Now is the time to prepare for the 2007 foaling season. Most mares foal in the springtime. Pregnant mares need to be vaccinated 30 days prior to foaling to bolster immunity that can be transferred to the foal in colostrum. The vaccinations can be as simple as a tetanus shot or can cover vaccinations for Rhinotrachitis/Calicivirus, eastern & western encephalitis, tetanus, rabies, and West Nile Virus. If the mare is not already off fescue and eating fescue free hay, the owner should make arrangements to get fescue out of the mare’s diet.
Watch for Mammary Development: One needs to watch the mare’s mammary glands for development. At two weeks prior to foaling, if the mare does not have any milk production, we can give the mare a drug called Domperidone. This drug breaks the fescue toxicity effects and allows the mare to produce milk. The quality and presence of colostrum, the mare’s first milk, is the biggest factor in assuring a foal’s survival.
Stall Preparation and Monitoring: Most mares foal at night. A pregnant mare should be put in the barn at night when she is getting ready to foal. A 12’ by 16’ stall with straw used as bedding is the best place for a foal to be born. Mares should be checked hourly to watch for foaling problems. Closed circuit and internet cameras that are now commonly available prove helpful for monitoring pregnant mares and for watching the foaling process without the risk of interrupting the mare’s labor. Mares have considerable control over the foaling process and will stop the process if there is much human interaction. Ninety percent of mares do foal uneventfully, especially if the producer controls the mare’s fescue exposure.
The signs that a mare’s labor is impending are a relaxation of the mare’s hindquarters, a lengthening of the vulvar lips, and “waxing” – small beads of colostrum at the tips of the teats. Once a mare commits to the birthing process, she should be done in about 20 minutes. Newly born foals should be on their chest in one to two minutes. The mare should still be lying down. Newborn foals can take up to two hours to stand, but they should be making an effort in about an hour. Once the foal stands, that should break the umbilical cord. At this point, the mare should start getting up. The mare staying down with the umbilicus still intact allows for an important transfer of umbilical blood that helps establish the foal’s immune system. Within 2-20 minutes after birth, the foal should have a suckle reflex. The producer can stick his or her finger in the foal’s mouth. The foal should suck on the finger. After the foal has stood, its next instinct is to nurse. The foal normally starts by suckling on the mare’s body moving back toward the mammary glands. The foal’s normal time to nurse is 2-3 hours. If a foal takes longer than 2-3 hours to nurse, call Healing Springs for a farm visit that night.
Dip, Enema, & Vaccinations: There are things mare owners can do to ensure a healthy baby. At birth, dip the navel in a betadine or chlorhexidine solution and repeat at 4-6 hours after birth. This will help prevent navel ill. The foal has to pass meconium, the first feces. This is a very sticky substance that is difficult to pass. A warm water enema or a “Fleet” enema will help the meconium pass easily. Should you choose to use a warm water enema it should be about 60-120mls in volume and given slowly and gently. If the mare has not been vaccinated for tetanus thirty days prior to foaling, the foal should be vaccinated with a tetanus antitoxin. The foal can be given a tetanus toxoid at six and twelve weeks of age.
Foal Checks: Even if there are no apparent problems, a veterinary visit for a foal check may be beneficial. Have the foal check performed six to eight hours after birth. However, foal checks on apparently healthy foals are not emergencies and do not merit paying additional emergency fees. Simply make the appointment during the day, Monday through Saturday. Healing Springs can perform a physical exam and a foal check to test for colostral antibodies. The foal check is a blood test that measures the amount of colostral antibodies the mare has absorbed. If any abnormalities are found, they need to be dealt with swiftly to ensure the foal’s survival.