2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
By Joseph Hahn
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
As the new year approaches, many horse owners turn their thoughts to resolutions, losing Christmas weight, and foaling. The keys to successful foaling are a clean environment and being prepared. The mare should be allowed to do her job, but you should be prepared to intervene if help is needed.
"All mares should be vaccinated for diseases specific to their area three to four weeks prior to giving birth," says Dr. Deborah Rowley, a veterinarian specializing in theriogenology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "This allows the mare to develop immunity against disease and to pass it on to the foal through her milk (colostrum). In Illinois, we vaccinate for Eastern and Western encephalitis, tetanus, and influenza. Pregnant mares should be vaccinated against rhinopneumonitis, a virus that causes abortion and respiratory disease, at five, seven and nine months of gestation."
She also recommends good parasite control. This includes maintaining a clean environment and using a deworming preparation effective against small strongyles, one of the internal parasites hardest to control. The mare can also be dewormed at foaling to reduce the chances of contaminating the foal.
"It is very important that the mare be comfortable in the two to three weeks before her due date," stresses Dr. Rowley. "The stress of moving can cause complications during the last stages of the pregnancy, and mares should be moved to the birthing location as early as possible." For those mares being shipped to another location to foal, vaccination against strangles may be necessary.
The environment where the mare will give birth is also very important. It should be clean and contain a comfortable bedding, such as straw. Dr. Rowley says that fine shavings or sawdust could cause respiratory problems in the newborn. The stall should be cleaned before the mare is placed in it. It should ideally measure a minimum of 12í by 12í. Water and feed buckets should be placed out of the newborn foalís reach.
"The normal presentation of the foal is two legs and a nose," says Dr. Rowley. "Any other presentation will likely require the assistance of a veterinarian. Mares are very strong and with proper presentation will usually deliver the foal within four or five contractions once the foal presents."
It may be necessary to break the fetal membranes around the foalís nostrils after it is born to allow it to breathe. If the umbilical stump bleeds excessively, it may need to be clamped; otherwise, the cord will break on its own.
"Once the foal is born, its first contact should be with its mother," says Dr. Rowley. "If the mare is a first-time mother, it is important to make sure that she and the foal develop a bond and that she doesnít abuse her new foal."
The foal should get up and nurse within one to two hours, she says. It should make a strong effort to stand within the first hour.
"Normally, fetal membranes will pass within one to two hours of the birth without any difficulty," states Dr. Rowley. "The mare needs to stand up so that gravity can help in releasing the fetal membranes. If they are dragging on the ground, they should be tied up above the level of the hock. Once passed, they should be evaluated to make sure the entire placenta has been passed. Contact your veterinarian if the fetal membranes are not completely recovered."
If you would like further tips on successful foaling, contact
your local equine veterinarian.