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Foaling 101

Updated: May 26, 2023

Most mares foal without difficulty, but did you know that up to 5% of mares in some breeds reject their foals? If your mare is expecting a foal this summer, make sure to get these tips that help predict the time of foaling, avoid complications and the mother rejecting her foal 👉

Signs of foaling

With down to 320 and up to 380 days pregnancy it`s hard to predict the exact time of foaling in mares. However, the average equine gestation lasts 340 days (11 months plus 1 week) and most mares give clues that they'll soon give birth, which can be 👉

- The teats become larger 1-2 weeks before foaling and produce water like liquid

- The muscles of the croup relaxes and the tailhead becomes more prominent

- The mare produces white solid milk sometimes accompanied by a buildup of wax-like droplets on the udders, this means foaling is likely to happen within the next 24 hours

- Mare becomes restless in her stall or withdraws from the herd showing colic like behaviour, which indicates the first stage of labor

The actual labor

If everything goes as normal, which it usually does, the actual birth takes less than 30 minutes, followed by the foal standing within 1 hour, drinking within 2 hours and the placenta coming out before 3 hours.

If at any time during labor you see red/maroon membranes covering the foal as it emerges from the vagina, this matter (which is the placenta) must be rapidly cut open.

The placenta and therefore also oxygen to the foal has dethatched and foal must be assisted out asp.

Foals are supposed to come with front hooves facing downwards followed by the muzzle and the head. Hind hooves facing upwards and no sign of any head indicates the foal is coming backwards. If this is the case, and foal is already well on the way out, assist with the delivery to get the foal out as quickly as possible. The navel cord will break before the foals head is out which can suffocate the foal.

If membranes that cover the foals head (white and yellowish in color) doesn`t rapture, remove them and any slime around the muzzle.

If foal fails to breathe, try throwing cold water on their face and shake them while held upside down (if possible). This is not something I have ever found necessary with foals but learned from lambing. Especially lambs delivered with hind end first can suck in slime and water blocking the airways and they can be a bit slow to start breathing.

I know the most common advice in these 3 rare but severe scenarios (placenta coming first, backwards foaling or foal not breathing) is "call the vet," but even if the vet is there within 20 minutes it will probably be too late.

If the foaling takes longer than 30 minutes and you suspect the foal is not positioned correctly, call the vet and wait for the vet to assist.

After labor

Newborn foals stumbling when trying to stand and not finding the tit at first try is completely normal.

The mare not allowing the foal to drink is not normal, if this happens consistently for some time, put a halter and leadrope on the mare and maybe offer food to encourage her to stand while the foal finds the udder. If this doesn't solve it, call the vet.

If the placenta doesn`t come out, do not attempt to pull as this may cause it to break and make things worse. Leading the mare uphill can help, as can attach a small wet towel to the part of the placenta that`s sticking out. If the placenta is held back or broken, call the vet.

When out, check the placenta to see if it's whole, even tiny bits of remaining tissue causes infection which can lead to severe laminitis (amo) and even death.

In addition to the tips already given, I must add that rugging foals isn't something I do. We`ve had foals in all kinds of weather like snow, rain and wind. Hot or cold weather,- rugs have never been needed. Foals have very thick fur, in addition horses rely on muscle based methods for keeping warm and cooling down, if these muscles aren't put to use, they will fade away and wanish.

If you're worried about the weather, rather than rugging, it's possible to have the foal inside to dry (together with the mother) and then let them out again. The temperature difference between a warm stable and the cold outside (or visa versa) will trigger the foals natural thermoregulation, which is essential for foals (and adult horses) ability to cope with different weather.

I also don't recommend drying foals with towles when new born. Let the mother lick her foal clean, this is an important part of the bonding process that involves scent recognition. Towels smelling of soap and detergents might mess this up and drying the foal takes this important task away from the mother.

Treating the foals navel with disinfectant is however a wise thing to do. We haven`t practiced this as our foals are born outside on pastures, which are cleaner than paddocks or stalls. According to this study Chlorhexidine (0.5%) is the most effective for reducing bacterial numbers without tissue destruction.

This is not a time for training

Except for disinfecting the navel, this isn't a time for training the foal, desensitize or inprint them, help them stand up, put on halters, rugs or in other ways interfere. New born foals can attach to anything around them, make sure it's their mother, not humans or other horses.

Interfering with horses natural behaviour when foaling can cause mares to reject the foal or the foal to not attach to the mother. A scientific survey of mares rejecting foals found the highest rates in Arabians (5.1%), followed by Paint Horses and Thoroughbreds.

It should not be necessary to say this, but do not leave halters on horses (which includes foals, colts, fillies, stallions, geldings, mares and broad mares), I see so many pictures of this and it's very dangerous, even lethal (just Google it).

Usually foaling goes very fast and very well. If you get to witness even parts of it consider yourself very lucky ❤️

Thank you so much for watching! If this made sense or you know someone who expects a foal please share 👉

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