The first foals of the year have started to appear in fields across the country. Here are our top tips for making sure you are ready for the foaling season and keeping your foals as healthy as possible.
The daffodils are starting to peer above the ground and the evenings are starting to stretch out. With the first signs of spring so too are the first sightings of foals in the fields.
Correct nutrition of the broodmare from the earliest days of conception is crucial. Getting the balance right in late pregnancy can ensure the best possible outcome, healthy foal, good birthweight and a dam that recovers quickly post foaling and produces best quality milk. Read our advice on balancing the diet during pregnancy.
Even with healthy happy mares due to foal there are still a few things to organise, ready for the big arrival. You may want to send your mare away for foaling, or you may decide to keep her at home. There are a few considerations if you want to foal your mare yourself.
Where should the mare foal?
Certainly at this early stage of the year foaling in a stable is preferable. Later in the year when our weather is more forgiving foaling mares outside is perfectly acceptable. Stable hygiene is crucial at foaling time. Mares should be put in clean stables with very deep bedding, preferably straw. The reasoning for deep bedding is so that the foal’s legs, particularly the hocks, don’t get damaged as the foal tries to stand. Clean surroundings reduces the possibility of the foal picking up nasty bugs are this vulnerable stage. All with all situations the mare should have access to water and forage such as hay or grass.
What needs to be ready?
Your foaling kit should contain a few simple items. A clean tail bandage, disinfectant to apply to the umbilicus after foaling, clean foaling ropes IF you are familiar with using them. The bigger foaling units will generally have lots more equipment such as cameras, foaling ropes, oxygen, breathing bags to help non responsive foal’s breath and instruments for measuring the quality of the mare’s colostrum. These are only required in extraordinary situations and are useless unless you are familiar with using them. If you are not very experienced in foaling mares then either delegate to a foaling unit or be ready for some sleepless nights and have your phone well charged in case you need help.
Some mares are “stitched” after covering using a Caslicks procedure. These mares must be “opened” before foaling to avoid severe tearing.
What to do?
Most mares will give you some warning of the imminent arrival but don’t trust them too much! Typical signs are increasing size of the mammary gland, ("bagging up”) and some mares will have tiny amounts of milk leak from the teat and crystallise there, known as “getting waxed up”, some mares may even run milk for hours or days before foaling. In cases of mares that run milk it is very important to have the milk quality checked when the foal is born as some of the first milk “colostrum” may have been wasted. This colostrum is absolutely essential for the foal to develop a tough immune system and foals may need extra supplementation if there is a problem with the milk.
As the time approaches the mare will usually show signs of restlessness and nesting. Mares may foal lying down or some prefer to foal standing.
Once your mare has delivered a fabulous healthy foal, the foal should be standing and nursing from the mare within two to three hours, this usually happens in the first hour. The first milk produced by the mare is called colostrum and is the foundation of providing the foal with a robust immune system. During this first hour the mare should also pass the placenta (also known as the after birth).
If you have any concerns that the foal is not getting up quickly enough or not drinking it is time to call the vet. If the placenta has not been passed within 3 hours a vet is required. Retained placenta in the mare is a very serious and potentially life threatening problem.
Even a healthy mare and foal will need to see the vet on the first morning for a general check and a tetanus anti toxoid injection.
So … now you have a foal!
Foals get all the nutrition that they need from their dams. Getting the diet right for the mare makes sure that quality of the milk is excellent. Mostly foals do not need any supplements. However if the mare is in some way compromised or the foal needs an extra boost Friska Foal is a multi-vitamin and prebiotic syrup to aid the foals development. Read our helpful tips about how to improve the milk that the mare is producing.
After the first few days foals are generally robust and active creatures. Healthy foals nurse vigorously and often. Not nursing is one of the key signs of a problem and you should call a vet promptly rather than waiting to see if the foal picks up in time. While diarrhoea is serious in horses of all ages it is particularly of concern in foals who can’t afford to be dehydrated. Diarrhoea is common in the first 10 days of life. Many foals suffer a “foal heat” diarrhoea, which is not related to the mare being in season but the timing coincides! For these foals that are still bright and nursing using Atta-sorb Gel can reduce the duration of the diarrhoea episode and improve the “health” of the gut. Atta-Sorb Gel contains Attapulgites which bind intestinal toxins and defend against bacterial overgrowth, whilst protecting the natural healthy bacterial flora of the gut. Atta-Sorb Gel maintains fluid and electrolyte balance in cases of foal digestive upsets. Read more information about foal diarrhoea.
Foals that have diarrhoea often suffer from scalding of the hair on their bottoms and legs. Wash these areas with warm water and a mild disinfectant and apply MRS Ointment to prevent further irritation and hair loss in the area.
For further advice about foaling and foal care please discuss with your vet. To discuss how Foran products can help you to improve your foals health contact one of our team of experts.
Good luck for the coming season.