GENERAL FOALING GUIDELINES
Alaire J. Smith-Miller, D.V.M.
Make sure you have a large, clean, dry, safe foaling area ready AHEAD OF TIME.
I prefer straw bedding. Sawdust is a mess and can cause infection of the uterus if some gets stuck on the mare’s genitalia, and can harbor bacteria that can cause pneumonia and other infections in the foal.
Get into the habit of checking your mare from all angles, every day. About a week or two before foaling, the foal will “drop” or rotate into position which you can see reflected in the mares abdomen shape.
Watch for the mares teats to wax up. This is usually 1 to 4 days before foaling. BUT, some mares do not develop wax on the udder at all. Some mares may leak milk a few days before foaling.
As foaling approaches, udder secretions change from thin straw-colored fluid to milky white fluid & eventually thick sticky yellow/orange colostrum. There are tests available that look at the calcium content of the mares milk as she approaches foaling, which can help you determine when she will foal. There are also various alarm systems, cameras etc. At our farm we simply use an intercom on all the time, which worked very well.
Make sure you have a supply of colostrum should you need it, or a veterinary recommended colostrum replacer or IgG product. Talk to your vet. Colostrum is the single most important part to a foal’s healthy start. I can not stress this enough!!! Failure of passive transfer is common and even if everything else goes well, that foal will get septic in a few days from birth.
As foaling approaches, the pelvis begins to relax and “droop”, the tail head will start to appear more prominently, the vulva will look more elongated. This is what I look for most, when those ligaments are very relaxed and that tail head is standing out…… be ready.
Bandage mare’s tail and clean perineum (warm clean water) & dry w/ soft clean towel when first stage labor begins, if the mare will allow. If very dirty, you can use the Ivory soap in my EquiFoalingKit™ (may be ordered below) and rinse well. Also clean the teats and udder very well, especially in between the 2 glands, again, if it does not stress the mare too much.
First Stage Labor:
The mare is restless, sweats, may get up and down often, kick at her belly etc. This is quite variable but on average lasts 30 mins – 4 hours. In first time mares, this period is closer to the 4 hours.
Keep noise down, keep the lights down, and avoid having lots of people around!!
‘Waters break’ – a lot of fluid will be emitted & second stage labor begins. This is the active delivery stage and usually is 20 to 30 min only.
SEEING A VELVETY RED BULGE AT THIS STAGE IS AN EMERGENCY! BAG NEEDS TO BE BROKEN & FOALING ASSISTED – FOALS OXYGEN SUPPLY IS DEPLETING RAPIDLY DUE TO PREMATURE PLACENTAL SEPARATION: “THE RED BAG DELIVERY”
After the water breaks, a shiny white bag (amnion) appears closely followed by a front foot, then second foot (soles point downwards). If the feet are sole upwards or any other part of the foal is presented: CALL THE VET - you have a mal presentation
Next, the Nose appears on it’s fetlock/cannons.
Mares will often get up & reposition themselves at this point before head etc. follows.
As the head emerges, the amnionic sack usually ruptures on its own. IF IT DOES NOT, GET IN THERE AND BREAK IT OPEN, THEN LEAVE AGAIN.
If a foal needs to be pulled, check that you have both front feet and foal in correct position, pull ‘in-time’ with mare’s contractions and in a downward arc (CALL VET IF THE FOAL IS LARGE, SEEMS TO BE STUCK, OR THE MARE IS NOT PUSHING)
Once the shoulders are out, the foal usually ‘shoots’ out pretty fast!
Once foal’s hips are out, mare often rests, this is OK!
As long as foal is breathing & nose is clear of amnion & fluid, leave well alone.
IF FOAL IS NOT BREATHING AND ‘COMING AROUND’, CHECK THAT IT’S NOSTRILS ARE CLEAR & RUB CHEST BRISKLY WITH A TOWEL. A PIECE OF STRAW POKED GENTLY INTO A NOSTRIL MAY STIMULATE A RESPONSE. (USE FOAL RESUSCITATOR).
After about 20 mins., mare may rise & cord breaks. Natural place for the cord to break is 3-4 inches away from the foal’s belly.
There is usually no need to break the cord yourself. If it does not break on its own you can use the string and scissors in the EquiFoalingKit™ to cut it about 3 to 5 inches from the body wall.
A small amount of hemorrhage from the cord is normal. Once this has occurred, the cord stump can be treated with iodine which can be found in the EquiFoalingKit™. Repeat an iodine treatment twice a day for 2 days.
Stage Three of Labor:
Expulsion of fetal membranes and uterine involution (returning to normal size).
Fetal membranes usually come away after 30 mins. to 3 hours (IF NOT LOST AFTER 6 HOURS, CALL THE VET….)
Usually the fetal membranes are passed as the foal starts to nurse, which releases oxytocin, and stimulates the uterus to contract again and expel the placenta. The mare may get a little colicky acting for a moment as this happens.
DO NOT PULL ON THE PLACENTA!!!!!
If the membranes are dragging on the ground, or the mare is stepping on them you can tie them in a knot around the level of the mare’s hocks.
After expulsion, KEEP the placenta in the bag found in the EquiFoalingKit™ or a clean bucket so the vet can inspect them to make sure the entire placenta is out and healthy.
Normal foal should be breathing within a minute or less.
Lifting of the head and attempted sternal recumbancy within 5 min.
‘Suck’ reflex within 5 min.
Attempts to stand within 30 min.
Able to stand unassisted within 60 – 120 min.
Nurses from udder within 60 – 180 min.
After nursing, the foal often will pass the first stool or meconium.
If the foal has not passed any meconium in the first 8 hours post delivery, or appears to be straining, you can use the mineral oil enema provided in my EquiFoalingKit™. A saline-based enema product should not be used. Why? Because a saline-based enema is harsher and works by drawing water out of the gut to cause evacuation. This upsets the hydration balance of our newborns who are less than one day old (they are pretty fragile at this point in their little lives!). A MINERAL OIL-based enema is gentle and causes NO harm, and 'gets the job done' without effecting 'things' systemically. A MINERAL OIL-based enema as found in the EquiFoalingKit™, will NOT interfere with hydration of our babies.
Many farms routinely give an enema to every foal. ‘Retained meconium colic’ is pretty common. The foal will strain, not nurse well, and strangely, will often lie upside-down which can then progress to full colic with rolling, etc.
The above are general guidelines. If the foal has not received any colostrum by 3 hours old, go ahead and start to milk mare. You can use the measuring cup in the EquiFoalingKit™ to milk into. Try to get 500ml into the foal, using the baby bottle. If no success, call the vet and have some colostrum ready to be fed via stomach tube.
The IgG test is best performed when the foal is checked over at 8-18 hours of age; if levels are >800mg/dl fine; if 4-800mg/dl consider using an IgG product IV & consider further blood tests; if <400mg/dl then IgG plasma is essential.
For insurance purposes you may need exact IgG levels from a lab.
Foal & mare vet check at 8-18 hours post foaling (sooner if complications) to include physical examination of mare & foal, placental exam; foal IgG blood test at a minimum.
Several times per day the mare’s udder should be observed, the foal’s behavior noted, and its navel monitored. Normal urination & defecation should be watched for. Occasionally a foal will be born with a ‘patent urachus’ and urine will be seen dribbling from the umbilical cord area.
Rectal temperature – foal - Normal 99.5° - 100.5°F (37.5 – 38.5°C).
Below 98.5°F or above 101.5°F cause for concern.
Discuss vaccinations and deworming for your new foal with your vet to meet the needs of your area and situation. I prefer vaccinating my mares about 2 months before foaling so the protection is in the colostrum. If you don’t know the mare’s vaccine history, you may want to vaccinate the foal for tetanus. Again, consult with your vet on this.