The good news is that most of the time, mares foal with little to no complications at all.
However, in the event that the mare or foal might need help, it’s important to know what you should have on hand and when you have a veterinary emergency.
FullBucket’s Dr. Rob Franklin recently shared some advice on how horse owners can be prepared for the big day with a foal kit list.
What to Have on Hand
In the days leading up to the birth of your foal, it’s wise to make sure that you have several items on hand, especially if any problems arise.
Topping that list, Dr. Franklin recommends having a horse trailer ready to go in case you need to get the mare into your veterinarian in a hurry.
Dr. Franklin also recommends putting together “foaling kit essentials” that can be kept in a plastic container and placed in the barn. Inside this kit, he suggests having the following items:
- Old, clean towels for drying off the foal;
- Umbilical cord tape or clamps;
- Umbilical cord dip;
- Flashlight; and
- FullBucket Foal Kit.
For people who foal out a lot of mares, Dr. Franklin says that having a small oxygen tank with a flow meter and a mask in case of breathing or circulation problems is a good idea.
Horse owners can talk to their veterinarian, who can likely direct them to the right size tank and also order the regulator and mask for them, if needed.
For those who run a big operation, Dr. Franklin also recommends having a resuscitation device with an endotracheal or nasotracheal tube and an Ambu bag.
“It’s important to know how to resuscitate a foal, especially if you’re doing a lot of this,” said Dr. Franklin.
Leading up to foaling, horse owners should be able to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal mare behavior.
Dr. Franklin stressed that mares may look “out of sorts” for a few days or even a week or two before foaling simply due to being uncomfortable.
However, mares can also experience colic during this time period, so owners need to be able to discern between the two behaviors.
“In general, a mare that is colicky doesn’t want to eat,” noted Franklin. “She’ll no longer be passing manure [and might be] rolling violently, kicking at her [stomach] incessantly, or biting her flanks . . .”
Supporting your mare’s microbiome can play a huge role in her health during this time of constant stress.
Feeding a probiotic like FullBucket Probiotics Pellets as a broodmare supplement is a best practice to help her gut stay balanced.
In the days leading up to foaling, a mare’s udder should become fuller and what’s known as waxing of the teats will occur.
This happens when the mare makes colostrum, which is milk that is concentrated in immunoglobulins, or antibodies.
Colostrum is sticky and causes wax to form on the outer teat in order to prevent that colostrum from leaking out.
“If you notice that the mare is running milk, either clear milk or white milk or even a yellow, thick milk, that is abnormal,” said Dr. Franklin.
“In the last few weeks of pregnancy, that often can be a sign that there’s an internal infection going on with the placenta.”
Leaking milk can also indicate that the wax seal has broken off and that the mare has lost the ability to retain the colostrum, which will be a problem for the foal and for milk production. In either case, let your veterinarian know.
Having a tool called a Brix refractometer can be helpful to see if your mare’s colostrum is good.
If it isn’t, you can contact their veterinarian in order to purchase banked colostrum. If this isn’t available, your veterinarian can do an IV plasma transfer on the foal.
Another useful tool to have on hand preceding foaling are pH milk strips which can be used to help predict when the mare will foal.
The Foaling Environment
Once you have your foaling kit contents ready, make sure you have a clean, bedded down stall for your mare to foal in
If you’re using the pH milk strips and know that the mare is going to foal within the next three days, then it’s time to move her to that stall.
“The idea is that you don’t want her urinating, defecating, and just getting that high load of bacteria in that environment, leading up to the foaling—no longer than is absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Franklin.
Depending on your location and the weather, it’s also fine for mares to foal outside in a grassy pasture, especially for hobby breeders whose foals are coming in spring or early summer.
“What you want to avoid is going to be a dirt paddock or a paddock that has been populated with tons of horses over time,” said Dr. Franklin.
When the foaling process begins, the foal should arrive within twenty minutes after the water has broken, so if you notice that this has occurred and nothing is happening soon afterward, it is a veterinary emergency.
“Horses are no different than most other species, in that, once the delivery process is initiated, it has to be completed in a very short period of time,” said Dr. Franklin.
“Otherwise, we’re at risk of losing that foal or it being subjected to a prolonged period of lack of oxygen to the brain, which results in a syndrome that is commonly referred to as a dummy foal.”
If possible, it’s often best to immediately load your mare into the trailer and take her to the veterinary clinic rather than wait around until the vet can get out to your farm.
Another possible delivery problem is known as “red bag delivery” where the placenta does not open up to allow the foal out. If the placenta is still sealed, the foal will not be able to breathe.
“[This] looks like a red velvet bag coming out from the vagina and the remedy to that is just to open it up,” said Dr. Franklin.
One last thing to watch out for is the foal coming out of the rectum which indicates a tear in the mare’s vagina. This will require surgical repair afterward.
Understanding broodmare behavior and signs of possible distress or problems, especially in the days leading up to foaling, is important for any horse owner who breeds their mare.
Being prepared with your foaling kit, a trailer that is ready to go, and emergency contact numbers will help give your broodmare and foal the best chance for successful delivery and your foal a healthy start in life.