Foaling Fundamentals

Prepare for horse-breeding season with this top10 list of foaling tips and care.

Are your prepared for your next foaling? Here are a few tips for recognizing the big day and knowing what to do after your mare foals.

  1. Gestation length (length of pregnancy) of a horse is approximately 340-345 days. The length of pregnancy is about 7-10 days longer for mares foaling in the winter than mares foaling in late spring or summer. Mares maintained under lights during the last few months of pregnancy will have a shorter gestation length. Factor in season and light exposure when calculating expected foaling dates. Pregnant mares should be vaccinated one month prior to the due date to increase antibody levels in the colostrum. Vaccinations administered depend on geographical location, potential exposure and management practices. If the mare has had a Caslick procedure performed, the sutured vulva should be opened approximately two weeks prior to the expected foaling date, or earlier if needed.
  2. Milk calcium levels increase as foaling approaches. Most mares foal within 48 hours of when milk calcium levels reach 200 parts per million. Several commercial test kits are available to help predict when foaling will (or will not) occur.
  3. Waxing of the teats is a sign that foaling will occur in most mares within 24 to 48 hours. However, not all mares wax up, and the duration from the onset of waxing to foaling can vary.
  4. Stage 1 of labor lasts one to four hours. Signs of early labor in the mare include frequent episodes of lying down, looking at her flanks, pawing at the ground and patchy sweating. The end of Stage 1 occurs when the mare “breaks her water” or ruptures the outer placental membrane (chorioallantois) and releases allantoic fluid.

Learn more about caring for your broodmare and keeping her healthy and happy. Download AQHA’s FREE Mare Care report today.

  1. Stage 2 of labor, or active labor, lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The first structure visible at the vulva should be the amnion, a translucent gray membrane. The hallmark of premature separation of the placenta (“red bag”) is the appearance of a thick, brick red, velvety membrane (the chorion) at the vulva during early labor. Red bag should be considered a medical emergency, as the oxygen supply to the foal is compromised, and you should call your veterinarian immediately.
  2. Establishment of an airway and stimulation of breathing is the top priority for a new foal. The amnion should be removed from the nasal area if it did not break during foaling. Stimulate respiration by rubbing the newborn foal with a towel, tickling the inside of his nostrils with a piece of straw and extending his front limbs to stimulate stretch receptors.
  3. Dip the navel with a disinfectant soon after foaling to help prevent bacterial infections and help seal the umbilical stump. Common disinfectants include diluted Nolvasan, Betadine and iodine. It is recommended that the navel be dipped two to three times per day for the first two to three days after birth.
  4. Standing and nursing should occur within approximately one to two hours after birth. Ingestion of colostrum, which is rich in antibodies, is critical for early immune protection of the foal. Ideally, a liter or more of good quality colostrum should be ingested by the foal within the first six to 12 hours of life. Antibody levels in the blood of the foal can be checked 24 to 36 hours after birth to determine if adequate transfer of colostral antibodies has occurred. However, if blood antibody levels are checked earlier (i.e. at 12 hours), oral supplementation with frozen and thawed colostrum or a colostrum substitute can be administered if needed.

Discover more about caring for your broodmare with AQHA’s FREE Mare Care Report. Download it today and keep your mare healthy for life.

  1. Passage of the placenta (Stage 3 of labor) should occur within three hours after foaling. Failure to pass the placenta could lead to severe medical conditions in the mare, such as peritonitis and laminits (founder). Early medical intervention can aid in stimulating passage of the placenta and prevent subsequent complications.
  2. Meconium, or the first feces, should pass within three hours after birth. An enema should be administered if a foal strains to defecate without passing meconium. Commercial phosphate-based enemas (i.e. Fleet) are safe, effective and convenient

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