Information

Stages of Pregnancy in a Mare and Foal Birth


Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

Normal Gestation of a Mare

Spring is here and the long wait is coming to an end. Your mare's due date is approaching. Normal gestation for a mare is 335-360 days, so you have about 10 days leeway on your foaling date even if you have kept careful records noting the days she was bred. So don’t get too nervous if day 360 rolls around without a newborn foal appearing. Some mares do go 12 months without a problem. But, if you are approaching day 360, it is a good idea to have your vet check on the mare to be sure all is well.

The Mare's Last Trimester

It is the last third of your mare’s pregnancy when you begin to observe changes. During the last trimester, you should move your mare to the area where you want her to deliver. This is so she is exposed to particular bacteria and viral antigens and her body can produce the antibodies to them. She can then pass them onto her foal during birth. Also, she will be comfortable in her new surroundings before the due date.

In the late stages of pregnancy, you will notice the mare’s belly has enlarged and she will be less active than normal. In the last two to three weeks, the abdomen muscles become more relaxed and the foal will “drop.” This is usually more obvious in older broodmares.

In another week’s time, the muscles on either side of the tail head become very soft, somewhat like Jell-O. In the last two-week period, the mare’s udder will begin to enlarge until during the last week the teats fill out. When you can see a clear secretion, you are approaching the last week or days of pregnancy. By the last two days, the secretion becomes thick and cloudy, sometimes leaving a milky droplet on the end of her teats. This is what is called “waxing.”

Do not be alarmed if in those last days your mare experiences edema along the center of her underbelly—called ventral edema. Turning her out in a larger area to move around more a few hours a day or hand walking her will help with this. It has nothing to do with her milk as some old wives tales indicate.

Four Stages of the Foal's Birth

Birth of the foal happens in four stages.

Phase 1

In phase one, the mare will be restless and even seem to have mild colic. She will lay down, get up, nibble hay, swish her tail, and repeat. This indicates the last couple of hours before foaling.

Phase 2

In the second phase, her water will break. The mare is usually standing up when this happens. The front feet of the foal will appear in this phase, which takes about fifteen minutes. If 20-30 minutes go by and the feet do not appear, call the vet because she may be having trouble. Most mares deliver easily and quickly. If you need the vet, walk your mare until she or he arrives.

Phase 3

In the third phase of normal birth, the mare will usually lie down and labor begins. In a normal presentation, the amnionic tissue with one foot appears (in phase two) with the sole of the foot downward, the other foot appears next, and then the nose of the foal. Anything different from that and you should call your vet.

The foal delivers quickly after that initial presentation. The mare will remain lying down for a few minutes. This gives her time to rest and the blood to flow from her to the foal before breaking the umbilical cord. The cord will break naturally when she stands up—do not cut the cord as this may cause hemorrhaging.

Phase 4

The passing of the afterbirth or placenta is the fourth and final stage. This can happen a few minutes to one hour after the foal is born. Again, the mare will experience contractions and behave as though she has colic. This may continue even for a few hours after the placenta is expelled. Examine the afterbirth to be sure it is intact. Any part left inside the mare can cause infection and serious consequences. If the placenta is not expelled within two hours call your vet. A retained placenta can also cause complications.

It is very tempting to jump in and “help” the foal to its feet and guide it to the teats. This is not usually necessary. Just be sure the foal is breathing, remove any membrane that may be covering its nose, then let nature do her job. Have your vet come give the foal its first check-up to be sure the heart and lungs are working normally. The mare’s milk contains important antibodies that will protect the foal from disease until its own immune system develops. The colostrum, or first milk, contain these healthy benefits only during the first 24 hours after birth so it is important that the foal nurse during that time. Some new mothers are reluctant to let their foals nurse and may have to be restrained at first. Once the foal has nurse and relieved some of the painful pressure the mare feels on her udder she is usually fine and will let her foal nurse without a problem.

Now you can call your friends to come see your beautiful new foal and get the cameras rolling. But don’t overtire the mother and baby; they need their rest.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you know what "foal squeeze" is?

Answer: No, I've never heard of it. Please tell us about your experience.

Question: Can horses have more than one foal at a time?

Answer: Yes, they sometimes have twins. Your vet can check and tell if your horse is going to have twins.

© 2009 Donna Campbell Smith

Tina on January 08, 2020:

I am in the but hole of Arkansas. To no fault of my own all 3 of my mares are pregnant. Ages 16 to 24. There are no vets within an hour and a half in my area. No way to take them anywhere and no vet will come out. Please all that read, pray i have God on my side and have 3 healthy foals.

Kathleen on April 24, 2019:

Hi..i encourage all to look up "foal squeeze" and learn this technique..it works for "dummy" newborns..NO drugs needed..

chloe putt on January 15, 2019:

i agree

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on July 19, 2017:

I'd suggest you have a vet out to examine her.

johnnie fitzwater on July 16, 2017:

my horse looks like she is pregnant but I'm not positive. And she is a maiden mare.

moonlake from America on June 17, 2013:

Interesting hub. We saw a mare and her foal today. I tried to get a picture but I don't think I got a good one. Voted up.

Greg on May 26, 2012:

I have a mare 3 months to foaling she has quite a lot of central edema the vet saw her last week and she is having a corse off sulpha t paste and a weekly injection of atrenogest till foaling im a little worried still as she lost her foal before she foaled 2 weeks early any info would be great

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on January 21, 2012:

Shaunda, I couldn't venture a guess by a picture. The best thing is to have a vet check her.

ShaundaA on January 21, 2012:

Donna my mare should be 209 days pregnant now there are days when she definitely looks pregnant and others I question it when should she be showing. she is a registered thoroughbred very tall and lanky. I could send recent pix if this helps.

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on November 08, 2011:

Scudder, you really should have a vet look at her to know if she is in foal and how long before she is due. It does sound like she may be.

scudder on November 08, 2011:

I have a mare that I think is pregnant.I think I feel a colt moving around a little.she also has stuff that looks like honey from her bags .can you help and if it is a colt I feel moving how far along do they have to be before this feeling a colt can happen.ty

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on October 25, 2011:

She is probably establishing her position in the herd and wants to be "boss mare." Probably has nothing to do with if she is pregnant or not. If you suspect she is pregnant the best thing to do is have your vet check her out.

Marissa on October 24, 2011:

we just got a mare about 3 weeks ago an we just let her out with the other mares and she goes ofter them. an where she came from the stud just ran so could she be more grouchy if she is pregnet?? but we got her from an action an she still was nurseing her other baby could this be the problem why she goes after them?

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on July 03, 2011:

My recommendation is to have your vet check her out.

darlene on July 03, 2011:

hey im going crazy here i have a jenny that has made 3 udders and then thay go away and come back if this was a false pg would she keep making udder any one plz help me if you can

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on November 18, 2010:

I am glad my article was helpful, Mackenzie!

mackenzie on November 18, 2010:

That was very good info because we have a pony who was bred with and we did not know.It all at the place were kids with altism could ride, horses.Well turns out that the male horse, that she was in pasture with was not completely fixed.The other two mares she was in pasture with were bred with and are for sure pregnant and we, found out a month after we got her that she was bred with too.So,its been four months since we got her back and,she has gotten to were she is grumpy all the time and she is way fatter than she was when we got her.So, now that I have read what you wrote .I think we are going to call the vet to come and find out for sure.

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on August 24, 2010:

Gert, I am so sorry to hear this story. The only suggestion I can offer is to have a necropsy done on the foal in hopes of finding the cause. If the sac was not broken suffocation is possible. That is only a wild guess. Your vet can hopefully offer a better answer. Let us know what you find out.

Gert on August 24, 2010:

Hi. I have an Arab cross mare, she has delivered once. This foal is now a handsome two year old colt. I had her covered on the 11th September 2009 with my own Boerperd-Friesian cross stallion. She stayed in the veldt with a few other horses as most of my horses do and as always I brought her in once a month, did a check-up, groomed her thoroughly and took her back to the veldt again. Normally I bring my pregnant mares in to the stalls two weeks prior to their due date, and that is exactly what I did with her... She came on beautifully, all the right signs was there, a few days after her due date her teats began to expand, at last, and I monitored her more closely. Last night I slept at a friend's house, but early morning I went back. At 7:30 I found my mare with a bit of matted hair on her one side and somewhat tired. The foal was on the ground, still covered in it's embrionic sac, the sac was still intact. He was even still warm when I found him. The afterbirth was also intact and was lying nearby. The mare was fine, no injuries or even tight muscles or anxiety or nothing. The foal was quite big, but nothing she couldn't handle. The foal was 100% normal. Strangely, she foaled in an open part of the paddock, all my mares usually foal in the open stables where there is thick bedding, and there is also other shelter and trees in this specific paddock, but she walked around and foaled in almost the most open place where there is also usually a lot of activity during the day. Do you have a possible explanation of what could have happened? I am devestated because I had huge plans for this guy. And he really was one of the most beautiful colts I've ever seen, with a long sloping neck, long curly black mane and tail a buckskin coat, with long legs and exceptional conformation and well-formed hocks and knees. What went wrong?

isabella on August 07, 2009:

does anyone have a good site or good information on early signs of pregnancy. there is a pony and we think she may be pregnant but are not sure

Horse Care on June 14, 2009:

This page has helped me with my horse thanks for the great info.

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on April 11, 2009:

I want to hear about your mule babies - and send me pictures! hope all the mama's and babies do well.

XLdonkeys from Martin, TN on April 11, 2009:

Donna, good information! As I write we have a Clydesdale (first time Mama), and a high pedigree AQHA mare that are "overdue" with their mule colts. The QH mare is an exhibitionist and likes to have her foals in the afternoon with an audience. We shall see. It is that time of year again and we are looking forward to this year's mule foals with great anticipation! We will keep you posted.

pacwriter from North Carolina on April 04, 2009:

:)

Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on April 04, 2009:

He sure has grown a lot from that day!

Tara on April 04, 2009:

That is one cute foal, but I'm partial! :-)


Stages of Pregnancy in a Mare and Foal Birth - pets

By Benjamin Espy, DVM, DACT

Equine reproduction costs money: Feed, electricity, labor, water bills, barns, employees, stud fees, transportation and veterinary bills. To maximize your reproductive dollar you have to decide what the goal of your reproductive program is. Is it to breed performance, show or pleasure horses?

Horse embryos are not more fragile than other species it’s primarily that horses in general have poor reproductive performance (ability to maintain a conceptus). There are many causes of early embryonic loss. Stress, fever, uterine infections, hormone abnormalities and twins can all cause a mare to spontaneously abort. The egg is fertilized in the fallopian tubes and does not enter the uterus until it about Day 6 of gestation. This is important to remember since you can manipulate the uterine environment up until this stage. Once the embryo descends into the uterus, it has to traverse the entire uterus to be recognized by the mare. If the embryo does not touch all portions of the uterus by day 16 of gestation, the mare will reject the embryo, and begin showing signs of estrus to begin the next “heat” cycle. If the mare does recognize the presence of the embryo, then the embryo will attach itself to the wall of the uterus on or about Day 17. Your veterinarian can perform transrectal ultrasound as soon as Day 26 of gestation to visualize a heartbeat and confirm fetal viability.

Before ultrasound was so widely available, many people relied on the fact that most mares will come back into heat 17 to 20 days after breeding if they have not conceived. In some regions, veterinarians could use a sterile speculum to see if the cervix was tightly closed (indicating pregnancy) or relaxing (indicating the beginning of another heat cycle). Experienced equine veterinarians can feel a mechanical bulge in a mare’s uterus by Day 30 to 35 of gestation. Typical intervals for checking mares are: Day 14 to 16 – confirms initial pregnancy and looks for twins. Day 26 to 30 – confirms heartbeat and fact that fetus is alive. Day 45 – elective examination that has no specific reason since endometrial cups should already be formed by this time. If the mare aborts her pregnancy around Day 40-45 or after, it is unlikely she can get pregnant again the same breeding season anyway. Day 60 – elective examination that has no specific reason, but has become more important since the advent of fetal sexing.

Twins are more common in Thoroughbreds (25 to 35 percent of all conceptions). They are uncommon in Quarter horses (five to 10 percent). All horses should be examined for twins with transrectal ultrasound. This author prefers to check mares on Day 15 or 16 since the twin should be 14 or 15 days old. If you consistently check mares at Day 14, at some point you will miss a younger twin that is 12 or 13 days old and too small to be visualized. Regardless of what day of gestation you check for twins, it is much easier to reduce a twin before they become fixed at Day 17 of gestation. Reducing twins is also called “crushing” a twin. This has only been possible since the advent of ultrasound. Before this time, veterinarians and owners often didn’t know until the mare aborted. The smaller twin is usually crushed. The mare is typically examined 48 to 72 hours after the procedure to confirm that the remaining embryo survived. Almost all (>90 percent) of twins are aborted. Almost all die. There is a limited amount of room in the uterus. If twins do survive, they are usually weak and/or non-viable.

Fetal sexing is a revolution in the reproductive industry that had been perfected in cattle but only became available in the equine industry approximately 10 years ago. Starting on Day 58 of gestation, the genital tubercle will migrate towards the tail to become the clitoris OR will migrate towards the prepuce to become the penis. You can fetal sex between Days 60 to 70 or between Days 110 to 140. Fetal sexing is virtually impossible between Days 80 to 90 and after Day 140.

BEING A MOTHER IS AN ATHLETIC EVENT

Athletic horses have the best reproductive organ conformation and do not require sacrificing calories to stay alive. They can dedicate all necessary energy to cycling correctly and maintaining a pregnancy. Avoid transporting your mare unnecessarily. Make sure she is quarantined from new arrivals. There is no need to supplement a mare’s diet until she begins lactation. Obese mares have difficult times trying to expel a fetus.

Drug companies rarely spend the money trying to get their product “approved for use on pregnant mares.” The commonly found deworming medications Pyrantel Pamoate (Strongid ®), Ivermectin, and fenbendazole (Panacur ®) are all commonly used on pregnant mares without any more side-effects than would be seen on a non-pregnant mare.

Pasture turn out provides all the necessary exercise and a regular diet should maintain a mare in the correct body condition even if she is in mid-gestation. Water supply is critical because of the increased fetal fluids and milk production. Be mindful of automatic water supplies and ice-covered troughs during the winter months.

Herpesvirus (EHV-1) can cause late-term abortion and mares should be vaccinated for this disease preferably at five, seven, and nine months of gestation. Thirty days prior to foaling: Caslick’s procedures (when the vulva is sewn partially closed) should be opened or the patency of the vulvar lips should be confirmed. All vaccinations should be administered to the mare protecting against diseases for which you would like the foal to be vaccinated. Vaccinations given to the mare at foaling DO NOT PROTECT the foal since the colostrum does not have adequate time to manufacture the correct antibodies.

Ascarid larvae can be passed in the milk so the mare should be dewormed with a product containing ivermectin. Ascarid impaction was a common cause of colic and death in foals before the use of ivermectin became common. Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI) screens are done within two weeks of foaling. These are blood tests to determine if the mare has hypersensitized herself to the blood-type of the foal. Older mares are more prone to being hypersensitized to a foal’s blood-type. If the mare is NI (+), the foal must be muzzled for the first 24 to 36 hours of life, and a colostrums donor must be sought.

Normal mares have a broad range of gestation. It is very normal for mares to carry a fetus for 320 to 380 days. In general 330 days (11 months) is the most commonly cited gestation length. The most common question I get is “how long do I wait before I get worried.” Fescue toxicity is the most common thing that can cause prolonged gestation and reduced milk production, but by the due date, it is too late to restrict the fescue grazing of the mare since it usually requires 60 to 90 days of restricted grazing to make a difference. If it appeases owners, I usually ultrasound for placental thickness or palpate for fetal movement. I have never found a dead fetus at term after an owner has been concerned about a prolonged gestation. Although induced labor is possible and has been done in research or controlled settings, I NEVER recommend this option. There are many very experienced and well-educated veterinarians that regularly have experienced horrible side-effects and death of both the mare and foal. There is never a reason to induce abortion unless the health of the mare is in danger. In my opinion, convenience of the owner is a very poor reason to induce labor when considering the danger. I experienced the two years of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS) in Lexington and never saw a fetus that benefited from induced foaling. Foals can survive, but an ICU facility needs to be available with trained critical care veterinarians and support technicians. If mares do spontaneously abort, the fetal membranes as well as the fetus needs to be refrigerated or preserved for necropsy, histopathology, or for examination by your veterinarian.

Vaginal discharge or dripping milk may indicate impending abortion or foaling. It is the most common scenario to see a mare abort without any clinical signs of being sick herself. The udder will usually fill two to four weeks before foaling. The teats will usually distend four to six days before foaling. “Wax” will appear on the teats one to four days before foaling. There are commercial kits that can check for the increase of calcium in udder secretions. This can also be accomplished by water-hardness test strips. Calcium increases usually happen 24 to 48 hours before foaling occurs. Relaxed appearance of the vulva and movements in the flank “of the foal kicking” are inconclusive and should not be trusted.

Minimize stresses and observation since the mare has been shown somewhat of an ability to govern her labor. “The fetus determines the day of delivery and the mare determines the hour.” Outdoor foaling arrangements have been used for centuries. Foaling stalls should be at least 14 feet X 14 feet or larger. Disinfect floor between deliveries. Straw is the best surface. Shavings stick to eye and may cause corneal ulceration in the neonate.

FIRST STAGE LABOR: Most (>85 percent) of mares foal at night. This is thought to be a survival adaptation since the foal should be ready to run with the mare by daylight. Mare is anxious. Kicks at belly. May make nesting behavior. May be mistaken for colic with continuous up and down movement and excessive urination. Many mares will sweat within an hour of giving birth. “Mare is heating up.” Wrap tail and clean perineal area. This stage usually lasts about an hour. When the chorioallantois breaks and you see a rush of fluid…Stage I is over.

SECOND STAGE LABOR: Usually 15 to 25 minutes. It may be wise to start a stopwatch since many people will lose track of time due to the excitement of the moment. Expect to see continuous progress with front hooves, nose, ears, etc.

Red bag appearance = EMERGENCY. YOU DO NOT HAVE TIME TO CALL A VET OR EVEN DIAL THE PHONE. THIS MUST BE CUT AND THE FOAL DELIVERED IMMEDIATELY.

Caudal presentation vs. “breech delivery” Make sure foal is breathing. Stimulate with a blunt object in nostrils. Rub vigorously with a towel. When foal is born, do NOT cut the cord like they do in humans. Some researchers believe that a certain amount of blood flows into the foal after birth through the umbilical artery.

Disinfection should be performed with CHLORHEXADINE > IODINE.

THIRD STAGE LABOR: If the placenta is not passed within three hours it should be considered an emergency.

* Foal should stand in ONE hour.

* Should show ability to nurse by TWO hours. (Placenta is also usually passed by this time as well.)

* Foal should be actively consuming colostrums by THREE hours.

Foals should be administered an enema (or two) to aid in the passage of the meconium. Meconium impaction is the most common form of colic in a newborn foal. Harvest colostrum from the mare if the foal does not aggressively consume it. You can always have your veterinarian administer colostrum via a nasogastric tube.

If milking the mare, you should attempt to get 16 to 32 ounces of colostrum from the udder. Eighty to 85 percent of colostrum absorption is in the first eight to 12 hours of life. Get in the practice of pulling blood for an IgG six to eight hours after foaling and you should have adequate IgG to test and you will also have 3 to 4 hours remaining with which to administer colostrum via a nasogastric tube if required.

Mares usually require no post-partum care. Phenylbutazone (Bute ®) or flunixin meglamine (Banamine ®) may be required to reduce swelling in their vulva or rectum. Before you call your veterinarian about a sick mare that has recently had a foal, take her temperature BEFORE YOU ADMINISTER ANY DRUGS. Bute ® and Banamine ® will reduce fevers so take a rectal temperature before you artificially reduce the mare’s fever. It should be under 101.5° F. Retained placenta or endometritis is common in febrile mares immediately after foaling. Mares are prone to colonic displacement after foaling and can also rupture their cecum or bladder DURING foaling.

It is normal in many foals to have fetlocks that are so weak they may be touching the ground. These will usually rectify themselves with age and exercise and require no bandages or splints. Fractured ribs are common in Thoroughbreds but not in other breeds. Contracted legs or deviations in legs that prohibit nursing should be dealt with immediately by your veterinarian. Most foals are designed to be turned out with the mare the morning after foaling. Stall restriction is not necessary for any reason other than if the foal has orthopedic concerns where movement and exercise must be limited.


Stages of Pregnancy in a Mare and Foal Birth - pets

CARING FOR THE FOALING MARE AND NEWBORN

If your mare has made it through 11 months of pregnancy, you're almost home free. Labor and delivery, while momentous, are generally uncomplicated. Every effort should be made to be present during foaling. In most cases, you will simply need to be a quiet observer. Mares seem to prefer to foal at night in privacy, and apparently have some control over their delivery. Hiring a foaling attendant, installing a video monitor or using a birth alarm system can save the life of the foal if a problem should arise. It is advisable to have your veterinarian's telephone number nearby in case of an emergency.

A SAFE PLACE TO FOAL

What your mare will need, however, is a clean, safe, quiet place to foal. Horses have been giving birth on the open range for eons, and this is still an acceptable choice. Allowing the mare to foal in the pasture even has some advantages. An open grassy area is likely to be cleaner than a stall and provides a healthy environment with adequate room to foal. You won't have to worry about the mare crowding into a corner or foaling too close to a wall. However, many owners prefer to confine the mare to observe her progress.

Should you choose to foal your mare in a stall, provide one that is a minimum of 14' x 14'. If possible, the stall should have adequate bedding and a floor that can be readily cleaned and disinfected. Dirt or clay floors make sanitation more difficult. Straw (particularly wheat straw) is preferable to shavings, as it won't cling to the wet newborn or mare the way small wood particles can. Remove manure and soiled bedding promptly and disinfect the stall between deliveries.

THE COUNTDOWN

Mares provide clues that they will soon give birth. However, the timetable is far from absolute. Some mares may show all the signs like clockwork, others show practically none. The following is a general guideline, but be prepared for surprises:

· The mare's udder begins filling with milk two to four weeks prior to foaling.

· The muscles of the vulva and croup relax. The tailhead may become more prominent a few days prior to foaling.

· The teats become engorged four to six days prior to foaling.

· "Waxing" of the teats occurs (a yellowish, honey-like secretion [colostrum] appears one to four days prior to foaling).

· The mare becomes anxious and restless. She may appear to be colicky. She may kick at her belly, pace, lie down and get up, look or bite at her flanks and sweat. She may frequently raise her tail and urinate. Generally, this is the first stage of labor (however, be aware that colic remains a possibility if such behavior is prolonged for more than an hour or two without progress towards foaling, contact your veterinarian).

PREPARING FOR BIRTH

Most mares foal without difficulty. It usually is best to allow the mare to foal undisturbed and unassisted. If a problem becomes apparent, contact your veterinarian immediately.

· Write down your veterinarian's phone number well in advance of the birth and keep it by all phones.

· 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. Take written notes so that you won't have to rely on memory alone.

· 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 udder, vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly.

· Clean and disinfect the stall as thoroughly as possible. Provide adequate bedding.

· Test strips that measure calcium in mammary secretions are available commercially. These strips aid the owner in predicting when the mare will foal because sudden increases in calcium are associated with imminent foaling.

UNDERSTANDING LABOR & DELIVERY

Labor is divided into three stages:

Stage one begins with the onset of contractions and generally lasts one to two hours. Even in a normal delivery, the mare may stand up, lie down and roll several times in an effort to properly position the foal for delivery.During this phase, contractions move the foal through the cervix and into position in the birth canal. The fetal membranes (allantois) may become visible at the mare's vulva. When the sac breaks, signaled by a rush of fluid, stage one ends.The rupture of the allantoic membrane and rush of placental fluids may be confused with urination.

Stage two is the actual expulsion of the foal. This phase moves relatively quickly. If it takes more than 30 minutes for the mare to deliver, there is most likely a problem. If there is no significant progress within 10 to 15 minutes after the membranes rupture, call your veterinarian immediately. If labor seems to be progressing, wait and watch. Normal presentation of the foal resembles a diving position, with front feet first, one slightly ahead of the other, hooves down, followed closely by the nose, head, neck, shoulders and hindquarters. If you notice hoof soles up, the foal may be backwards or upside down, and you should call your veterinarian immediately. If you suspect any deviation from the normal delivery position, call your equine practitioner. The most deadly of foaling emergencies is a premature rupture of the chorioallantois, known as “Red Bag Delivery.” If at any time during stage two you see red/maroon membranes covering the foal as it emerges from the vagina, the placenta must be rapidly torn open. The foal is detached from its blood and oxygen supply. Normal membranes that cover the foal are white or yellow and translucent.

Stage three labor begins after delivery and is the phase during which the afterbirth (placenta) is expelled. Most placentas are passed within 1-3 hours after the foal is delivered. If the placenta has not passed within 3 hours, call your veterinarian. A retained placenta can cause serious problems, including massive infection and laminitis.

POSTPARTUM CARE FOR MARE AND FOAL

In the excitement of birth, it is important to remember some tried and true guidelines:

Allow the foal time to break the fetal membranes (see “Red Bag Delivery” exception above). Once the foal breaks through, be sure it is breathing.

· Generally, it is not recommended to cut or break the umbilical cord. If it has not broken during delivery, it will usually break when the mare or foal gets up. The cord should break at a site approximately one inch from the foal's abdomen, where the cord's diameter is slightly narrower than the remainder of the cord. If it is necessary to manually separate the cord, it should be held firmly on either side of the intended break site, then twisted and pulled to separate (never cut the cord). Twisting and pulling of the cord stimulate closure of the umbilical vessels and reduce the likelihood of hemorrhage from the cord stump. If bleeding persists following cord separation, pressure can be applied to the stump for several minutes by squeezing with a thumb and finger. It is NOT advisable to suture or permanently clamp an umbilical stump. Foals will not typically lose enough blood to become anemic and there is significant danger of trapping pathogens in the umbilical stump when you suture it closed.

· Encourage the mare and foal to rest as long as possible. Give them an opportunity to bond undisturbed.

· Treat the umbilical cord with an antiseptic solution, recommended by your veterinarian, soon after the cord breaks and for several days thereafter to prevent bacterial infection. Diluted (1:4) chlorhexadine solutions are preferred over strong iodine for naval dipping. Tincture of iodine can burn the skin surrounding the umbilical stump and should be avoided.

· Observe the mare and foal closely for the next 24 hours.

IMPORTANCE OF OBSERVATION

Following birth of the foal, the mare and foal should be monitored for the following:

· Foal is breathing normally.

· Foal is bright and alert to its new surroundings. The foal should make attempts to rise within 30 minutes following its birth.

· Mare is non-aggressive, curious and accepting of her newborn. Occasionally a mare will reject her foal. In such a case, the foal should be removed and reintroduced with the mare under restraint. Foal rejection is more common in maiden mares.

· Foal should stand and nurse within two hours of birth. If the foal has not nursed within 3 hours, call your veterinarian. The foal may be weak and in need of assistance or medical attention.

· Foal should pass meconium (the first sticky, dark stool) within 12 hours after birth. If not, an enema may be needed. Female foals do not urinate until about 11 hours after birth male foals may take six hours to urinate after foaling.

· Mare should be bright and alert. Allow her to eat as soon as she is ready and supply plenty of clean, fresh water.

· Once the placenta has been expelled, examine it to make sure it is intact, particularly at the tips of the horns. The afterbirth will be Y-shaped and should have only the hole through which the foal emerged.

· If you suspect the mare has retained part of the placenta, call your veterinarian. Be sure to save the placenta for your veterinarian to examine.

· You may wish to check the mare's temperature and other vital signs periodically within the first 24 hours to make sure they are normal. An elevated temperature may indicate infection (normal range is 99.5 to 101.5 F).

IMPORTANCE OF COLOSTRUM

It is essential that the foal receive an adequate supply of colostrum. Colostrum, the mare's first milk, is extremely rich in antibodies. It provides the foal with passive immunity to help prevent disease until its own immune system kicks in.

A foal must receive colostrum within the first eight to 12 hours of life in order to absorb the antibodies. If a foal is too weak to nurse, it may be necessary to milk the mare and give the colostrum to the foal via a stomach tube.

If a mare appears to be leaking an excessive amount of milk prior to birth, consult your veterinarian. This pre-foaling milk is not typically colostrum-rich. However, depending on your veterinarian's recommendation, the mare may be milked and the colostrum frozen to give to the foal shortly after birth. For orphan foals, or mares without an adequate supply of colostrum, it is important to locate a back-up supply. Without it, the foal is at an increased risk of infections. Your veterinarian can test the colostrum to determine whether it is rich in antibodies. Also, the foal's serum can be tested at 18 to 24 hours of age to evaluate IgG antibody levels. The majority of absorption (85 percent) takes place within the first six to eight hours. The foal can be tested when it is eight hours old and if IgG is deficient, it can be supplemented. If you wait until the foal is 24 hours old to evaluate IgG absorption and it proves to be inadequate, your only option will be a plasma transfusion. If IgG is inadequate, treatment for Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT) should be instituted by your veterinarian.

OTHER FOALING CAVEATS

· If a mare appears to require assistance during foaling, call your veterinarian.

· If you suspect a problem during the foaling process (such as a foal which is not in the normal birth position), call your veterinarian immediately. If caught early enough in labor, your veterinarian may be able to reposition the foal for a normal delivery. Remember, a prompt delivery is crucial to the health of the newborn foal.

· Unless it is a dire emergency, do not try to pull a foal. An exception to this rule might include a backwards presentation (or “Red Bag Delivery”), because the foal can suffocate unless delivered promptly. Under no circumstances should you ever pull with anything more than your own muscle power, and pull only during a contraction (when the mare is straining). Improper pulling risks damage to the mare's reproductive tract, injury to the foal and premature separation of the umbilical cord, which will deprive the foal of oxygen.

· Many foals begin life with weak legs. Don't be overly concerned if the baby is down in the pasterns and fetlocks for the first day or two of life. They will generally straighten up. However, if you see extreme deviations of limbs or note other physical problems, or the condition persists, consult your veterinarian.

It is always a good idea to have your veterinarian do a post-partum examination of both the mare and foal, as well as the placenta.

A FINAL NOTE

Nature has provided an efficient system for the mare to deliver and care for her young. Be a prepared and informed owner so you can enjoy the miracle of birth, keep your anxiety in check and help the new mother and foal get off to a great start.

For more information, contact your veterinarian.


A Sequential Pictorial Essay of a Foaling

Most commonly, mares are best foaled inside where observation is easy. The disadvantage with foaling in the pasture is the loss of that ability to monitor the mares at night - it is no fun trying to deal with a dystocia by the lights of your pick-up truck! In this instance however, the mare was turned out through the day, and was observed to be entering the first stages of parturition in the late afternoon. The advantage of foaling in a good clean dry pasture (presuming suitable weather of course!) is that it will typically be cleaner than the cleanest barn - research has shown that pressure-washing faced concrete with a bleach solution will still not necessarily get rid of all pathogens! Sunlight however is a great anti-bacterial agent. We would reinforce the necessity of good fencing, good weather, and a clean pasture though. In this case, the mare chose to lie down in the hay round bale!
"Click" on the images below to see an enlarged version in a new window

Wrapping the tail (note that ground tying the mare to do so may not be recommended with all mares!)

The wrapped tail will prevent stray hairs interfering with the foaling process, and also keep the tail cleaner

During the early stages of labor, it is not unusual for the mare to get up and down several times. She is typically repositioning the foal, or may just be plain uncomfortable!

There can be a lot of "hurry up and wait" during stage 1 of labor! Mares have even been known to remain in this stage for a day or more! Monitoring is recommended, and if in doubt, consult your vet!

Sometimes the mare will appear to stop being uncomfortable and wander off and eat for a while, or possibly eat and scratch her butt in this case.

. only to resume signs of discomfort a little later - biting at the flanks, or signs suggestive of colic are typically indicating uterine contractions.

Don't confuse urination with the "waters breaking" - there's a lot of pressure on that bladder, so frequent urination with low volume is common!

Finally the mare does lay down, and.

. very shortly afterwards, the "waters break" - meaning that allantochorion ruptures, and the allantoic fluid is released.
The allantoic fluid will look a lot like urine - and it is in fact comprised primarily of fetal urine.
Within 20 minutes of the passage of the allantoic fluid, the white amniotic membrane should become visible. If the membrane that appears is red, do not hesitate to intervene and rupture that membrane manually, seeking the white membrane within, and manually encouraging passage of the foal. A red membrane is indicative of a "red bag delivery", meaning that the allantoic membrane failed to rupture, but rather is separating from the lining of the uterus, and the foal is in danger of suffocation.
Within the white membrane, you should now see the appearance of a foot, followed shortly by another foot, and then the nose. If you have seen the appearance of the white membrane, and no foot within 20 minutes, or a foot and no second foot or the nose within 15 minutes, you should - if experienced in foaling - determine the position of the foal, or if not experienced, get your veterinarian out - you may be looking at a dystocia (malpresentation) situation, and time is of the essence to achieve a healthy outcome (and even then, you may not).
Hopefully now the foaling will move ahead with the minimum of difficulty. Many people feel the uncontrollable need to step in and "help" the mare, but unless there is an obvious inability on the mares part to be able to pass the foal herself, leave them alone! Unnecessary interference at this stage can give rise to all kinds of future complications ranging from cervical damage (due to pulling before the cervix is adequately relaxed) through to a mare developing uterine inertia - a lack of desire to push - in future foalings, as she is waiting for someone else to do the work (and this may be a major issue if that someone else is not there to assist!)
Notice the natural passage of the foal toward the hocks. If assistance is required, in most situations pulling toward the mares hocks in conjunction with the contractions is recommended. There may be some emergency situations where this is not recommended, and rapid extraction is desirable, but in most cases the "toward the hocks in conjunction with contractions" rule will apply. Once the chest is out of the mare, manual rupture of the amniotic membrane should be performed if it has not naturally occurred. Note that the foal cannot breath until its chest has passed out of the mare and is able to expand (and draw in air). Remember too that there will still be oxygen transfer achieved through the placenta and umbilicus until the shut-down of placental-umbilical blood movement and separation of the umbilicus.
As long as the mare is quiet and prepared to remain laying down, we like to gently manipulate the foal toward the mare where she can see it easily, and possibly touch it. We try avoid disruption at this stage to keep the mare down as long as possible, as we want the umbilicus to separate naturally rather than prematurely by the mare getting up or moving. The natural separation indicates the close-down of placental blood transfer, and although if there is a premature separation, the amount of blood loss is minimal (although it looks a lot!), and not a major cause for concern, the natural shut-down process has been associated with increased uterine contractions and a lower incidence of retained placenta, so awaiting the natural rupture of the umbilicus is usually preferable.
At the time of umbilical separation - natural or not - placing the hand on the foal's abdomen while gently pinching the umbilicus is desirable to provide abdominal support. This reduces the stress placed on the umbilical/abdominal junction, and reduces the likelihood of an umbilical hernia. Once separated, the umbilicus should be dipped in a solution of ½% chlorhexidine. Iodine has been used by many for years, but has been found to be caustic enough to actually cause tissue damage and increase the risk of umbilical damage, leading to a potentially higher incidence of patent urachus or even umbilical hernia. There is however a need to dip the umbilical stump more frequently with the chlorhexidine - 3 or 4 times a day is recommenced for the first 3 or 4 days, or until the stump is dry and sealed. Take a piece of string, tie up the placenta to itself to avoid the possibility of the mare stepping on it while rising or waking after foaling - either of which could result in breakage of the membrane, and a loss of hanging weight that encourages complete passage of the placenta. This would result in a higher risk of retained placenta. We then like to move the foal within easy reach of the mare, and withdraw ourselves while monitoring the situation from a little distance away, allowing the mare and foal to bond.
The foal will usually try to get up before too long - often with some ungainly results! Again, don't feel a need to rush right in there and become involved - the foal is learning, and if the foaling area is safe will be unlikely to come to any harm even though the crashes can look quite bad! Remember how many times you skinned your knees as a kid?
Before too long, the foal will most likely start to look seriously organized about getting up, or the mare herself may show signs of wanting to rise. It is desirable to wash off the mares udder at this point, using just warm water, and prior to the foal nursing. Research has shown that washing the udder prior to nursing significantly reduces the incidence of neonatal septicaemia - which makes a lot of sense when one thinks about it, as the udder is not really very clean, and the foals gut can absorb any large molecules it encounters within about the first 12 hours after birth. Preferably those large molecules will be immunoglobulins in the colostrum, imparting antibody protection, but they could be bacteria as well, so the fewer bacteria encountered, the better!
The foal will probably get up soon, and be more organized about how it tries, so now a little assistance may be beneficial - just a balancing hand is best, a bit like you're teaching your child to ride a bicycle. be ready to prevent a serious crash, but just assist with balance if you can! Eventually those long legs will get set at each corner, and the foal will be standing alone - albeit a little wobbly!
It is worth noting that even though this appeared to be a textbook foaling of this maiden mare, with no complications, she did retain her placenta for about 4 hours. Upon dropping it (after oxytocin treatment), evaluation showed that there was a piece missing, and we were obliged to retrieve it manually from the uterus. This clearly demonstrates that it is important to maintain careful monitoring not only prior to and through the foaling period, but also afterward! If this mare had been left to foal unattended without monitoring, although the foaling itself would have passed "without a hitch", the mare would have become severely sick and quite possibly have died as a result of the piece of placenta that broke off and was retained within the uterus. Had the mare been left to foal outside unattended, it is most likely that some sort of scavenger would have retrieved the placenta before a human, and evaluation - showing a piece missing - would have been impossible. The sequela would almost certainly have been a severely sick mare 24-48 hours later. It therefore goes to show that one can never be too watchful at foaling time!

The Foal

The Newborn

The mare and foal will remain lying down for several minutes following foaling. The umbilical cord is usually still intact and blood continues to flow from the mare to the foal. The foal will move its head and body within minutes after birth. The umbilical cord should break as a result of this movement. If the umbilical cord is not broken within a few minutes after birth and has stopped pulsing, it may need to be broken by hand. The cord should break at a site approximately one inch from the foal’s abdomen, where the cord’s diameter is slightly narrower than the remainder of the cord. If it is necessary to manually separate the cord, it should be held firmly on either side of the intended break site, then twisted and pulled to separate. Never cut the cord, as twisting and pulling of the cord stimulate closure of the umbilical vessels and reduce the likelihood of bleeding from the cord stump. If bleeding persists following cord separation, pressure can be applied to the stump for several minutes by squeezing with a thumb and finger.


Foals should stand and nurse within the first 3 hours.

Foals should make attempts to rise within 30 minutes after birth. Nursing should occur soon after standing, usually within half an hour to an hour and a half. Nursing is important, as the first milk contains antibodies that develop the foal’s immune system. If the foal has not nursed within 3 hours, the foal may be weak and in need of assistance or medical attention. Delayed nursing past 8 to 12 hours after birth impairs the transfer of antibodies from the mare to the foal, which puts the foal at risk of not being able to ward off infections. The foal’s serum can be tested at 12 to 24 hours of age to evaluate IgG antibody levels. Treatments for low antibody levels include administration of colostrum, plasma immune products and plasma transfers.

The meconium or ‘first feces’ should be passed within the first 8 to 12 hours after birth. Most foals will also urinate within the first several hours of birth. The foal will lie down frequently the first several hours after birth and will sleep for short periods of time.

Recommendations for assisting the newborn foal varies however, most veterinarians suggest avoiding help unless necessary for the health of the mare or foal. The decision to assist should be guided from an experienced individual, and a qualified person should conduct the assistance. Too much or unnecessary assistance may increase stress in the mare or foal, may be counterproductive to the health of the mare or foal, and as mares are naturally protective, can be dangerous. Several checks are routine to assist decisions on intervention.


Dipping the foals nave stump with iodine.

After birth, the foal’s nostrils may be covered with part of the placenta or bedding. These materials need removing if they constrict respiration. If the foal appears to not be breathing, respiratory assistance will be needed to inflate the lungs. The umbilical stump is treated with disinfectant, such as tame 2 percent iodine solution or 0.5 percent chlorhexidine (Nolvasan) diluted 1 to 4 parts water, shortly after it is broken. The umbilical stump should be treated once or twice daily for the first couple of days. Unless there is infection, the umbilical stump should dry up within one or two days after birth. The expected foal behavior post foaling is listed in Table 2.

Table 2. Normal Post Birth Parameters for Newborn Foals
Parameter Average Time Post Foaling
Suckling reflex Develop suckling reflex within 2 to 20 minutes test by placing index finger in mouth.
Sternal recumbency 1 – 2 minutes
Time to stand 60 minutes if foal takes over 2 hours to stand, problems might be present that need immediate attention.
Time to nurse 2 hours abnormal if foal takes over 3-4 hours.
Temperature 37.2 to 38.6C or 99-101.5F in non stressed birth.
Heart Rate Greater than 60bpm at 1 to 5 minutes post foaling. 80-130 bpm at 6-60 minutes post foaling 80 to 120 bpm at 1-5 days post foaling.
Respiration Rate 60-80 breaths per minute first 30 minutes 30-40 breaths per minute at 1-12 hours after foaling.

The foal should have an examination within 12 to 24 hours after it is born. Procedures include an ophthalmic exam, respiratory exam and visual checks for conformational abnormalities. As mentioned above, the foal’s antibody levels in the serum should be tested for IgG antibodies, which should be above 800 mg/dl.

Early life handling of foals has benefits of imprinting acceptable behaviors around people. There are several publications on the timing and routines of imprinting. These sessions begin immediately after birth.

Foals and mares should be allowed access to paddocks or pasture within a couple of days post foaling. If weather and facility constrain access to paddocks, mares should be hand walked with the foals by their sides. Mares and foals should be turned into pastures or paddocks with other lactating mares within several days to a week after foaling.

The Nursing Foal

Foals receive their nutrition from the mare’s milk exclusively for the first several weeks to one month of age. If allowed access to their dam’s grain or grain by creep feeding, foals will begin to eat small amounts of grain rations within the first month of their life. Creep feeding provides supplemental feed to foals by using feeders constructed to restrict access of mares.

Vaccination and deworming schedules should be under the supervision of your attending veterinarian. The time to begin vaccinations depends on the vaccination of the mare prior to foaling. Vaccinations given to mares the last 30 days of pregnancy will assist the protection of the foal during the first several months of life. In general, foals born to mares with current vaccinations should receive their first vaccinations at 6 to 9 months of age as vaccinations at an earlier age may interfere with the foal’s immune response resulting from the antibodies received in the mare’s milk. If mares are not vaccinated before foaling, foals should receive their vaccinations beginning at 3 to 4 months of age. Owners should consult with their veterinarian to refine timing of vaccinations.

Orphan Foals

Orphan foals will require milk replacement. There are several commercially developed milk replacers. Preplanning for the potential need by locating suppliers before foaling will help access a supply in an emergency. Foals can be taught to drink in buckets. Holding the bucket with milk replacer near the foal, with milk on the person’s fingers can encourage the foal to begin drinking the milk. The majority of foals will drink readily from the bucket after two or three offerings. Bucket placement at the level of the foal’s chest will help access. Buckets that are left for the foal to drink need to be securely attached to the stall wall. The first several feedings may require handlers to hold the bucket and/or foal. Foals drink small amounts frequently, so a small, continual supply of fresh replacer will be required. Buckets will require cleaning to remove any left over residue or milk. Most label directions suggest free choice supplies of replacement, as the foal will regulate needs. Milk ‘replacer’ pellets, also called ‘foal pellets,’ are also an option. Additionally, the use of a nurse mare may be an option if a suitably mannered mare in early lactation is available.

A soft, pelleted or extruded grain source should be offered to the orphan within several weeks following birth. Depending on consumption patterns of grain, foals may be weaned off milk replacer around 2 months of age. Housing around other horses will help reduce stress in orphans. Placement of a companion animal, such as a small goat, with an orphan has been used successively to further reduce stress in orphans.

Management of orphans should encourage moving foals into normal management and contact with other foals as quickly as possible. Contact with other foals increase the desire to consume feed and provides the orphan a companion to reduce stress. Once over 2 to 3 months of age, most orphans can be placed with other foals going through the weaning process.

Weaning

Foals are typically allowed to nurse their dams until 4 to 5 months of age. By that time, the foal should be consuming substantial amounts of feed and are mature enough to be weaned. Weaning methods vary from abrupt removal of the dam from the foal’s location to more gradual separation methods. The gradual separation method removes the foal from all physical contact that allows nursing, but allows the foal to be housed next to the mare and see, smell and hear its dam. Adjoining pens or stalls are used that allow for visual contact but are constructed with fencing that restricts nursing. After several days of side-by-side housing, mares are removed completely from the foals. Proponents of gradual methods site research that shows reduced foal stress when allowed visual and auditory access to dams housed in adjoining enclosures. Weaning enclosures should be free from projections that increase the chance of injury.

Regardless of method, foals weaned in pairs will have reduced stress. Those with a single foal to wean have successfully used other companion animals such as a goat to provide companionship of the foal being weaned. Once weaned, foals should be housed in paddocks or pens with other weanlings.


How to Deliver a Foal

Last Updated: March 29, 2019 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Ryan Corrigan, LVT, VTS-EVN. Ryan Corrigan is a Licensed Veterinary Technician in California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology from Purdue University in 2010. She is also a Member of the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians since 2011.

There are 30 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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The birth of your foal is finally here! Now, of course, you want to make sure your mare is healthy while giving birth. Start by making sure the area is ready for her to go into labor, and then help her through the stages of labor. Also, have your veterinarian's number on hand, just in case problems pop up with the birth.


Watch the video: What to Expect in a Pregnant Mare (September 2021).