March 10, 2011
Newborns evoke a smile and the birth of a foal is no
different. Horse owners greatly anticipate the birth of a
foal and are wise to prepare the mare for the birth.
"On average, a mare is pregnant 340 days before giving birth,"
notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "But, mare pregnancies can range from 315 to 387
"Preparation for foaling should begin prior to the birth,"
explains Mays. "Daily exercise will help the mare in foal
tone body muscles and maintain a healthy heart and lungs which can
benefit the mare and foal during birthing."
During the first eight months of pregnancy your mare can
maintain nutritional balance on good pasture, quality hay, feed and
minerals supplements, but the last three months of pregnancy
require dietary changes, notes Mays. The unborn foal doubles
in size during the last 90 days. Consequently, there is a
great need for more protein, minerals and vitamins to support the
foal's growth. Additionally, the mare needs more nutrients to
prepare for lactation. Quality roughage should be the major
portion of your mare's diet.
"Grain should be reduced the week before foaling," states
Mays. "Oats and bran are good feed choices at this time since
they will help decrease the likelihood of constipation. After
foaling, grain can be increased gradually to resume full
Regular worming will ensure that the mare will not contaminate
the pasture and foaling stall with worm larvae which the foal can
ingest, explains Mays.
"Consult your veterinarian about recommended vaccinations for
your pregnant mare. Generally, six weeks prior to the foaling
date, the mare should receive a tetanus vaccination to boost the
antibodies in her colotrum (first milk). A mare will only
produce colostrum for the first 6-12 hours after birth, after that
she will produce milk. The colostrum helps protect the foal
against disease and aids in eliminating fecal material which can
build up in its intestinal tract, says Mays.
"Mares prefer privacy when they are foaling and the majority of
mares foal at night," notes Mays. This could be a survival
trait that ensured the mare and foal would be less susceptible to
predators during the birthing process when horses were in the
Appropriate foaling facilities assure a safe and sanitary
environment for the mare and her foal. This may be a grassy
paddock or pasture small enough with sufficient lighting to allow
visualization of the mare for monitoring the birth process.
If a birthing stable be available, it should be at least 12 feet by
14 feet and prepared in advance of the foal's arrival. The
stall as well as water/feed buckets and manger should be cleaned
and disinfected. Your veterinarian can suggest the best
disinfecting supplies, says Mays. He can also recommend
Mares having difficulty with the delivery process may need
assistance. Foals are born two front feet first and then
their nose follows. Any deviation from this warrants a call
to your veterinarian.
"The mare is in active labor for about 30 minutes and once the
foal is born, both mare and foal may lie quiet for another 30
minutes," notes Mays. "During this quiet time blood is being
pumped through the umbilical cord from the mare to the foal.
Normally, the umbilical cord breaks on its own below the foal's
abdomen; it should be treated with iodine to prevent
infection. Some veterinarians recommend that the foal receive
an enema to facilitate the initial evacuation of the rectum.
A 30 cc volume of glycerin administered per rectum (use a
conventional syringe without a needle) is often effective."
"After giving birth, the mare will lick the foal and establish a
bond with her offspring," says Mays. "The licking also helps
to clean and dry the foal."
If the foal requires assistance to stand, remember the young
bones are soft. Aggressive handling can compromise bone
structure, especially at the rib cage. Don't rush in to
"help". Give the foal and mare some time alone unless foal distress
is obvious, notes Mays. Mother Nature has done quite well for
a long time without human intervention. The foal should stand
without assistance within an hour, start nursing within three hours
and nurse at least once every hour.
Some veterinarians prefer to do complete blood count and
chemistry on the foal after 12 hours to determine if it received
enough colostrum (and therefore antibodies) to help keep it
healthy. It is very important that the foal build immunity to
fight exposure to bacteria in its new environment.
Keeping your mare healthy prior to and after foaling will
greatly increase the chances of having a healthy foal that will
grow to be a healthy horse.
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