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Soul Wind Horses Pre & Post Foaling Protocol, Foaling out your mare.

Last year we had 8 foals born here, 5 beautiful fillies and 3 colts. This protocol describes what it's like to assist and witness a "typical", "text book" foaling. In the majority of the deliveries, we play a very small and just support type roll. It is extremely important to be present and monitor your mare and the foal through the entire birthing process. In the rare chance that something is not right for your mare or the foal, seconds matter. I highly suggest reading everything you can on "red bag" and "partial red bag" deliveries. Research the correct foaling positions, read up about foal pulling procedures, talk to your vet and get support from another farm with experience if you do not feel comfortable foaling out your mare. In all of the deliveries I have assisted with, I have only had one partial red bag delivery and I've only had to pull two.

Picture of Equine Ultrasound Pregnancy at 30 Days
Equine Pregnancy Ultrasound

Congratulations! Your mare is successfully in foal, you've counted down the days and finally reached the "safe foaling window"! Thats right, your expecting momma does not have an actual due date, but a large window (months....) of when she may finally decide to foal. So far, our longest gestation has been 363 days!

You've noticed the signs and feel like her foal will be arriving anytime.... what do you do now?

We have a protocol that we developed after a consult with Dr McCue at CSU a few years ago. We've found it to be manageable and well worth it for our herd.

30 Days Pre-Foaling - 305-310 days gestation

This a great time to deworm and vaccinate your mare with your vet recommended vaccines. We use a 5-way vaccine for all of our mares that can tolerate vaccinations. Getting the vaccinations as close to 30 days prior to birth is best, we adjust this for mares we have foaling history on. This ensures that the colostrum in the mare has adequate antibodies for her foal.

This is also a great time to settle your mare into her birthing environment. We foal out in paddocks with attached shelters, and it's advised to let the mares settle into the pens they're going to birth in to build their immune system in that environment.

Manure management and a clean environment is very important when the foal is born, once the mare is moved into her foaling paddock a very strict manure removal practice begins. We also regularly clean and sterilize grain pans, stall walls and even fencing and panels as needed. We have bleach bath stations outside of our foaling pens and we do not allow visitors for the first few weeks.

1-36 Hours Pre-Foaling

When the mare presents with full udders, her milk is changing color or coming in, and her PH starts dropping or if she is starting to develop wax and her back end is relaxing and loosening, we know it's time for a full body wash and groom. The closer to foaling you can time this, the more effective this will be in preventing the foal from accidentally ingesting harmful bacteria.

Udders with wax and milk development indicating impending birth
Images of mare udders all less than 24 hours before foaling

We use a Chlorohexidine wash, paying special attention to all of the parts of the body that the foals typically try to suckle from. We also thoroughly wash the tail at this time and usually braid it loosely. Most of our mares really seem to enjoy this, some actually end up getting multiple baths before foaling because they do not foal out when we "think" they're going to. Last year, Tina got about 6 baths, I was convinced she was postponing her delivery just so she could get another spa day out of me!

Some of our Soul Wind Mares after their Pre Foaling Spa Treatment

First Stage Labor

The amount of time that the mare is in first stage labor will vary, some of them only spend 10 or 15 minutes in obvious and active first stage labor, while some can spend hours or even a day in this stage. From my experience the mare can still stall or postpone delivery during this stage. It is important that she feels calm and safe. You may see her pace or look back at her sides. She may start to sweat slightly, and you may notice a flehmen response or pawing at the ground or her even starting to lay down. Typically, this is when you will notice her milk start to flow heavily and she is taking the final moments to prep her body and her mind for the birth. When I see the signs of first stage labor, I am gathering all my supplies and foaling bags. I remain as quiet and still as possible and give the mare space and privacy.

This short video is an example of one of our Andalusian mares in first stage labor. You can see the overall discomfort in her face and body. She stomps her feet, she rubs her hind end against the panels, she is restless and unsettled. Her milk started flowing strongly and she was active with her mouth and lips. She remained in first stage labor for about a half an hour before her water broke and she started to push.

I am standing close at this point and watching for an amniotic sac to present. When I start to notice active pushing, I make note of the time. In the meantime, I am prepping and opening the supplies I know I will need.

My foaling bag contents can be found on this previous blog post.

Second Stage Labor

This is the stage when you finally get to see your baby!

The mare's water will break and you will see a white amniotic sac present. Moments later you will see two feet, then a little nose.

I am in the pen at this time, with the supplies I know I need along with the supplies I hope I never have to use! If everything presents correctly and how it should, I continue to wait and watch.

Initial Presentation of Amniotic Sac during Foal Delivery

First Foal Foot during Birth

It is important that the foal spend adequate time inside of the birthing canal, we do not want the foal to be born too quickly. I do not interfere or assist in 98% of the births. I am close and monitoring time between each stage of labor, while also monitoring the mare. Once the nose and head are out, I do typically check and clear airway. Sometimes this means gently opening the sac, sometimes the sac is already open.

In a typical and healthy birth, once the mare has delivered the shoulders, the rest of the birth happens pretty fast. The foal will still have its umbilical cord attached to the placenta, which is usually still inside the mare. Sometimes the mare is still experiencing strong contractions and she needs to reposition or stand up and move. If I need to adjust the foal out from underneath mom or pull it away from her feet, I do that quickly. I like to work fast with the foal while the mare is still processing her delivery, she is usually still laying down and focused on her body for a short time after birth. Some mares are extremely protective of their foals (understandably so), you need to stay aware and watch your mare very closely. Most of the times it is just me out with the new pair, the mares trust and love me and I don't have any issues as long as I am respectful and listening to them.

mare delivers foal
Tina and Belle, Moments after delivery.

Lusitano mare delivering filly
Hilaria and Tzipora after birth

The mare will often get up after her foal is out and this will break the umbilical cord. She will usually go lay down again to focus on the last stage of labor which is delivering her placenta. I grab my clean towels, my irrigation bottle with chlorohexidine solution, I have my enema ready and the dose of Full Bucket Foal Probiotic Supplement, then I grab my disinfecting wipes for the mare. I change gloves and immediately start drying the foal. I am listening to breathing and checking eyes, mouth, and ears while I dry. I roll the foal over slightly and check the genitalia and umbilical stump. The irrigation bottle allows me to squirt the umbilical cleaning solution from any angle and this is helpful because typically they start wanting to get up quickly. I give all foals an enema, usually even before they stand. I do not give the probiotic supplement until they display a sucking reflex.

Full Bucket Foal Probiotics for newborn filly
Full Bucket Foal Probiotics

The mare is typically starting to talk to her baby at this point and wanting to come over to clean it and encourage it to get up. I don't interfere at all with their first moments together and the start of their bond. I use this opportunity to wipe the mare down again in any places that might have gotten dirt or manure on them during the birth.

Warlander Filly and her PRE Andalusian Mom after delivery
New Born Belle and Tina

Third and Final Stage of Labor

The 1,2,3 rule starts now. Your new foal should stand within one hour of birth, it should nurse within two hours and your mare should pass her placenta completely within 3 hours. From my experience the first two will happen much faster, with foals attempting to stand within minutes. The foals usually start looking for the milk bar as soon as they get their legs under them. The suckling and nursing will help mom continue to pass her placenta, but this first latch can be the hardest on you as the support team.

When mom is up and the foal is up, I bring a bucket of fresh water over for mom. I have never had a mare not accept and appreciate this offering. When she is done with her water and focused on her foal, I check her placenta delivery progress. If she has not passed her placenta yet, I use bailing twine to tie it up off the ground. I want to preserve the placenta and prevent her from stepping on it so that I can check to make sure its complete upon full delivery.

The foal will most likely go up and down a few times before it really gets it legs to cooperate. This is adorable and I often do help but be careful of your back! They are big babies and they can really flail around. I have found that a towel positioned underneath the belly like a sling works really well.

Warlander Colt Standing for the first time
Hugo SW, first attempt to stand

We try our hardest to prevent the foal from putting its mouth on anything but its moms teat. The old saying "You can lead a horse to water...." applies here. It can take some time and your mare is usually quite sore. She will sometimes be so focused on cleaning and nuzzling her foal that she won't want it out of her sight. We halter the mares that get protective, are a little extra sensitive, or ones we haven't foaled out before prior to them going into labor. This makes it quick and easy if you need to help the mare stand still or move her to a smaller stall.

Mare standing for her foal to nurse
Cruz nursing for the first time

I do my best to guide the foal, but I have found that trying to help too much is counterproductive. Lots of patience here, and sometimes the best thing to do is go get a cup of coffee and leave them alone. I will clean the umbilical cord again thoroughly once the baby is up. The foal has usually passed its first stool before they nurse but they will often times pass more once their up and moving around and even more after they eat.

If your foal is struggling to pass the meconium or "first stool" you can give another enema.

When your baby latches on for the first time and you can hear them suckle and swallow your work is pretty much done. I deworm the mare at this point also.

Once the mare passes her placenta, if she is still acting sore and sensitive or resistant to the foal nursing, you can give her a dose of Banamine. You need to wait until her placenta passes though. Pull the placenta out of her pen and lay it out flat to check for any tears or missing pieces. If you suspect there is still a piece of the placenta in your mare, you need to call your vet. This can lead to serious complications with your mare and needs to be resolved quickly. If you have any questions about the placenta, place it in a bag and save it for your vet to look at. I store them in the breeding studio refrigerator if I need a second opinion.

mares placenta after birth
Placenta and Amniotic Sac

Your foal is up, you have witnessed it nurse multiple times, its passed stool, you watched it urinate from the correct spot and it's not dripping urine out the umbilicus, you've given probiotic supplements, thoroughly cleaned and rinsed umbilical stump at least twice, given an enema and checked your mare and your mare's fully delivered placenta! I make sure she has fresh water close and refill her hay. Now you can go and get some sleep.

6-24 Hours Post Delivery

The second dose of probiotic is given about 6 hours after the first. If the mare's milk is in and the foal is nursing well and seems content, I clean the umbilical stump again and spend just a few minutes watching baby. I clean the birthing pen thoroughly every time I am in there. It is common for your mare not to pass any manure for quite a few hours after delivery. Sometimes it is the next day. I do check her for swelling, tears and discharge again at this time.

If the mare lost a lot of milk prior to delivery, if the foal was not a strong nurser, or if she has a history of poor-quality colostrum, I test the foals IgG level at 12 hours post birth. I keep colostrum and Seramune on hand and can supplement the foal if needed. Failure of Passive Transfer requires a plasma transfusion as the foal's antibodies are completely dependent on the mare's colostrum during the first 24 hours after birth. You will need a vet to administer the plasma as the GI tract will no longer absorb antibodies.

If the foal and mare did not seem to struggle with anything nursing related, I wait until the foal is between 16-24 hours old to draw blood for the IgG test. It's a great idea to call your vet after the foal is born to discuss the delivery, any questions or concerns, and schedule the IgG Test/Wellness exam. I also take the foal's temperature at 24 hours old and inspect all manure.

If the IgG test comes back high enough you can take another deep breath! Closely monitor the mare and foal multiple times a day through the coming weeks. We monitor foal temp for the first 5-7 days and manure output multiple times a day. We also keep our new moms and babies in their private foaling pens for a few weeks before returning the pair out to pasture with the herd. If you suspect or notice ANYTHING that causes concern or doesn't seem normal, call your vet. Foals are fragile and every minute counts if they develop an infection. Keep the stall and pen clean and enjoy your new baby!

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