put arm into the pelvis of the mare – you risk severely bruising or breaking your arm.
- If the head and forelimbs are present at the vulva but straining is making no progress to expel the foal apply traction – generous amounts of lubricant around vulva. Pull both fore limbs and gently ease the vulva over the foals head/shoulder.
NB. Pull in an arc downwards from the line of the mare’s spine. If a foal is being born backwards (and you should have appreciated this and phoned the Vet) and you are faced with having to assist – pull the foal out in more of a straight line with the mares backbone and do it as quickly as possible.
- Postural abnormalities – ie abnormal position of the foals head and legs during birth is the most common cause of problems and must be corrected immediately. Failure to correct postural abnormalities can lead to foals dying due to crush injuries to chest and obstruction to the cord depriving the foal of oxygen. If foal is eventually born live it could suffer from oxygen deprivation during birth, producing neurological signs.
- If one hoof is more than 15cm behind the other gently pull the hoof left behind to the correct position.
- If one leg is bent downwards at the fetlock just inside the vulva cup the hoof in your hand and try to rotate it upwards.
- If the foal is half out and is stuck (due to the foal’s hips locking against the mare’s pelvic entrance) rotate the foal and pull. Grasp the foal’s chest and limbs and twist it onto its side while pulling as described before – two people are useful.
- In all cases where you assist the mare to foal do not be over zealous – stop when the foals hips are out of the vulva (if coming forwards) due to the need to keep the cord intact NEVER try to pull out a foal unless the head and BOTH fore limbs are present at the vulva.
- If clear water bag appears at vulva without nose and legs phone vet immediately and insert a clean hand into vulva to check.
- Never break or cut the clear water bag while the foals head is still in the vagina
- Veterinary intervention – for most of the serious postural abnormalities we need to push the foals head and neck backwards into the pelvis to get more room. We use sedation, epidural anaesthetics (spinals) and general anaesthetics to block straining and allow us to do this. Caesarean sections in mares are very rare. If a postural abnormality is present eg only one front foot and head present, no front feet present – phone immediately and discuss/describe the position with the vet –it maybe that the vet will tell you to try to get the mare up and walking as this can temporarily decrease straining.
Early development of foals
Remove amniotic membranes from nose, and make sure the foal is breathing. If they are not breathing rub briskly with towel, stimulate nose with straw, and flex legs.
Approximate time frame – what should have happened?
- 10 seconds breathing and raises head.
- Five mins shivering, sucking and righting reflexes, turns onto sternum.
- Heart rate 60 -90 /min.
- Eight minutes cord ruptures.
- 30 mins foal attempts to stand – responding to mare.
- 60 mins foal standing.
- 60 mins foal seeking udder and trying to suckle (60-180mins).
- Four hours the foal suckling normally.
- Six hours foal is passing urine and meconium.
Heart rate: 60-90 bpm
Respiratory rate: 60 for 15 mins then 30 per min
Monitor the foal during the first few hours of birth. They are usually a bit un-coordinated in movement for the first 24-hours. Often joints and ligaments appear slack or weak but this usually improves significantly in the first week of life. However any swollen or painful joints or lameness require emergency vet attention.
They should pass a normal flow of urine within three hours of birth. Foals may occasionally dribble urine from umbilicus and this is normal for the first 12-24 hours. The foal should pass meconium (yellow then dark black tarry sticky faeces) within three hours of birth. Retained meconium is more common in colt foals and can produce bizarre behavioural symptoms.
Colostrum is very important for the foal’s immunity, for nutrition, and has a laxative effect, aiding the foal to pass meconium. The foal must suckle within eight hours. Observe suckling to ensure the foal is correctly attached to the teat, showing good strong sucking behaviour with no milk coming from the foal’s nose and no associated coughing. If it does not suckle, assist it and encourage your mare to stand for suckling without squealing. If the foal is not able to nurse, colostrum should be milked out and given by bottle, or via stomach tube by a vet. Colostrum contains high levels of antibodies, and if the foal has not received enough of it, it is at risk of septicaemia and other life threatening conditions. Antibody absorption is most efficient in the first eight to 12 hours of life and continues for 24-hours.
We advise all clients to have newborn foals checked within 12 hours of birth. We perform full health checks on both mare and foal and also take a blood sample to check the foals antibody levels. If the antibody levels are high at 12 hours, then no supplementation is needed, however if they are low oral supplementation can be given. When antibody levels are checked at 24 hours of age, the gut can no longer absorb antibodies so if levels are low, the foal will need a plasma transfusion.
The first few days and weeks
Many foals suffer from mild diarrhoea at eight to 12 days old caused by a change in the milk when the mare first comes into season. This does not require treatment unless the foal is off colour or not suckling.
It is normal for the foal to eat the mare’s faeces in the first few weeks of life in order to populate the gut with certain bacteria but also to obtain certain vitamins.
The foal should be wormed at two and four weeks old with Panacur paste then at eight weeks with Eqvalan or Strongid P. Thereafter a normal adult worming routine regime can be followed except that Equest cannot be used until the foal is over five months old. The main worm that foals are at risk of particularly in their first autumn/winter is Strongyloides which is passed in the colostrum and milk. The mare should be wormed regularly (interval depends on product used) and this should be done at the same time as the foal is wormed.
Foals from mares vaccinated against tetanus should be vaccinated against this from four months but this is normally performed along with flu vaccination from five months old. Foals from unvaccinated mares should be vaccinated from two to three weeks old. The vaccination course for flu requires one injection from five months with another four to six weeks later then another six months later and annually thereafter.
All horses, even foals now require a passport by law by December 31st following the foaling date. This should be completed by a vet as soon as possible.
High protein foal pellets should be made available from three weeks old and foals should be eating 0.5kg daily by two months old (based on TB foals).
Foals should be weaned at five to six months old. This is most easily done if foals of a similar age can be weaned at the same time and kept together away from the mares. Otherwise, a calm older horse other than the dam can be used as a companion for the foal after it is weaned.
Colts are usually castrated at 12 to 18 months old, just before the age that they become sexually mature. It is best done in either spring or autumn to avoid the frost and flies. It is usually done under standing sedation early in the day.