What is a foal

A foal is born - what you need to know about it

Breeding with your own mare is a beautiful and exciting thing. It is important for you to know what to expect for you and your mare when the foal is born. You should be able to see when foaling starts and what the different phases are. If you are familiar with the process of normal childbirth, you should be able to identify difficulties as they arise. You can then call your veterinarian for help immediately.

How long does a mare wear?

In horses, gestation averages 342 days (approximately 11 months). However, it can fluctuate between 321 and 365 days.

What do I have to prepare before foaling?

Your mare needs special attention during pregnancy. Regular hoof care is very important. Also make sure that your mare does not gain too much weight. You should exercise your horse regularly during pregnancy, but do not expose it to stress. Light movement in the final months of pregnancy is important. A pregnant mare should be vaccinated against the equine herpes virus, which can cause abortions (miscarriages) in horses. As a result, there are defenses in the milk and the foal is protected from the virus in the first few weeks of life.

Your foal should therefore be given the first milk (colostrum), as it contains all the important antibodies. If your mare gives milk before it is born, you should collect it, freeze it and give it to your foal later. If your mare's vulva was closed by sutures during pregnancy, it should be opened at least two weeks before the foaling date. The best way to do this is to call your vet.

Where your mare should foal:

Relocate your mare at least six weeks before the foaling date. Provide her with a large, clean box that you have checked beforehand for the risk of injury. Scatter the box high. Straw is particularly suitable as bedding because it does not stick to the newborn, wet foal. If you only have one willow available, cut off a small, clean, weather-protected piece. Check the security of the fences as well as the ground for holes and wet spots.

More things to think about:
Have your veterinarian's emergency number handy. You should also have a watch, pen and paper on hand to keep track of the various stages of the foaling process. This can be useful if you need veterinary assistance later. Have a bucket of clean, warm water and antiseptic soap handy. You need a bandage to bandage your mare's tail when labor begins.

How do I know when my mare is foaling?

There are some signs that can give you a clue that your foal is about to be born. However, some mares show few of these signs and some none at all. The first signs appear a few days, sometimes even weeks before foaling:
  • The udder begins to fill up with milk 2-4 weeks before foaling. So watch out for an enlargement of the udder.
  • The vulva and birth canal become looser, making the tail root appear to protrude more and the vaginal opening is elongated. These changes will be visible a few days before foaling.
  • The teats enlarge 4-6 days before foaling.
  • Mares begin to "resin" 1-4 days before foaling: clear, resin-like drops appear on the tip of the teat. Some mares already have milk dripping off.
  • Your mare may be nervous and excited and behave similarly to mild colic. If you are unsure whether it is actually colic, call your vet! Most mares foal in the middle of the night or early in the morning. So be prepared for some sleepless nights!

Does my vet have to be present at the birth?

It is recommended that you have your mare re-examined by your veterinarian in the last few weeks of pregnancy. At the birth itself, you only need to call your vet if you have trouble (see below). Childbirth can be very quick and difficulties can arise during any stage of labor. It is therefore very important that you can identify any complications immediately and call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet will be grateful if you let them know in advance of the upcoming birth. You should not disturb your mare unnecessarily. Calmly watch them from a distance. If you are new to foaling, you should be helped by someone who is already familiar with it. You can also take your mare to a stud for foaling. However, it should be moved 4-6 weeks before the foaling date.

How does a birth work?

The birth is divided into three phases.

Stage 1 - labor begins The uterus begins to contract (contract) and the birth canal opens wide for the foal to slide through. You can recognize this phase by the fact that

  • Your mare is restless.
  • it shows symptoms similar to colic, e.g. B. turning around on your stomach, stamping your feet, etc.
  • she starts to sweat.
  • she often drops smaller portions of horse manure.

This phase can take up to an hour. Do not disturb your horse while doing this. As few people as possible should be present. The first phase ends with the bursting of the amniotic sac, the amniotic fluid runs out of the vagina.

Phase 2 - The foal is born This phase only lasts about 30 minutes. If the foal is not yet born after this time, call your veterinarian immediately. Your mare lies down (a few mares also foal while standing) and shows strong contractions of the abdomen. This pushes the foal forward in the birth canal. Usually, the foal appears in the vaginal opening in the following way:

  • First come the front feet. One hoof lies a little in front of the other and the hooves point downwards.
  • Next appear the nose, head, neck, shoulders, etc.
  • The foal is usually born lying on its side. Until the umbilical cord is cut, the foal often remains in the vagina with its hind legs up to the ankle, while the umbilical cord is still intact.
  • If your foal does not appear in this order, call your vet immediately! Do not intervene unless problems arise!

The foal is still covered by the egg shells, which often tear open during birth and are licked and bitten away by the mare. This is an important process that, on the one hand, strengthens the feeling of togetherness between mare and foal and, on the other hand, encourages the foal to breathe, stand up and suckle the udder.

If the egg shells cover the foal's mouth and nose and the mare does not remove them immediately, you should intervene. Gently remove mucus from the foal's mouth and nose so that it can breathe freely. Pay careful attention to your foal's breathing.

The umbilical cord that connects the foal to the mare usually breaks as soon as the mare or foal gets up. It is best if the umbilical cord breaks in this natural way. Do not cut it yourself and avoid any disturbance that could break the umbilical cord too soon. To prevent infection, the umbilical stump should be disinfected several times during the first 24 hours after birth. Ask your veterinarian about a suitable disinfectant.

Stage 3 - The afterbirth is rejected The afterbirth is usually rejected an hour after birth, but the process can take two hours. If she's still not there after three hours, you should call your veterinarian. Tie parts hanging from the vagina so that your mare does not step on it and tear it off. Keep the afterbirth in a bucket. Your vet will later check to see if it's completely gone and if it's showing any abnormal changes. If parts of the afterbirth remain in the mare, it can lead to serious problems such as uterine inflammation and laminitis.

How do I know when problems arise?

Difficulties only occur in 4-6% of births. However, these can be life-threatening for mare and foals and must therefore be taken very seriously. In some cases, labor difficulties can also prevent a mare from becoming pregnant.This is why you should definitely call your vet.

When should you call the vet?

  • if phase 1 or phase 2 take too long. Especially in the second phase, it is very important to pay close attention to the time. The more time that passes, the lower the chances that your foal will be born healthy.
  • if your foal is not born in the right position.

How do I have to look after my newborn foal?

Remember that giving birth to a foal is a natural process. So try to intervene as little as possible. This is especially important if the mare is foaling for the first time or if the mare is very nervous. Give the mare and foal enough time to get to know each other. If you absolutely have to be there, do not stand between the mare and the foal. The foal should get up no later than 1-2 hours after birth and drink 2-3 hours after birth. If your foal is taking longer to do this, it could be a sign that something is wrong and you should call your vet.

Your foal should stop urine and faeces on the first day. If your foal becomes restless, starts to press, and flicks its tail back and forth without being able to defecate, it will need veterinary help to move its first faeces.

It is advisable that your vet examine your foal on day one to make sure it is healthy. In some cases, blood should be drawn to check that the foal has received sufficient defenses from breast milk.

What care does my mare need after foaling?

You should carefully watch your mare after the birth. Is it showing signs of colic? Does she take care of her foal? Does she have vaginal discharge? Does feces come out of the vagina? Does she look weakened? Take your temperature twice a day, an increase in temperature (the normal temperature is 37.0 - 38.0 ° C) is the first sign of infection.

Make sure you have a balanced diet. Regularly check the udder for signs of inflammation. An inflamed udder feels hot, is swollen and painful and usually does not produce enough milk.