Foaling kit checklist
- Brown gauze (to wrap mare’s tail)
- Betadine solution or diluted Nolvasan solution (to dip navel)
- 6cc syringe casing or small cups (put the iodine or Nolvasan in to dip the navel)
- Fleet enema (available at pharmacies/grocery stores)
- Syringes and needles
- Gloves (latex and rectal)
- Bucket with warm water
Where should your mare foal?
As mares get closer to foaling, they should be brought in at night. If you have recipient mares that are out in pasture, you might want to think about bringing them in at night a couple weeks before they are due, just so they get used to being in a stall. It’s okay to turn them out in the day in a small grass pasture; if they foal out there; great. It’s most likely a lot cleaner than in a barn stall, even a clean one. Just make sure that they aren’t in a huge pasture with a lot of horses; if you can get a small one where the two of them can be turned out together, that would be great. If she does foal out in pasture, just make sure that the other mare does stay away from them (you can catch the other mare and put her away); horses are insanely curious and will want to be right next to their friend and see what is going on. Others may try to steal the foal as their own so just stay close. Let the foal stand before trying to move them into a stall.
Stalls should be cleaned and disinfected prior to foaling. There are many different types of bedding that is used from straw to shavings. Whatever you decide to use, just make sure that it is of good quality and not dusty.
Signs of foaling
- Belly will drop as foal positions itself correctly and they will develop a “hollow” area in their flanks.
- Udder and teats will fill
- Can get a good view from the back end as the mare walks
- A tight bag will be V-shaped and will have no wrinkles; it will hit against her legs as she walks.
- Wax on teats
- Some mares will wax and foal within 24 hours. Others will wax for days and then start to drip milk. Others won’t wax at all before foaling.
- Colostrum is thick, off-white, and sticky. If your mare starts to get wax, look at it and feel it between your fingers. Non-colostrum milk is lighter than colostrums and won’t be sticky. Mares will have this type of milk before they have colostrum. It is a sign that they are getting closer but they will generally be a few days away from foaling with this type of milk.
- As her pelvic ligaments loosen, her croup area will loosen; her vulva will also become longer and will lose its “wrinkles”
- These changes will be noticeable if you observe the mare everyday.
- Look at her vulva daily and push her croup area to see how loose it is.
- You will usually see dramatic changes in the pelvic area within 12 hours of foaling.
- Looser than normal feces
These can occur for just a few hours or a few days before foaling, depending on the mare.
- Off feed
- Constant getting up and laying down
- Kicking/looking at her belly
As more mares get closer to foaling, they will lie down more often and groan periodically for awhile. Then they will get up, eat, and not think any more of it. This fools a lot of people into thinking they are absolutely going to foal when in fact, they are probably just uncomfortable. This is normal, so don’t be alarmed. It is when they are restless that they are more likely to foal.
Labor and delivery
Normal labor will be complete within 15-30 minutes of the water breaking.
Normal foal position is two front feet with hooves facing downward; usually the front feet are a little bit staggered and won’t appear at the same time. The head appears shortly after the front feet appear. If you don’t see this type of foal position, call your veterinarian immediately.
How to help
Let the mare get comfortable. Some mares will find a position within a few minutes of breaking her water, while others take a long time to position themselves in a manner they desire. If you try to help her while she is still unsure about what she wants to do, she may become distracted. Pick a corner (don’t get stuck) and just squat and observe.
As the foal comes out, it should start to breathe immediately. Most foals will also try to get sternal immediately, as well. The passage of its chest through her pelvis is a stimulant to make the foal breathe.
Make sure the sac is pulled away from the foal’s face, and wipe its nose of any fluid that may be coming out.
At this point, the umbilical cord should still be attached to the foal’s navel; try to leave that connection for as long as possible. Some mare will remain lying down for a little while, which makes waiting easier. Others want to get up immediately. If they do, don’t try to prevent them, but try not to distract them or give her a reason to get up, either.
All mares will be slightly crampy after they foal, which is understandable.
If a mare is violent immediately after foaling (thrashing, rolling), just get the foal out of the way as quickly as possible. Consider dragging it towards the stall door in case you need to pull it completely out of the stall. This doesn’t happen often, but if a mare has had a difficult birth, she may be in that much pain. Anti-inflammatories or medical therapy may be indicated, consult with your veterinarian prior to giving any medication to your mare.
If the mare is just mildly uncomfortable (shifting her weight back and forth, light pawing), leave her alone and don’t administer any medication. The cramps help to pass the placenta and helps clean out the uterus. Try to avoid giving Banamine until after the placenta as passed, and only when necessary. If she has passed her placenta and is acting more than mildly uncomfortable, she may need anti-inflammatories. Consult with your veterinarian prior to giving medications to your post-partum mare.
Newborn foal care
There are many different ways to care for the immediate newborn foal. We recommend a “hands-off” approach, doing only what is necessary and letting the dam do the rest and bond with her foal.
Umbilical cord, amniotic sac, and placenta
Once the umbilical cord breaks, dip the umbilicus with Betadine solution or diluted Novasan (3:1 dilution ratio of water to Nolvasan). Tie up amniotic sac so the mare doesn’t step on it and tear it off (you can use baling twine to tie it up). The weight of the sac helps to pass the placenta, so it is important to try to preserve its attachment to the placenta.
Most mares at this point are preoccupied with licking their foal, so they shouldn’t pay too much attention to you, but always keep an eye on her, especially if she is a recipient mare. Once the placenta is tied up and the navel dipped, leave the mare and foal alone.
The placenta should pass normally within an hour to an hour and a half. If it hasn’t passed within three hours post-foaling, call your veterinarian. It is important to get it removed as soon as reasonably possible to avoid sepsis. Once the placenta has come out, it should be look at by a veterinarian.
Behavior and bonding
If the mare is a good dam, she will immediately start to lick and bond with the goal. You can wipe the foal down a little bit with a towel, but we generally leave most of the cleaning up to the mare.
Watch the mare’s behavior. If she seems really nervous that you are still there, walk away and leave them completely alone for awhile. If she doesn’t seem to mind you standing there, still stay out of her stall as much as possible and observe from the outside.
This is the foal’s first poop! It’s stored up while in the womb, and after birth the foal will start to stain to eliminate it. Some will pass it while lying down, while others won’t try until they are standing up. It is dark brown in color, and you may be amazed by how much some foals can pass at one time.
If the goal is still straining with little success (tail up in the air), go ahead and give them an enema. Enemas can cause diarrhea, so only use them when necessary, and only give up to two. If they are still constipated, try warm water with mild soap (diluted Ivory).
This is the second most frustrating thing to watch, which is why we usually walk away and let the foal figure it out on their own. Most foals will attempt to figure it out within the first half hour. Some will get it immediately, while others will still struggle for over an hour. Make sure to have a thick layer of bedding so they have a good support and not a slick surface to deal with.
This is the first most frustrating thing to watch, and again, it’s best to just walk away for a little while and check on them regularly if your mare is good. If a mare is good, she will help her foal find the udder.
Some foals will try to nurse everything – from the stall walls to the mare’s chest – before they find the udder; it’s trial and error. Some get it immediately, while others take a couple of hours; both situations are totally normal.
If you have a maiden mare or a nervous mare, they will tend to not allow the foal to back toward the udder. Most will eventually figure it out. If they seem preoccupied with you being there, they may not let the foal nurse because they want it directly in front of them where they can see it.
If it’s been about three hours and the mare hasn’t let the foal nurse, then you can try to intervene. Halter the mare and put her butt into a corner. Hold her there while the goal tries to find the udder. Don’t try to help the foal find it; most will resent the force and will try to get away from you rather than try to nurse. If the mare is really bad, she can be sedated.
Once the foal has nursed once, it becomes a lot easier. You might have to go in there a couple more times and hold her, but they generally become accustomed after a couple of times; observe frequently.
Vaccination and passive transfer
Foals are born without antibodies. When the foal nurses, it absorbs antibodies from the mare’s colostrum through its gut wall and receives some protection against the environment through passive transfer or passive immunity. Passive transfer decreases dramatically after 12 hours and is virtually non-existent by 24 hours, which is why it is critically important for the foal to nurse within a reasonable amount of time from foaling.
The mare should be vaccinated with “one-month priors” approximately 30 days before their expected due date to put antibodies into her colostrum (mares should also be wormed at the same time, and again about a week after foaling).
If the mare is not vaccinated prior to foaling, then the foals should begin its vaccination schedule at about 3-4 months of age. If the foal received antibodies through passive transfer, vaccination is not recommended until about 5-7 months of age.
An Immunoglobulin G test reads the levels of antibodies that the foal received from the mare’s colostrum. We recommend using the SNAP Foal IgG test. Blood should be taken at about 12 hours of the foal’s life, and antibody levels should be greater than 800 ng/ml. If antibody levels fall below this, then plasma therapy is recommended to introduce antibodies.
Some farms will give plasma to their foals regardless of IgG levels. The farms that do this are generally ones with a high volume of mares and goals that have a greater chance of incurring a viral breakout. Others do it to give their foals an extra boost.
If administered, plasma needs to be given in the first 24 hours of life, followed by a booster at about three weeks.