From Conception to Adulthood: Guide to Mare and Foal Care

Are you expecting a new addition to your horse family? Here are some important steps prior to, during and after foaling to ensure a healthy foal as it grows and matures into an adult.

First step is to ultrasound your mare at particular intervals starting at 14 days of pregnancy to ensure there are not complications and that we have a single embryo. At 60 days of pregnancy we can determine if the mare is having a filly or a colt and check the overall health of the baby. Later in pregnancy it is important to evaluate the fetus and its heartbeat to ensure proper development.

Nutrition is very important in an expectant mare. During the first 7 months of pregnancy a mare should be fed as a normal non-pregnant mare with a balanced diet and good quality forage. In most cases, mares do not require supplementation if a balanced feed is being offered. In the third trimester, their caloric requirements increase dramatically, but before we increase her food because we think she needs it, look at her and determine her body condition score. Her feed ration should be based on how she looks and feels. Too much or too little weight can cause issues with foaling. Normal mares prior to 7 months of gestation should be fed ~2% of their body weight in a good quality forage, then increased to ~3% in the last trimester. As your mare approaches the last couple months of pregnancy, it is good to slowly switch to a mare and foal grain formula. This type of feed will then be introduced to the foal later as creep feed. Contact us to determine the appropriate amount of each type of feed for your mare. It is also important to do some research about the types of grass in you field and hay. It is important to remove expectant mares from fescue 3 months prior to foaling. Fescue can prolong pregnancy, cause problems in foaling, placental issues, and prevent adequate milk production. Routine hoof and dental care, standard vaccinations and regular deworming should be continued throughout pregnancy and recommendations are to follow

An important vaccine for pregnant mares is called Pneumabort, which prevents abortions attributed to equine herpes virus or EHV-1. This vaccine is given at a particular interval towards the end of gestation and can be added to the schedule along with ultrasound pregnancy evaluations. Other vaccines should be continued at their normal interval as if she were not pregnant in the spring and fall time. One month prior to foaling she will receive booster vaccines to provide the foal with adequate immunity in the early months of life.

Now that we have nutrition and vaccinations for the mare covered, let’s not forget about deworming! Make sure to continue normal deworming and fecal eggs test as were done prior to pregnancy. The change comes about a month prior to foaling, she should be dewormed with a broad-spectrum product, such as ivermectin, so that she does not pass parasites on to her young foal through her milk. Most deworming products are safe for use in pregnant animals, but if you have any questions regarding a particular product don’t hesitate to call and we can provide you with the best product for you and your mare.

Now that it’s getting close to foaling time, there are a few things to look for. A normal pregnancy can last 338-343 days, but can progress as short as 320 days or long as 380 days. Mares do occasionally abort, so it’s important to monitor for vaginal discharge or dripping of milk during pregnancy. If you have any concerns about prolonged gestation or possible abortion don’t hesitate to call.

Signs of impending birth include, filling of the udder (two to four weeks pre-foaling), distension of the teats (four to six days pre-foaling), waxing of the teats (one to four days pre-foaling), softening and flattening of the muscles in the croup, relaxing of the belly and topline and changes in appetite or behavior. There are a few tests that you can perform in order to better determine impending birth, such as testing the milk calcium or pH test strips. Now all you need to do is make sure the mare has a safe place to foal and wait for your new addition!

It’s foaling time! Having a good understanding about the stages of foaling and timing of each is important to understand so you know when to contact us for assistance. There are three stages of parturition or foaling. Stage one includes contractions where the mare may move around, get up and down or roll to attempt to position the foal appropriately. In this stage the foal moves into position with front feet first and the head positioned towards the rear of the mare in a diving manner. Once the allantois, “water-bag,” ruptures, which is signified by a rush of fluid (not to be confused with urination), stage one ends. This stage can last between one to two hours. Stage two involves expulsion of the foal and should only last 30 minutes at most. If there has been minimal to no progress, meaning the foal has not moved out of the birth canal in 10-15 minutes, if appears that the foal is mal-positioned, or you notice a “red-bagged” appearance, contact us immediately for assistance. If everything goes well and the foal is delivered, stage 2 ends. Stage 3 encompasses the passing of the placenta or “after-birth.” This should proceed within 1-3 hours. If the placenta has not been passed within 3 hours, it is considered retained and requires emergency veterinary attention as it can cause serious problems including uterine infection, laminitis and even in serious conditions, death. If everything has progressed without a hitch, you have a new baby!

Now what do you need to do? Most importantly, make sure the foal starts breathing after breaking through the membranes. It is also important to allow the mare and foal adequate time to bond and rest undisturbed. In most cases, it is not necessary for us to manually separate the umbilical cord. This happens naturally when the mare stands and will break approximately 1 inch from the abdomen of the foal, where the cord vessels narrow.  Once standing, you need treat the cord for the first few days with 1:4 chlorhexidine antiseptic mixture. The foal should rise within 30 minutes and nurse within two hours of birth. A foal needs an adequate amount of colostrum within 8-12 hours to provide a good immunity for the first couple months of life. Every foal should be checked 8-24 hours after birth to ensure adequate colostrum consumption. As soon as your foal is born, call to schedule an appointment for your mare and foal. We will test your foals’ immunity by drawing blood for IgG test 8-12 hours after birth. If deficient, there are a few options we can pursue, such as colostrum from a donor or a plasma transfusion to ensure a good start to life. At this time, we will deworm the mare in order to prevent transmission of parasites through the mares’ milk to the foal.

It is important to monitor the behavior of the foal and mare. If the foal is acting depressed, not nursing, has swollen joints, abnormalities with the umbilicus or if you have other concerns, contact us immediately. Also, if the mare is not acting normal, inappetent, acting colicky, foot sore or you have any cause for concern, contact us immediately. You may check the mares’ temperature once daily for the first few days to monitor for complications. Call if the temperature is greater than 102F. Please save the placenta for the veterinarian to check at the foal check to make sure that no part is retained.

Foals should pass meconium feces (dark sticky feces) within 12 hours after birth. If this does not occur an enema may be indicated to help it pass. Observe the foal for urination. If a foal has not urinated by 12-24 hours, please contact us for assistance.

Foals should nurse every couple of hours and usually gain about 1-2 lbs a day. At a month old, you can start creep feeding. It’s best to start feeding a good quality growth formula at 1 lb per 100 lbs of body weight.

Now that your baby is growing up and is 6-8 weeks old, you can start a deworming program. Call us to determine what is the best product for your foal. It is important that the product cover ascarids, as these can cause serious problems including respiratory and colic signs. Foals should be dewormed at two-month intervals with routine fecal egg counts.

At about 4 months of age we will start a vaccine program tailored to your foal and environment. AAEP has a great chart for reference of foal vaccines and protocols. Please visit http://www.aaep.org/custdocs/Foal%20Vaccination%20Chart_8.12.16.pdf for more information.

We look forward to assisting you during any point in this journey to your new addition!