It may only be late October, but now is the time to start thinking about foaling season ahead. It’s best to put together a plan now than it is to wait until you’re in the throws of winter when everything you have to do outdoors and around the barn is harder due to wet and cold weather.
A good place to start is by calculating your mare’s foaling date. Although most mares don’t follow “the book” so to speak, most will foal somewhere between 330-337 days from their breeding date.
We’ll use my mare Abra Joy, or Abby, as an example. She was bred at Spendthrift Farms in Kentucky to Wilburn, a Grade 2 stakes winning son of Bernardini. She visited the breeding shed on April 1st and was confirmed pregnant on April 20th. So, we know that she was bred on April 1st. If we estimate that she will foal at 337 days, that puts her estimated foaling date at March 2, 2016. There’s a handy little foaling calculator you can use here. The good news is that most mares will repeat their first pregnancy cycle. Unfortunately, I didn’t own Abby for her first two colts, so I don’t know exactly how many days she carries her foals. Keep in mind, however, that some mares may foal as early as 320 days or as late as 390 days.
At about four weeks before your mare is due, it’s time to get with your vet for any immunizations that she’ll need to ensure that the antibodies passed on to the foal via colostrum. Your vet will use vaccines that are specifically approved for pregnant mares.
It’s also time to start planning where your mares will foal. Our broodmares stay in the back pasture most of the year doing what broodmares do – aggravating each other and eating. I swear they have a love/hate relationship on most days. Most mares can handle foaling with little intervention, but when they start to get closer to their due dates, we move them to smaller pastures closer to the house and barn. This makes them easier to catch, particularly if they’ve decided to foal overnight in the pasture. Every mare is different. Some could care less if you mess with their new baby while others are very protective and a smaller enclosure, whether a small, foal safe paddock or a large foaling stall will help you handle both mother and baby.
If foaling in a stall, prepare it four to six weeks ahead of the due date. This will allow mom to get accustomed and relaxed in her new surroundings. Bank the stall with two or three bales of straw and leave shavings in the middle. When she’s close to foaling, pull the straw into the middle of the stall.
Many foals are born as early as January, so it may be necessary to install heat lamps and also have foal sized blankets on hand depending on where you’re located and what the weather will be like. For us, March is likely going to be a toss up. It can still be pretty cold in March or it could be nice spring weather or pouring rain – hey, it’s East Texas.
If you’re a particularly high tech individual, cameras can be installed in the stall that allow you to watch your mare from your home. This makes foal watch a lot easier (and warmer)! There are a variety of systems available at stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco for around $300. Many of these systems have a lot of options including the ability to view your camera from any internet browser.
A grooming box of supplies for foaling is a good idea. Your kit should include:
· Terry cloth bath towels
· Stainless steel bucket
· Liquid soap such as Dawn
· Roll cotton
· Tincture of iodine or Nolvason solution for dipping navels
· 60 cc syringe cases or small container for dipping navels
· Umbilical clamps or rubber bands
· Obstetric gloves/sleeves
· Disposable tail wrap
· Disposable latex gloves
· Obstetric lubricant
· Flashlight and batteries
· Cell phone
· List of emergency numbers – vet, owner or other experienced foaling person
Typical Signs of Foaling
As the mare gets closer to her foaling date, you’ll notice her udder filling out and becoming more dense. The muscles over her croup will start to relax. She may have dense white or off white mucous discharge and she may begin to have restless behavior. Some mares will also have a waxy discharge on their nipples. And, some mares will show absolutely no signs and you’ll wake up with a foal in the pasture the next day!
If you do begin to notice signs, wrap her tail to make it easier on you and cleaner for her come foaling day. Most will wrap tails about a week before foaling.
Once your mare foals, it’s highly recommended that you supplement your foal with a probiotic supplement. A probiotic supplement will help you to prevent any digestive system diseases. The probiotic will help to kill off any bacteria such as Salmonella, Rotavirus, and E. coli. Because the foal’s immune system is brand new and not yet equipped to handle these infections, studies have shown that a probiotic concentrated with antibodies will give the foal’s immune system the kick start it needs. The process of breeding and foaling is expensive, so it only makes sense to me to give them the best start possible. There are various products available, but I highly recommend FullBucket products.
After foaling, your mare should also be watched carefully, as all afterbirth should be expelled within three hours of foaling. Even the smallest piece of retained placenta can cause detrimental health problems such as laminitis or metritis. A vet should be called immediately if there are any concerns about the mare’s health after foaling.
Once you’re prepared for foaling day, all you need to do is sit back and wait! She’ll have her foal when she’s comfortable and ready!