Ninety percent of mares foal normally without assistance, however if the mare does have difficulty, the foal and mare can become compromised very quickly. The average mare pregnancy lasts between 335 and 340 days, with the mare starting to bag and wax up shortly before delivery.
Foaling takes place in three stages:
Stage one – Initial labour
Mare experiences contractions, will flank watch, get up and roll. This is normal behaviour and can last for up to an hour. Do not interfere. If the behaviour continues for more than an hour without signs of foaling it may be colic, and we recommend calling the vet.
Stage two – Giving birth to foal
This starts when the mare’s waters break. Time from water breaking to foal being born shouldn’t be any longer than 20 minutes. If it takes longer call the vet immediately. Normal presentation of foal is with the front legs first, one slightly ahead of the other and the head in between them. Foals are often born with the amnion membrane around them, you can break this and clear it away from nose to allow the foal to breathe. The umbilical cord should rupture on its own, so shouldn’t need cutting.
There is no need to rush in to check the foal unless the membrane is still over the nose, as this may lead to premature rupture of the cord. If bleeding from the cord continues or is in large quantities, apply pressure with a clean towel and contact vet.
Stage three – Passing placenta (cleansing)
This can often be accompanied by straining and discomfort from mare. The placenta should be passed within three hours of foaling. It is important you do not pull it as may tear and leave parts inside the uterus which can cause infection of the uterus. It may be best to tie it up with string to prevent the mare from standing on it. If placenta has not been passed within three hours of foal being born, call the vet. Retained placenta is potentially very serious as it can cause uterine and systemic infection, toxaemia, laminitis and, in severe cases, may result in death. If you are unsure that the entire placenta has been passed, don’t hesitate to call us for advice. We can check the placenta by laying it out on the floor to see if it has all been passed. We can also examine the mare and foal, making sure they are healthy, and start any necessary treatment.
The first few hours of your foal’s life are critical. A healthy newborn foal should be able to stand within one hour of delivery and should be nursing within two hours. If your foal is too weak to stand and nurse, contact us for advice. They may require bottle feeding or further investigations.
Dip your foal’s umbilical stump with dilute chlorhexidine (hibiscrub) or iodine twice daily for two to three days or until the stump is dry. Every foal should pass its first manure, or meconium, within 12-24-hours of delivery. Meconium is pasty or pelleted in consistency and dark brown or black in colour. Following meconium passage, the foal’s faeces should be soft and light tan in colour. It is vital your foal ingests at least one to two pints of good quality colostrum within the first few hours of life to ensure absorption of adequate antibodies. Peak absorption occurs during the first six to 12 hours following birth. If you are worried that your foal has not had enough colostrum we can take blood to check the antibody levels and advise accordingly.
You should observe your new born foal frequently during the first few weeks of life to detect early signs of disease. Often the first sign of a sick foal is lethargy and decreased nursing vigour accompanied by an overly distended udder on the mare. Young foals are at risk for a variety of respiratory diseases and diarrhoea. Monitor your young foal’s breathing rate and effort, body temperature, nursing behaviour and manure consistency.
A healthy new born foal should consume 15%-25% of his body weight in milk daily and gain an average of 0.5-2kg/day. Excessive weight gain, unusually rapid growth spurts or a diet unbalanced in calories, protein, calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals may place your foal at increased risk for metabolic bone disease.
Whilst your foal will gain some immunity from the mares colostrum to disease, it is recommended that you start vaccination for tetanus from three months of age, and flu from five months, although both can be left until the foal is six months if the mare is up to date with her vaccines. Worming should also be considered from four to six weeks of age, and continued monthly until six months old, by which point quarterly worming may begin. Worm egg counts may also be undertaken to check if worming is required.
It is now a legal requirement for foals to have an equine passport within six months of birth, or by 31st December of the year of its birth, whichever is later. It is also a requirement for them to be microchipped at the same time which must be performed by a vet.
Normal ranges for a new born foal
|Temperature||99-102 ° F (38.3-38.7°C)|
|Heart rate||80-100 beats per minute|
|Breathing rate (resting)||20-40 breaths per minute|
|Meuconium passage complete||12-24hrs|
|Nursing frequency||3-5 times an hour|
Preparing for the next breeding season
Hygiene and disease prevention
Contagious equine metritis. The disease is caused by three bacteria namely taylorella equigenitalis (the contagious equine metritis organism – CEMO), klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) and pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa.) CEM in the UK is notifiable.
The disease is transmitted between horses via direct transmission during mating/teasing, via AI if semen is infected, or indirectly via hands/equipment. In the mare, the severity of disease caused by the CEMO varies. The main outward clinical sign is a discharge from the vulva, resulting from inflammation of the uterus, usually one to six days after infection at mating, in more chronic cases mare my present no signs of disease although the disease may be present. Infected stallions do not usually shows signs of disease. If infection with any of the three organisms is suspected in any mare, stallion or teaser on the basis of clinical signs, all breeding activities must cease immediately. The affected horse(s) should be isolated and swabbed by your vet. Infection can be prevented by ensuring that horses are not infected before mating or treating successfully if infected, re-swab before re-mating. If a mare does not conceive on first or subsequent mating and her return to oestrus is normal, she should be swabbed again before being re-mated. If any mare returns to oestrus at an unusual (especially shorter than normal) time, this may be because she is infected.
Avoiding infection; ensure freedom from infection before breeding and employ strict hygiene measures. This involves your veterinary surgeons taking swabs from the genitalia of mares and stallions and laboratory testing. Laboratory diagnosis is essential to confirm the presence or absence of the CEMO, K. pneumoniae and P. Aeruginosa. Check stallions, teasers and mares for infection before they are mated: this is done through swabbing.