Foaling season is an exciting time of year! Complications can occur, but being well prepared and having a plan will help to stay calm and have the best outcome possible. After the full 11 months of pregnancy, you and the mare are almost home free. Labor and delivery are exciting but should be uneventful. It is best to be a quiet observer and allow your mare to foal undisturbed. Most mares find a way to give birth unattended and privately, so don’t be surprised to wake up to a new foal after a full night of sleep! It is important to know when and how to step in if necessary, and always remain calm.
The following are a few points to make sure you have thought through what might be needed for the foaling:
· Talk to your veterinarian. Ask when to call them if things aren't progressing as planned. Make sure to have everything prepared in advance for your mare's big day. If you are not sure of the due date then talk to your veterinarian about signs of impending delivery: mammary development, calcium levels in the milk, "waxing" of the teats
· Your mare will need a foaling area she is comfortable in and used to. A large stall where she can move around easily works well. Clean and disinfect the stall area as thoroughly as possible and provide adequate bedding. Straw bedding is ideal, as it will not stick to the wet foal and is less dusty than shavings or sawdust. The stall should be bedded deeply and soft to lie in.
· Set up an area with a cot or comfortable chair for yourself or the foaling attendant - most foalings are uneventful but it is a good plan to have someone present in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. It is a good idea to be close enough to watch but far enough to let the mare feel alone.
· The "Foal Kit" (have these items ready- can be purchased from a feed store or pharmacy)
a garbage bag (to keep the placenta until your veterinarian examines its integrity)
clean, absorbent towels
iodine or chlorhexidine (to dip the umbilicus)
heavy duty scissors (in case of a red-bag)
a baby bottle with a selection of nipples (in case the foal will not nurse)
· Keep 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 and know if assistance is imminent.
· 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.
· There are three stages of labor in the mare:
Stage 1- the beginning of uterine contractions. This stage may last around 1-3 hours. The mare may act uncomfortable- get up, lie down or roll several times to position the foal properly. Fetal membranes may become visible at the vulva.
Stage 2- begins with the rupture of fetal membranes and is the actual giving birth of the foal. This stage should last no more than 20-30 minutes. The foal should present with the front feet first, soles down, followed by the nose, head, neck and shoulders (as if it is diving into the world!). If you suspect any change from this presentation, or after 10 minutes of strenuous labor there is no sign of the foal you should call your veterinarian. Also, if instead of the normal white/clear fetal membranes present the membranes are a dark red; this is a “red bag delivery”. The membranes are prematurely separating, disconnecting the foal from its oxygen supply. They need to be cut and the foal delivered as quickly as possible, and you should call your veterinarian immediately.
Again, if Stage 2 is taking longer than 30 minutes, call your veterinarian immediately!
Stage 3- expulsion of the placenta. This will happen 1-3 hours after delivery of the foal, the mare may become uncomfortable again and lie down to pass the placenta. If the mare does not pass the placenta the veterinarian should be called as a retained placenta can cause serious medical problems. After the mare has passed the placenta, it should be removed as soon as possible to prevent it being stepped on and placed in a safe place for later examination by a veterinarian. During the warmer months it is best to put it in a cool dark place, preferably in a bucket of water to decrease the “smell factor”.
· Once the foal is on the ground, remember the 1-2-3 rule. The foal should stand within 1 hour, nurse within 2 hours, and the placenta should be expelled within 3 hours. If any of these rules are broken, call your veterinarian!
· Monitor the mare for the next couple days after foaling. She should eat, drink and pass manure normally. If she appears to continue feeling uncomfortable after passing the placenta you should contact your veterinarian- mares can easily become sick or colic in the first few days after giving birth.
Mother Nature should take care of your mare and her foal- but in the case of complications, proper planning can prevent disasters.
Good luck and happy foaling!