A few simple precautions and a lot of common sense on the part of the owner can help most mares have a safe pregnancy and produce a healthy, vigorous foal. Although some mares start the foaling season in early January, the majority will foal in April and May. So, now is the time to select a foaling location, begin assembling necessary supplies and chart a plan of action. Unlike human babies that can acquire immunity in their mother’s uterus, a foal must ingest colostrum (the yellowy substance in a mare’s first milk) within eight to 12 hours of birth in order to acquire protection against disease.
In the last month of gestation, a mare concentrates antibodies in her milk, but she can only produce antibodies against viruses and bacteria to which she has been exposed, either through vaccination or her environment. That is why it is so important to vaccinate a pregnant mare with tetanus, sleeping sickness, influenza or any other infectious disease that may be present in the environment 30 to 45 days prior to her expected foaling date. Following vaccination, the mare should receive a final veterinary checkup, and vulvular sutures (Caslick’s) should be removed. It is also important to move the mare to the location where she will foal at least 30 days prior to foaling. Sending a mare off to foal in the week before her due date doesn’t allow her adequate time to produce antibodies to the diseases in her new environment.
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Next, you’ll need to decide whether your mare will foal indoors or outdoors. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but if the weather will allow it, I prefer foaling mares on good, clean grass pastures. They are more natural, generally more hygienic and much roomier. The pasture or paddock should be grass covered, fairly level and free of objects that might injure the mare or newborn foal, such as barbed wire, creeks or ponds. Remove other animals from the pasture that might interfere with the mare or injure the foal. If possible, it’s a good idea to select a grass-covered paddock near a fluorescent yard light to make checking on the mare’s progress easier.
If the decision is to foal the mare indoors, provide her with a clean, large stall (at least 14 by 14 feet) that is disinfected and well ventilated. The bacteria encountered by the newborn foal in a dirty, poorly ventilated stall can easily override the antibodies received in the mare’s colostrum. Before placing the mare in the stall, give it a thorough inspection and eliminate hazards such as raised nails, large splinters and water buckets. High-quality, dust-free straw is the preferred bedding, as wood shavings can be inhaled by the newborn foal or aspirated into the mare’s vagina, causing serious infection.
It’s always a good idea to make preparations for foaling well in advance and to have a plan in case something goes wrong. The vast majority of mares will foal at night when activity around the barn is minimal.
Read the rest of these foaling preparation tips on America's Horse Daily.
Photo: Normal healthy foals will stand within 30 minutes of delivery. Journal photo.