Welcome to Normandy Manor Farm
Get Ready For Baby ~ Reprinted with permission from Practical Horseman
The operator of a successful breeding farm explains what you need to
think about ahead of time to make your mare's foaling safe and
stress-free for all three of you.
By Deborah Borra, with Sandra Cooke
You wait almost a year for the birth of your mare's foal, and when the
time comes there's plenty to do. So you want to avoid last
minute surprises. You can do this by starting well in advance
– before she's even bred, in some instances – to set the stage for the
best outcome; a calm, comfortable mare; a healthy foal' a happy you.
We'll give you guidelines for which details to check off when, as you
go through the process of choosing a stallion, getting your mare bred,
and nurturing her through her pregnancy. And in “Foaling
Forecasting” on page 91, an equine vet who specializes in reproduction
will give you a list of “foal on the way” signs – to help you know when
you're about to see the benefits of all your planning.
Before She's Bred
Insure your mare – for two good reasons. First, in the
unlikely event that you lose her during the foaling process (which,
unfortunately, does happen in rare instances), your acute emotional
loss won't be compounded by financial loss. Second, most
equine mortality – insurance policies include the option to obtain
Major Medical insurance for the horse at a relatively small additional
premium. That medical policy is a great safety net if you
incur unusual expenses because of foaling complications.
Make sure your veterinarian is on board for the project.
While you're still in the planning stages of your mare's pregnancy, ask
your veterinarian how many foalings she or he has participated in and,
depending on the method you've chosen, how familiar she is with using
transported cooled or frozen semen for artificial
insemination. Explain your plans and ask how closely she will
be able to work with you during the breeding, pregnancy, and
foaling. If your vet has had little or no direct experience
with foaling, or if she conveys the impression that this is no big deal
and you can pretty much expect things to take care of themselves, look
for another practitioner who's more motivated to meet your need and
The more you know about what to expect, the better you'll be able to
care for your mare and her foal. See “Learning Resources” on
page 89 for suggested book and video sources of information; ask your
veterinarian if she has any materials you can borrow. If you
have an opportunity to see or help with actual foaling, take it!
Once She's Pregnant
Plan to be there for her. I get nervous when I hear anecdotes
about mares who just go off by themselves and show up afterward with a
nice little foal, because4e such stories encourage inexperienced owners
to think their mares can probably handle foaling just fine without any
help. Sometimes it works out that way but sometimes it
doesn't. For instance, if you've bred your refined mare to a
big, substantial horse to try to get more substance in the foal, the
baby's shoulders may be big enough to require some subtle adjustment
during the birth to make the foaling less stressful on both mare and
foal. A normal foaling takes about half an hour; if trouble
occurs, your veterinarian may not have time to get there and help
before damage is done. But if you've been monitoring your
due-to-foal mare carefully enough to contact your vet at the first
signs that birth is beginning (again, see “Foal Forecasting on page
91), you increase your chances of having assistance on hand if
needed. If you're not sure you – or another responsible
person – can be available when the foal comes, make prior arrangement
for your mare to foal at a facility staffed and equipt to care for
her, such as a veterinary school or a reputable breeding farm.
Calculate her likely foaling date.
If you have a job that takes you away from home but you plan to be on
hand when your mare foals, you probably want to arrange to take your
vacation during the critical time. From my own
record-keeping, I've learned that the majority of my mare foal between
330 and 337 days from the date they're bred. This is a good
window to plan around, but there are exceptions; I've had
foals born as early as 320 days and as late as 3390 days after the
breeding. You'll make your mind easier if your plans include
a fallback strategy in case the baby hasn't arrived when you must
return to work.
Immunize on schedule.
Your pregnant mare needs to be vaccinated against rhinopneumonitis, a
virus that can cause abortion if she becomes infected, at months five,
seven and nine after breeding. Four weeks before she's due to
foal, she needs immunization against everything for which you usually
vaccinate – such as Eastern/Western encephalitis, influenza and tetanus
– so that the antibodies these vaccines stimulate her to to produce
will pass to the foal in her colostrum, or first milk.
Important: Make sure that all vaccines administered during
this time are specifically approved for pregnant mares.
Accustom her to udder handling.
If this foal will be your mare's first, she may object – even try to
kick him – the first time he tries to nurse. If you work to
desensitize her in that area ahead of time, by gently cleaning and
handling her udder, you'll find out if she has an aversion to being
touched there, and you'll give her a chance to get used to it.
There's also a slight chance you may need to milk her (if, for
instance, the foal doesn't stand up to nurse quickly enough and you
want to save her colostrum for him to nurse from a bottle); this job
will be easier if she already accepts having her udder and teats
manipulated. No9note: Clean your hands scrupulously
before and after handling her udder.
Make sure you can telephone from the barn.
If you don't already have a cellular phone, consider getting one – or
at least extend your home telephone line to the barn. In that
case, a cordless handset will give you greater mobility.
Four to Six Weeks Ahead
Prepare the foaling stall.
Although a double-size stall is ideal for foaling, you can make do with
a stall 12 feet square. Clean it thoroughly, then bed with
several inches of fresh shavings. If it's not her usual
stall, move your mare into the foaling stall at least four weeks before
she's due. This gives her time to relax in the new location
and even more important – allows time for her immune system to build up
antibodies to any unfamiliar organisms in the stall's environment.
I like to foal my mare on oat straw; it's clean, dust-free, and
functions as an occasional snack, but it can be difficult to get and is
also a tougher mucking job than shavings. When a mare gets
close to her predicted foaling date, I bank the sides of her stall with
two or three bales of straw but leave easier to clean shavings in the
middle. When signs indicate she's really about to foal, I
need only a few minutes to pull the straw in from the walls and create
a deep, fluffy bed on top of the absorbent shavings base
Set up a heat lamp if needed.
If you climate is cold and/or your mare is due to foal early in the
year, a safely installed heat lamp can be a valuable asset in keeping a
new foal warm. Check that the lamp is free of any trace of
dust and cobwebs, which can start a fire. Be sure the cord
and plug are in good condition and that they'll be out of reach when
the lamp is in place.
Arrange to have a helper.
Because so much can happen in a short time, it's not a good idea for
even an experienced person to try to foal a mare out alone.
You need a second pair of hands – someone who can, say, run for the
phone or fetch any needed item that you don't have close at hand while
you stay with your mare. This person doesn't have to be
knowledgeable, just levelheaded enough that you're reasonably confident
he or she won't “lose it” if things get exciting or messy.
Pin down hauling arrangements just in case. If something goes
seriously wrong with the foaling, your mare may need attention (a
Caesarian-section delivery, for instance) at a facility with full-scale
surgical capability. Identify the clinic or animal hospital
that would be your destination in case of need; call now to be sure of
their availability Remember to ask if their telephone is
monitored 24/7 – and if not, whom you should call during off
hours. Get directions, too which you'll try on a dry run
before you need them. If you don't have your own rig, locate
someone who does and who's willing and able to take you to the clinic
at a moment's notice. If you have a truck and trailer, keep
them ready, with the trailer hitched up – and not (as happened to me
once when a mare unexpectedly needed emergency treatment) full of baled
shavings you intend to unload the next morning.
Assemble everything you'll need during the big event.
I like to store this equipment – the complete list is on page 87 – in a
“foaling cart” whose drawers keep things organized. My
policy is always to return each item to the same place in the same
drawer, so I waste no time looking for it.
Put a list of vital telephone numbers in a handy, conspicuous place in
the barn. Your veterinarian's number(s) – including pager and
home telephone, if you can get them – go at the top of the list,
followed by the helper you've arranged and (if applicable) the person
who's available for emergency hauling. Post your directions
to the emergency facility as well.
Final Few Days
Monitor your mare.
Because foaling happens so quickly once it begins, you need to observe
her almost constantly – waking up every hour when her due date is
really close – to be sure not to miss it. Consider buying (or
borrowing) a closed-circuit TV or video cam monitor that enables you to
watch her from a distance, or ask your veterinarian about high-tech
devices such as the Foal Alert System (see “Foal Forecasting” on page
Wrap her tail – to make it easier to see under your mare's tail before
foaling and to help prevent tail hairs from getting into her vagina
during the birth. Begin wrapping about a week before he
expected due date. I like to use a new VetRap every day,
rather than a resuable Ace bandage, because I find the VetRap is less
likely to be applied too tightly.