Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price
Many horse owners worry about the expected birth of a foal out of a favorite mare.
Your veterinarian should be consulted as soon as possible to provide advice and help. It is important to understand what is normal in foaling and how the foal should behave after birth.
If you need to contact your veterinarian in an emergency, keep it handy.
The average gestation time for mares is 340 days. Mares can go into labor earlier than anticipated, just like humans. Knowing when your mare is due is crucial so that you are ready for foaling. Foals born earlier than 10 days are more susceptible to infection and disease. They might not be able to stand or nurse as well as normal foals.
It is possible that the mare has not yet produced enough colostrum (“first-milk”) at this stage. It is important to seek advice and assistance from a veterinarian if you notice that the mare has not produced enough colostrum (“first milk”) by this stage. Foals who are born after their due date should be treated the same.
Caslicks: What do they look like?
Caslick is a procedure that a veterinarian performs to close the upper portion of the vulva. It is usually used for mares with a genital problem. This is thought to prevent air and manure from being’sucked into’ the vagina, which could compromise foal’s health.
A veterinarian should inspect the caslick if your mare was purchased as a foal. A foaling mare can become very sick if the caslick is not opened. This is because the foal may tear through the smaller opening.
Environment – A Safe Place to Foal
Mares should be foaled in a place where they can be discreetly observed and where help is available if needed. Mares prefer to foale at night, in privacy, and have some control over when their foaling occurs. It is important to be able to see her from afar or discreetly so that she feels at ease.
Do I have to move my mare from the other horses?
If her paddock mates and her mare are friendly, your mare can ride with other horses most of her gestation. Horses are social animals, depend on each other for companionship and herding. Do not stress her by isolating her. Keep other stable mares around her. Your mare should be paddocked for the last month in gestation with the same horses she will be using after foaling. This establishes the social hierarchy before a foal is placed in the mix. Paddock companions should be mares and not geldings. Young stock is also preferred.
If your mare begins to show signs of foaling, her paddock mates need to be removed to give her time to bond with her foal. However, she should still be kept in the paddock next her to avoid stress.
The paddock is suitable for foaling. To prevent foals from sliding under the fence, you will see the mesh netting attached to the rail and post.Your mare can foal in a large grass yard or paddock. Horses have given birth on open ranges for years and it is still a good choice.
Ideal foaling pastures should be free of obstacles and have shade and shelter.
This paddock or yard’s fencing should be made of a mesh like chicken wire. Young foals can easily slip through plain wire or post-and-rail fencing.
The foaling paddock should be spelled for at least a few weeks to reduce worm contamination.
No dams are necessary, as newborn foals have been reported drowning.
Stables that are large and made of good quality straw will be able to stabling mares for foaling. Foaling is not a good idea if you use shavings. They stick to the birth fluids and can get in the foal’s nose. After giving birth, it is important to immediately remove any manure or soiled bedding and disinfect the stable.
The mares may give clues as to when they are due to give birth. This rings true in many cases. However, be patient and don’t expect any surprises.
What should I do to check my mare’s underbelly?
Waxing the teats – see the secretion near the teats’ tips.For the last month of gestation, it is important to check the udder every day. It is best to do this with the same person as the mare’s last month of gestation. This will provide a good indicator of any changes and, therefore, of the mare’s proximity to foaling. Your mare will experience a tightening of her udder when she is due to foal. The average mare will start to ‘bag up’ Two weeks before foaling. However, this is not foolproof as some mares, particularly maidens may be able to bag up even closer to the time.
A mare may make a waxy se cretion on her teats three days before foaling. This is or ‘waxing up, and it is a sign the mare is getting close to foaling. The mare will need to be checked throughout the day and at night for any signs of wax production. This isn’t a reliable indicator, as some mares don’t wax at all.
What does it mean for my mare to be producing milk?
Near foaling, mares may drip milk or even have a steady stream of it from their udders. Colostrum is thicker, creamier, and yellower milk than normal milk. The foal might not get enough colostrum if the udder leaks before the foal is born.
If the mare has been drinking milk for over 24 hours and is not ready for foal, call us immediately at 6241 8888.
Pay attention to the shape of your mare’s belly. It is initially very large and round. However, as she gets closer to foal, her belly will drop. Some mares develop fluid retention (oedema) on their belly.
The shape of the vulva
A normal vulva (left) and a longer, more relaxed vulva when the mare closes to foaling.Lift your mare’s tail daily if she is able to. Normal vulva length is about 2 inches and has wrinkles at its sides. Just before foaling, everything on her hind ends relaxes, even her vulva. You will notice a longer appearance and less wrinkles.
Before foaling, the hind end of her tail will become looser. You will notice a strong tone in her tail and some resistance if you lift her tail every day. You will feel less resistance lifting her tail if she is closer to foaling.
Monitor the mare’s behavior
Before foaling, the mare’s behavior can change dramatically. A normally sweet mare might become hostile towards horses and people. The mare should be alone in a grassy area and with a mate when foaling is imminent. You should be on the lookout for signs that your mare is becoming restless.
These are all signs that a mare is getting ready for foal.
- She took herself from the herd
- Longer periods of lying down while resting
- Pacing aimlessly forward and back
- Even in cold weather, you can still feel the heat and sweat profusely
- Wax on teats and milk running out of the udder
- Increased respiration
- Sometimes lying down, but sometimes returning to the same spot.
- Kicking or looking at your abdomen
- Tail swishing, or tail held up
- Intensive grazing
Supervision of mare
Preparedness is key. Keep a first aid kit with scissors, string, disinfectant and string on hand. A torch is also a great idea.
Keep our number handy when you check your mare. 6241 8888. Don’t be afraid to call us if you have any questions, day or night. A false alarm is better than waiting for help.
Colic symptoms can be resembled by biting her flanks or looking at her abdomen.
Here, the mare is “nesting”
(below and below). In the last few hours, she has returned several times to this spot to lay down.
Stages of a Mare Foaling
First Stage Labour
It is common for mares to move around a lot during the first stages of labor. She may be repositioning her foal in the birth canal or simply being uncomfortable.
Foaling can be difficult. It has been reported that mares can remain in this stage for up to 24 hours. It is important to monitor your mare (keep your distance), and consult your vet if you have any doubts.
Colic symptoms can be resembled by biting the flanks and looking at her abdomen. Mares will also need to urinate often during this stage due to the pressure on their bladders.
This stage ends when the mare “breaks water”.
The white amniotic membrane, which should be transparent within 20 minutes after the ‘water breaking” (passage by the allantoic liquid), should become visible. It should be white/grey. If the membrane turns red, it is likely that the mare has separated her placenta and ruptured the allantoic fluid. To allow oxygen from mare’s blood to cross, the foal requires the placenta attached to the mare’s abdomen at this stage. It needs the placenta in order to ‘breathe.
The allantoic fluid or “breaking water” is passed. The membrane is visible at the vulva. Its white/grey colour contrasts with the emergency “red bag”, (left).
Second Stage Labour
Contact us if you are:
- The mare strains but no one appears.
- The membrane is reddish-brown, as opposed to the white.
- You’ve seen the white membrane and you can see no foot in 20 minutes.
- Within 15 minutes, you can have a foot and no other foot, or your nose.
It is possible that you are looking at dystocia (malpresentation), and it is important to act quickly to ensure a healthy outcome for the mare and foal.
What to expect during the first stage of labour.
Foaling should be continued once the neck, head, and front feet are in place. The mare can rest for a while after the foal has passed her shoulder before pushing the foal out.
Second Stage Labour (continued).
If the foal has been ejected from the mare, it is necessary to manually rupture the amniotic membrane if it hasn’t naturally occurred. Otherwise, the foal could become (right).
You should not interfere with mares or foals and give them time to bond.
You should not disturb the mare nor attempt to move the foal away from the mare. The foal will continue receiving blood from the mare via the umbilicus until the cord ruptures.
Blood loss can result from a premature rupture of the umbilicus, which could be fatal. When the mare is standing, she will cut the cord. This can take between 10 and 20 minutes.
You can observe from a distance to ensure that both mares and foals exhibit normal post-foaling behavior.
Allow mare and foal to bond.
The placenta hangs from the mare’s neck before it is fully passed.
Above and Below: A healthy, normal placenta.
Third Stage Labour
The uterus contracting during this stage can cause mare discomfort until the placenta passes. If pain persists more than an hour, or becomes progressively worse, call us.
The placenta should always be secured in a ball when the mare is standing. This will prevent it from fluttering around her hocks, frightening her, and it also ensures that she doesn’t walk on it. The mare’s uterus will be gradually separated from the placenta by the extra weight of the knot. Do not attempt to pull the placenta by yourself. This can cause it to break off and be retained in the uterus, leading to infection.
It is important to inspect the placenta after it has been removed from the mare.
The placenta should be passed within one to four hours after foaling. Your veterinarian should be contacted if the placenta is not gone within three hours.
Retained placenta can be life-threatening. It can cause infection, laminitis, and even death in the mare.
Contact us if you are:
- Post foaling, the mare does not show any signs of pain or colic.
- The placenta is not gone within three hours.
- It is possible that your mare may have retained some of her placenta.
- It is not clear how to inspect the placenta once it has passed.
Once the foal is delivered:
- Within 30 to 60 seconds, the foal should be standing up and shaking its head.
- The sucking reflex must be present within 20 minutes.
- The foal should be standing for at least 20 minutes.
- Within 90 minutes, the foal should be standing up and walking.
- Before 150 minutes, the foal must be taken from the mare.
- Within four hours of birth, the foal must pass the first meconium (first dark faeces). If there isn’t any evidence, you may have to go into the paddock and look at the foal. The foal should have more meconium in the next 12-24 hours.
- The foal should urinate within four- to five hours.
The foal must be removed from the mare in less than 150 minutes.
It can be hard to locate the meconium. You may have to search around the paddock.
Apply diluted antiseptic to the navel immediately after birth and then again every day for the next few days.
IgG testing should be performed before the age of 24 hours.
Caring for your newborn
Once the foal is walking and up, you can dilute iodine (or chlorhexidine) to the umbilicus (navel). To reduce the chance of infection, repeat application is recommended twice daily over the next few days. These solutions can be provided by us and we will show you how to apply.
Colostrum and passive transfer
The maternal antibodies that are absorbed from the mare’s colostrum in the first hours of life by a newborn foal are essential. This is the best protection for any newborn foal.
If the foal doesn’t drink enough colostrum in the first few hours of his life or the mare produces colostrum that is not of good quality, it can cause the passive transfer of maternal antibody (or FPT). FPT can put the foal at risk for serious infectious diseases and even death. Monitoring the levels of IgG in the blood of the foal neonatal can help determine if passive transfer is successful. FPT can be detected early and treated if necessary.
All foals should have an IgG test performed by a veterinarian within 24 hours. This non-invasive, inexpensive procedure is vital for your foal’s health.
Within 24 hours of the birth, a veterinarian should inspect the mare and foal.It is possible to save lives by early detection of disease in the foal and mare after birth. One of our veterinarians should assess the mare and foal within 24 hours of birth. A thorough examination will be done on the mare and foal by the veterinarian. The foal will also be checked for placenta.
If you have any questions, call a veterinarian. . .
If you have any questions, call us at 6241 8888
In the stages of labor:
- The mare strains while trying to give birth but nothing happens.
- You will see the first thing that comes out of the mare’s vulva is red or dark red, rather than grey/white.
- The foal’s head, feet and ears are not shown as described previously.
- The foal does not leave the stall within 30 minutes of its first appearance.
- The foal isn’t breathing properly or not sitting up in 30 seconds to one minute.
- Post foaling, the mare does not show any signs of pain or colic.
- The foal is not standing in the first 90 minutes.
- It appears that the foal has leg problems that prevent it standing normally.
- Within 150 minutes, the foal has stopped drinking from the mare.
- Within three hours, the placenta did not leave the mare.
After the foal is standing and drinking from the mare,
- The foal has not eaten manure in the past four hours and/or not urinated for at least four to five hours.
- A foal may become listless or stop sucking several times an hour.
- The foal is drinking milk from its nose, or it has lots of milk on its faces.
- The mare’s udder becomes engorged and indicates that the foal isn’t getting enough milk.
- The foal’s legs are not showing any signs of heat or swelling.
- The foal’s eyes appear to be turned inwards. This can lead to corneal ulcers.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!