Preparing for Foaling Season

With foaling season just around the corner, we need to understand the whole process and know what to do in any unexpected situations. In this article, we will cover what to expect, any complications we may encounter and what happens after we welcome our four-legged bundle of joy!

When is foaling season and why this time of year?

Mares are seasonal breeders which means that they will have multiple cycles during certain times of the year. This tends to fall between March and September in the UK due to the longer daylight hours – this also provides the best environmental conditions for foal survival as a mare’s gestation period is ~11 months.

What to expect when you’re expecting.

Being as prepared as possible for the new arrival is really important so you are ready for any situation that may arise. This includes ensuring your broodmare is being fed correctly, the environment is suitable for foaling and understanding the signs of impending foaling.

  • The mare must be on a suitable diet and not be too thin or overweight during her pregnancy and the level of nutrition should be increased in the last 3 months due to the foal’s development in the last trimester.
  • When foaling is imminent, it is recommended that a mare’s shoes should be removed to prevent any risk of her standing on the foal and causing injuries. Regular foot trimming and care should be maintained during pregnancy.
  • Mares should follow a worming program during their pregnancy to prevent any worms from crossing through the uterus and infecting the foal. Foals commonly eat the mare’s faeces in the first few months too, so we want to avoid any worms being present.
  • Mares should also be vaccinated to ensure maximum protection for the foal. It is recommended that mares should be vaccinated against influenza and tetanus in the last 3-6 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Ensuring that the stable or paddock is ready for foaling is vital and mares should be moved to this area at least a month before foaling to allow them to get used to this space and minimise any stress. Depending on weather conditions, mares can be foaled outside, but it is always a good idea to have a stable available in case of poor conditions or any complications.

The area should be clean, secure, and well maintained with the stable providing a comfortable bed with good lighting and freshwater being readily available. You can get CCTV cameras set up to aid with monitoring during the birth which allows you to keep an eye on the situation without disturbing the mare (as they prefer having a quiet environment).

Signs of impending foaling include udder development, changes in temperament, hollowing and softening of their quarters and “waxing up” (this is one of the last signs to occur and this is when waxy secretions are seen from the teats).

Potential complications during labour

Most mares foal without any complications, however, you must still be prepared for any problems.

Normal foaling is split into 3 stages:

Stage 1 – this is when the foal is getting into the correct position to be born and can take up to several hours. During this stage, the mare will become restless and even show some signs like those of colic (flank watching, getting up and down, sweating)

Stage 2 – this stage is when the mare’s waters break, and the foal moves through the birthing canal. Abdominal contractions will begin, and the mare normally decides to lay down (however this isn’t always the case!). Majority of the time, this stage will take around 20-30 minutes so if this takes longer, intervention may be required.

Stage 3 – the final stage is the passing of the placenta, and it normally occurs within 1 hour of the mare giving birth. You should keep the placenta for the vet to examine to ensure none of it has been retained. If the placenta has not been passed within 3 hours, veterinary assistance is required.

If at any time, any of these stages are not going smoothly, it is always wise to seek veterinary advice. Things to look out for that signal things are not going as they should be:

  • If uterine contractions start but then diminish or stop completely
  • Stage 2 if labour takes more than 30 minutes
  • If a red coloured bag appears at the vulva
  • The foal’s presentation is unusual (they should appear at the vulva as two legs/hooves followed closely by their nose/head)

Post-partum complications

Keeping a close eye and monitoring daily behaviours is vital in the days following the birth. It will allow you to spot any early signs of ill health so it can be treated before things become more complicated.

Diarrhoea is seen quite commonly in foals and there can be a variety of reasons why this happens.

  • You may encounter “Foal Heat” which normally occurs when the foal is a week old. This can happen due to the mare going back into season after foaling but also the foal’s digestive system adjusting. Overall, they should remain bright and continue to feed but if not, it is best to get them checked over in case there is some sort of infection.
  • Foals can also get severe diarrhoea due to picking up different types of bacteria from the environment or the mare.
  • There are more serious conditions that can cause diarrhoea such as viruses, the most common being Rotavirus. Foals will be very off colour, may have a fever and become dehydrated and sometimes colicky. With these cases, it is vital you seek veterinary advice and get started with treatment.

Other unfortunate complications could include the loss of a mare or the mare rejecting her foal, so the foal is unable to feed. In these cases, trying to find a foster mare is the best outcome for the foal however, you may need to resort to some hand-rearing too (although it is very time consuming due to the amount of milk they require).

What is FoalStim?

If we do encounter any of these post-partum complications, having a supplement to hand can be extremely helpful. FoalStim is a Colostrum and Probiotic nutritional supplement to help with newborn foals that are weak or underweight, failing to suckle or initially thrive.

FoalStim comes in a ready to use 20ml syringe that provides an immediate energy supply for foals that may be struggling. It also helps to support the immune system with a Colostrum content of 5% so useful for any foals with diarrhoea due to bacteria, it also contains fat and water-soluble vitamin groups to improve their nutritional condition.

FoalStim is also a fantastic supplement for any foster foals as it enables you to administer the Colostrum, which they may not have been able to obtain from their mother.

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