Basics

  • Do not rush the mare: her uterus is not a feed sack - open the top and the foal falls out!
  • No hurried or panicky movements,
  • No raised voices,
  • No unnecessary interference
  • No hesitation in calling assistance if you sense a problem.

FOALING OUTSIDE (under lights) - the better option in a mild climate
or FOALING IN A STABLE - the better option if there are complications

Preparations

  • A conveniently close telephone
  • A list of emergency numbers (vet, assistant(s), etc.)
  • Clean hands and arms, short fingernails and no jewellery!
  • Bucket - with cover - for afterbirth + source of hot water
  • Soap + clean tail bandage + clean towel + roll of cotton wool
  • Iodine + Thread/string soaked in iodine + Surgical scissors (with rounded ends)
  • Syringes + needles + vaccines
  • A colic remedy + an enema bag with a soft rubber hose + a twitch

Foaling outside

  • In driving, rain mares foaling outside will hold on but are likely to foal immediately rain stops.
  • Mare ready to foal will be taken to a clean adjoining paddock with perhaps a companion to keep her settled.
  • Mares will often roll to right the foal’s delivery position.
  • A little bag of amniotic fluid appearing out of the vulva is a sign that foaling has started.

Breaking of the waters

  • The membranes rupture under pressure.
  • The foaling attendant makes a manual check on the foal’s presentation:
  • a muzzle between two front legs, one more forward than the other
  • A clean tail bandage may be applied to the mare

Presentation problems

  • Should be correct provided the problem is picked up before the foal has reached the pelvic arch
  • foal upside down and needing 180-degree rotation
  • Head and/or front leg turned back
  • Head under chest and/or knees bent
  • Normal breech presentation
  • foal jammed in the pelvic arch, dorsal and abnormal breech presentations
    CALL THE VET AND AT LEAST ONE ATTENDANT

Assisting

  • Two forelegs appeared, one slightly in advance of the other
  • Position yourself behind the mare, grasp the leg that is slightly behind and gently pull it level with the other leg in a downward direction towards the mare’s hocks
  • Remember that you are guiding as well as pulling - the mare is doing the real work.
  • The foal’s muzzle comes into view lying across its forearm just above the knee
  • The shoulders are the widest part and require the greatest effort for expulsion
  • Once shoulders are through, the hips and hindlegs usually slip out easily and quickly.
  • Try to ensure that the umbilical cord does not break immediately as a result of the foal’s position and…
  • That the mare stays down - though you cannot stop her if she wants to jump up.
  • make sure the membranes around the foal (the caul or placenta) are clear of the head (or the foal could suffocate or drown in amniotic fluid).
  • Ensure that foal has started breathing

Breathing (first minute)

  • With the foal sitting up on its haunches, gently squeeze out fluid from the nose and mouth
  • Normally, breathing (respiration) begins promptly and continues smoothly without assistance
  • IF NOT, give a brisk massage with a towel or handful of hay/ straw
  • IF RESPONSE STILL POOR, mouth to nostril inflation of lungs (OR give oxygen through canister with care so as not to over-inflate foal’s lungs)

Navel (up to 5 minutes)

  • Blood transfers from mare to foal for up to five minutes after delivery
  • The optimum period for rupture of a chord is probably around 2 minutes after delivery
  • There is a natural weak point about 4 cm. from the foal’s abdomen.
  • On rupture there will be some bleeding: no worries from the mare’s end but if from the foal’s end, use strong cotton or narrow gauze soaked in iodine to tie tightly around stump
  • Soak the stump of the umbilical cord in a strong iodine solution. This disinfection of an open highway for bacteria to enter the foal’s body is vital.

Bonding

  • A good idea to grasp the foal round front legs and bring it round to the mother’s head
  • Take care not to get the foal too close to the mare’s legs in case she accidentally stands on it if she jumps up.
  • Mare will nuzzle and lick foal; foal may give a few high-pitched whinnies of recognition or appreciation

Foal stands (15 - 65 minutes)

  • A few will stand for 15 minutes but the majority take some 50 minutes or more.
  • If, after over one hour there have been unsuccessful attempts. ASSIST by
  • stretching its front legs out before it
  • encourage it to put weight on these and push its forequarters up
  • assist by lifting outside of haunches (NEVER handle round rib-cage as fractures can occur during foaling and a broken rib can puncture a lung or the heart - but ribs heal quickly on their own)
  • steady the foal from behind - it will probably incline to tip over sideways otherwise

Suckling

  • Colostrum is the mare’s first milk - yellowish-colored and carrying antibodies. It is usually gone after 48 - 72 hours so a mare running milk before foaling may have little or no colostrum for the foal.
  • Colostrum reading of 24 -30 is good.
  • IF colostrum is poor quality or absent, thaw a pint of well-frozen colostrum to blood-heat and bottle-feed foal.
  • IF the foal having difficulty finding the mare’s udder and/or the mare is being uncooperative, steer the foal from the haunches towards the mare’s udder
  • foal has a better chance of success if it is steered at an angle of about 30 degrees to the mare’s body
  • the foal needs to learn to drop its head and raise its muzzle
  • the foal must, of course, have a sucking reflex; using a finger as a substitute teat can help foal get the idea, but some foals can be frustratingly slow.

Afterbirth (30-40 minutes after foaling)

  • Will be hanging down. Often best tied back up to itself above the level of the hocks with the piece of baler twine, trapping fluid for increased weight. Two reasons:
  • the mare may be irritated by afterbirth and kick out, with a risk to her foal
  • the mare may stand on afterbirth and give it a violent jerk causing injury and haemorrhage to the mare’s uterus
  • afterbirth should come away with gravity in its own good time partially as a consequence of the foal’s suckling
  • BUT if the placenta is retained for more than 3 hours after foaling, it may be necessary for the vet to give an injection of oxytocin
  • If the placenta is unduly heavy (perhaps over 6.5 kgs.) it may be better to miss the foal heat when breeding a mare.

Inoculations (after an hour)

  • Injections can be given to the foal after an hour and should include Tetanus antitoxin
  • Injections are best given in the gluteal muscle, noting which side
  • Any subsequent injections should be given on the opposite side.

© Dr John Simpson. Dr Simpson heads the Equine Diploma and Certificate courses at the Waikato Institute of Technology (WINTEC).