Foaling is a critical period – so it is important to be prepared. Knowing how to support the mare and foal pre and post-foaling is vital. Recognising when there is a problem and when to call for help is central to a successful foaling and neonatal period.
When your mare is getting closer to foaling the amount of abdominal space taken up by the unborn foal is substantial, your mare’s feed intake may naturally reduce at this time. It is important that you maximise forage intake to maintain gut health and avoid problems such as colic, as a result, reducing hard feed intake may be unavoidable at this time. However, you must continue to support her nutrient intake and find alternate feeding options to maximise her nutrition at this key time.
Feeding little and often will help your mare through this time and dietary supplementation can be very beneficial. For example, Cal-Gro is a powdered nutritional supplement that contains key minerals and antioxidants to support the mare, and developing foal through pregnancy and lactation, it can be given daily in hard feed.
Chevinal is a liquid multi-vitamin, mineral and key amino acid supplement, which when given daily will support her wider nutrient intake, this is particularly important when hard feed intake is reduced, but also to complement the concentrate diet at this time.
Read more about feeding your broodmare throughout pregnancy.
You may want to send your mare away for foaling, or you may decide to keep her at home. If you want to foal your mare yourself, it is important to be prepared, and there are a several key things to consider:
You should discuss with your veterinarian which vaccinations to give your mare during her pregnancy and specifically in the last 6 weeks. Getting this right will optimise the passive transfer of specific antibodies from colostrum to the foal once born. Routine yearly vaccinations can be given 6 weeks before foaling, and specific maternal vaccination such as Rota-virus, should be a key consideration due to the significant impact rota-viral diarrhoea will have on the young foal.
This is important to consider up to 3-4 weeks before foaling; the pathogens present in the mare’s environment during this time will influence the specific antibodies present in her colostrum. In these few weeks leading up to foaling keep your mare in the same environment that you plan to foal her in.
Practicing excellent hygiene protocols at foaling time is critically important. Mares should be put in clean stables with very deep, clean bedding – preferably straw. This prevents the foal’s legs, particularly their hocks, from becoming damaged as they try to stand. Clean surroundings are also important to reduce the possibility of the foal picking up infections at this vulnerable stage of life. Foaling in a stable is preferable early in the year but, as the spring and summer months approach and the weather becomes more forgiving, foaling mares outside is also perfectly acceptable.
Your foaling kit should contain a few simple items. A clean tail bandage, a suitable disinfectant to apply to the umbilicus after foaling, and the number for your vet. A notebook to record timings of key events is also useful. A Brix refractometer to provide information on the quality of your mare’s colostrum is very important.
Larger foaling units will often have additional equipment to use if a foaling isn’t straightforward.
Read more about getting your foaling kit ready for the season.
Some mares have the upper part of the vulva stitched/sutured after covering; this is called a Caslick’s procedure and is named after the vet who pioneered the method, it is also known as a vulvoplasty. It is performed under local anaesthetic by a vet in mares with poor vulval conformation, the stitching helps to prevent aspiration of air and faeces in to the reproductive tract, reducing the risk of infection. Mares who have undergone the Caslick’s procedure must be “opened” before foaling to avoid severe tearing. This procedure consists of cutting along the healed wound where the vulva has been previously stitched. Both the initial Caslick’s procedure and the “opening” procedure should always be carried out by an experienced veterinary professional.
Most mares will give you some warning when they are about to foal, usually showing some, or all of the following signs as they get closer:
If your mare runs colostrum/milk before foaling, it is important to check the quality (using the refractometer) once the foal is born. Good quality colostrum is vital to provide the foal with protection from environmental pathogens, while its own immune system is gearing up. It is different to milk and donor colostrum may be required, if there is not enough available from your mare or if the quality is deemed poor.
If there is any doubt over whether the foal has received adequate colostrum, you should contact your vet for advice, they may check the foals own immunoglobulin G levels, in order to decide if a transfusion may be needed.
Within 30 minutes the foal should have an excellent suck reflex and be alert and active, ideally sitting in sternal position (upright on its breastbone). If the suck reflex is not present and the foal is recumbent and sleepy, you should contact your vet as these can be signs of serious problems.
After 30 minutes the foal should be attempting to stand, this is where the deep straw bedding is essential to prevent injury, as these early attempts to stand are very clumsy at best.
During the first hour after birth, the mare should show vigorous interest in her foal and although she will be tired, she should be alert and standing. The mare should pass the placenta (also known as the afterbirth), ideally within an hour post foaling. If the placenta has not been passed within two to three hours after birth, do not attempt to pull it out and contact your vet immediately, as a retained placenta can be very serious, even life-threatening, for your mare.
After an hour the foal should stand and attempt to nurse from the mare and by two hours after birth the foal should be suckling 5-7 times per hour. The optimal time for antibody absorption is up to 8 hours of age, so all these milestones post-foaling are really important, and the times these things occur should be noted. If your foal is not able to stand and nurse after two hours it could be a sign that something is not right, and your foal may require veterinary attention – so be sure to contact your vet for advice.
During these first few hours post-foaling, although you need to know exactly what is happening and when, you should keep your intervention between mare and foal at a minimum, allowing them to bond without interference. However, you do need to focus your attention on helping your mare recover from the immense physical effort of giving birth. Once the mare has started to eat and drink again and seems relaxed, you can support her recovery further by providing her with a Refuel gel. Refuel will replenish lost electrolytes and provide antioxidants to promote recovery, and B vitamins to optimise feed utilisation, restoring her energy levels. Water must be freely available and a good quality forage should be provided at all times.
Neonatal foals should receive all the nutrition they need from the mare. We have already discussed the importance of getting the diet right pre-foaling and during lactation to maximise colostrum and mil quality.
Read more about how to improve a mare’s milk quality .
There may be some situations where you chose to provide additional support in the form of products such as Friska Foal, which is a multivitamin and prebiotic syrup designed to support a foal’s general well-being and development. This nutritional supplement can be fed directly to the foal to complement the mare’s milk. Friska Foal is suitable for all foals from 24hrs of age up to weaning and in particular can help foals experiencing periods of stress or ill-thrift.
Read more about supplementing the foal.
For further advice on how Foran products can help you optimise your mare and foal’s health, contact our equine experts .