Foaling is usually a relatively straightforward affair, however it is advisable that you consult your veterinary surgeon for more specific advice before your mare is due to foal. If possible, have an experienced friend available for when the time comes if you are not completely happy with the process.
In Preparation: Good Hygiene and a peaceful environment
For foaling, the mare will require a large well ventilated, draft-free box deeply bedded with clean, dust free straw. The clean manger should be supplied with fresh water at all times and good quality hay should be available to the mare ad lib. Her tail should be bandaged up just before foaling whilst her hindquarters, legs, vulva and udder should be washed with an antiseptic solution. Foaling will usually take place in the night when there is reduced activity in the yard and it is quiet.
The stages of foaling
Up to 24 hours before foaling the mare may start secreting a waxy substance on the udder and inside of the hindlegs. This is called ‘waxing up’. Maiden mares may not do this. The actual process of Foaling, or parturition, as it is called technically, can be divided into three stages:
During stage one, the uterus will start to perform contractions, moving the foal into the correct position. The mare may show restlessness, sweating and signs of mild colic including flank watching and getting up and down. It is important throughout this time not to disturb the mare.
A normal assisted delivery. Note the white membranes encasing the foal.
The second stage of labour involves the breaking of the waters as the membranes around the foal rupture and release the fluid. More powerful contractions involving the abdominal muscles then begin. After the waters have broken, the white membranes of the sac containing the foal will appear at the vulval lips. The foal should present with two front legs with its muzzle resting on top of the fore legs (the diving position). The foal is then usually delivered within 20-30 minutes.
The third stage of labour is expulsion of the foetal membranes. This should occur within a few hours of foaling.
In the womb, the foal does not use its lungs. At birth, the small air sacs in the lungs rapidly expand in its first breaths to clear the fluid from within the lungs. The foal will gasp initially. Its breathing rate is rapid and then settles down after about 24 hours to approximately 30-36 breaths per minute. Therefore following delivery:
- Within 5 minutes the foal should be able to sit up and lift its head
- Within 5-10 minutes the foal should have a strong suck reflex
- By 1 hour the foal should be able to stand, initially with a wide based stance. It will then start searching for the udder.
- Within 2 hours the foal should be able to suck well from the mare.
Any delays in the foal establishing a normal pattern of behaviour should be a concern and may indicate early signs of problems. It is important that you contact your veterinary surgeon at any stage of foaling that you suspect problems.
During the foaling process the mare should, although she may not know it, adhere to the time indications given above. Any delay may indicate the need for emergency veterinary attention/ advice.