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Foaling

Breeding from your mare can be both an exciting and anxious time. This factsheet will provide you with information allowing you to recognise the start of foaling and it’s different stages. Difficult foalings are not common but you must act quickly if the mare is not making progress

How long is pregnancy?

The average pregnancy is 342 days (approx 11 months) but can range from 321 to 365 days. We don’t induce a mare if she goes over 342 days pregnancy; you just have to be patient!

How can I prepare for foaling?

Your mare will require a special diet of stud mix or stud cubes for the latter stages of pregnancy. She should also have regular paddock exercise and must not be allowed to get too fat.
Giving the mare her flu and tetanus vaccination one month before foaling is ideal as this allows immunity to be passed in the colostrum to the foal, which give the foal protection against flu and tetanus for the first few weeks of its life.
Mares which have never foaled before should become accustomed to having their udder and teats handled gently in the weeks leading up to foaling.
A large loose box, bedded with straw, or a small clean paddock are ideal environments for the mare to foal in.

How will I know when my mare is starting to foal?

Some mares may show a few of these signs but some may show none at all. The first signs can occur days to weeks before actual delivery.

  • The udder begins to fill up with milk 2-4 weeks before foaling
  • Enlargement of the teats occurs 4-6 days before foaling
  • A clear waxy secretion (‘waxing’) can appear on the teats 1-4 days before foaling and is usually a good sign of imminent birth. You may occasionally see milk dripping from the udder.
  • The mare may be restless, may sweat up a little and show signs of an uncomfortable abdomen.

Most mares foal at night or in the early hours of the morning.
Most mares foal without assistance. Do not interfere excessively during the early stages of labour – watch quietly from a distance.

What happens during foaling?

Foaling is divided into 3 stages:

Stage 1
Contractions of the womb begin. This moves the foal into the birth canal, which opens ready for the foal to pass through. The mare may become restless and start to sweat. It is normal for her to pass small quantities of faeces. She may also paw the ground and look at her flanks frequently.
This stage can last about an hour. Stage 1 ends with the ‘breaking of the waters’; clear liquid will flow out of the vulva and a whitish coloured portion of the afterbirth protrudes from the vulva.

Stage 2
This stage is remarkably short, lasting about 30 minutes. If it takes longer than this, ring your vet for advice/assistance.
The mare may lie down and have strong belly contractions that push the foal down the birth canal. The foal normally comes through the vulva in the following order:
1) Front feet first, one slightly in front of the other , hooves facing downwards
2) Nose and head
3) Shoulders
4) The foal is normally delivered on it’s side
If the foal is not coming in this sequence, let us know immediately.
Try not to intervene when the foal is delivered unless there is something wrong. The foal will be covered by the birth membranes which often break at the moment of delivery. The mare should lick these off the foal’s muzzle. If the membrane is covering the foal’s nostrils and the mare does not clean it away, you must remove it quickly. Watch carefully for normal breathing.
The umbilical cord will break when the foal attempts to stand. Do not break it yourself. The foal’s navel should be treated with antiseptic (eg iodine) several times during the first 24hrs of life to prevent infection.

Stage 3
This can last 1-2 hours, but usually occurs within an hour of foaling. The mare will be mildly colicky as she expels the afterbirth. If it is not expelled within 4hrs of foaling, contact us and tie any protruding membranes to the tail with string to prevent the mare standing on them.
Keep the afterbirth in a bucket for us to examine it later if required. If some of this afterbirth is retained this can lead to complications such as womb infections and laminitis.
The foal should be standing within 1-2 hours of birth and sucking within 1-3 hours. Contact us if either of these times are increased. The foal will pass urine and meconium (faeces) within 24hrs of birth. It may strain a little to pass the meconium.
A post foaling check up of mare and foal is advised within 24hrs of birth.

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