Once your foal is born, a lot of attention naturally goes toward this new baby, but mare care after foaling is equally important. In this article, we’ll focus on what owners should be aware of as their mare recovers from birth, both in the short and long term.

Colostrum and Milk Production

Prior to foaling, your mare should “bag up” with colostrum, the substance that foals need upon nursing directly after birth. After the first 12 hours of nursing, milk will then replace the colostrum. However, if your mare’s milk has not come in, she may need additional nutrition and/or hormonal supplementation such as oxytocin and domperidone to stimulate milk production. 

Check to make sure that your mare’s milk appears normal and is not chunky or discolored. Also make sure that the udder is free from heat or pain, which could indicate mastitis. 

Passing the Placenta

Within an hour after the birth of the foal, most mares will pass the placenta. If the placenta does not pass within two hours after birth, however, this is considered a medical emergency. Retaining the full or even part of the placenta for up to four to six hours could result in a uterine infection or endotoxemia (which can be deadly). 

Veterinarians recommend that you immediately put the placenta in a bucket of ice water so they can inspect it during the new foal and post-foaling mare exam which is recommended within 24 hours of birth. The placenta examination can give your veterinarian a good idea of the overall health of the uterus. If there are lesions, this can indicate an infection known as placentitis. 

Vitals and Manure Production

For the first three days after foaling, you should monitor your mare’s temperature to ensure that an infection is not present. Any fever of 101 F or higher could be due to mastitis or another type of infection. The mare should also pass normal manure after foaling. If she isn’t passing normal manure within 12-24 hours, notify your veterinarian as impaction colic may be present. 

Normal Mare Behavior After Foaling

After the birth of the foal, the mare should be eating and drinking well. Going off feed or not drinking enough water may indicate a mild onset of colic or possibly a more serious underlying condition which may become apparent with the stress of lactation. 

The mare should be bright and alert post-foaling. If she acts depressed, weak, lethargic, or shows signs of colic, veterinary intervention is needed. A number of different conditions could cause the mare to act abnormal including anything from mild colic to something more serious such as uterine artery rupture, partial placental retention, or a uterine tear. 

If the mare and foal are both doing well, it’s important to allow them into a paddock or pasture (preferably away from other horses) so they can move around. This exercise will help to “shrink” the mare’s uterus. However, continue to observe your mare throughout the next two weeks for any complications. 

Post-Foaling Problems in Mares

Up to 15% of mares can experience postpartum problems. Retained placenta and uterine infections are the most common, followed by cervical tears, vaginal bruising or tears, inadequate milk production, mastitis, and rectal-vaginal tears. 

Other problems include foal rejection or behavioral problems in maiden mares, who are more likely to experience pain and soreness, insufficient mammary gland development, or a colostrum shortage. Older mares can also experience behavioral problems and may be at higher risk for serious injuries such as ruptured uterine arteries. 

Still other problems that are less common but quite serious include uterine prolapse, bladder prolapse, bladder rupture, uterine rupture, and uterine hemorrhage. All of these are medical emergency situations which often result in referral to a specialty equine hospital. 

Nutrition for Lactating Mares

Lactation is one of the most physiologically demanding times for a mare, requiring more calories and nutrients so she can adequately feed her foal. In fact, during early lactation, the mare’s energy requirements are 84% higher and her protein requirements are 232% higher. The key minerals, calcium and phosphorus, are also needed in higher amounts. 

Because of these added energy and nutrient needs, mares will need to be fed high-quality forage and concentrates, as well as adequate vitamin and mineral supplementation. 

Likewise, adding Probiotic Pellets during the last trimester and continuing the product during lactation can help to further support a good milk supply as well as general gut health during the physiological changes that take place at this time.

After the fourth month of lactation, the mare’s nutrient requirements begin to decline. This occurs as the foal transitions to forage and often, creep feed. Once the foal is completely weaned, the mare can be fed as an early gestating mare again. 

Re-Breeding Timeframes

If you plan to re-breed your mare in order to maintain the same approximate yearly birthing cycle, this is generally done during the first heat cycle, known as “foal heat” that occurs 6-12 days after foaling.

However, re-breeding during foal heat should only be considered if the mare made it through birth with no complications. Keep in mind that older mares are more likely to lose a pregnancy when bred back this soon. 

Returning to Work

If you plan to return your mare to work, wait at least six to eight weeks after the birth of the foal before starting any kind of exercise program. If the mare sustained any injuries or other complications during or after the birth, you may need to wait longer. Check with your veterinarian if this is the case. 

Once you do begin to introduce exercise, begin with short, easy workouts and gradually increase the length and intensity of the workout from there. The foal will likely need to be with you during these first workouts, but riding in an enclosed pasture or arena should be safe for both mare and foal. 

As long as your mare is lactating, be aware that dehydration can be an issue as she starts back to work. Lactating mares need as much as 10 gallons more water per day than the average horse. Keep in mind that water needs and sweat losses are only compounded during warmer weather. 

Returning to competition is best done when the foal is completely weaned, but, in most cases, there’s no reason why you can’t start slowly introducing your mare back to work while the foal is still nursing if you choose to do so. 

Always check with your veterinarian to ensure your mare’s safety and wellness. Every broodmare has a tough job and deserves the best possible care and attention.

→ Highly Recommended: Your mare goes through a million physiological changes during breeding, pregnancy, foaling, and lactation. All of these changes impact the gut. Protect your mare’s wellbeing with FullBucket Probiotic Pellets! ← 

 Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

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