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The Beautiful BroodmareTA Cyganska's first born, Mahagany Knights (aka Wolf)

Mahagany Knights – just born

Once your mare has successfully been bred, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.

  1. Nothing should be done in the first 30 days of pregnancy or the last 30 days of pregnancy.  This means, no deworming, no vaccinations, and no alternative medicine (i.e., chiropractic adjustments).
  2. Rhinopneumonitis and Influenza vaccinations should be given at 5, 7 and 9 months of pregnancy.
  3. Annual vaccinations should be given 4-6 weeks short of due date (not within 30 days of due date).
  4. Deworming schedule should remain the same except in the last 30 days of pregnancy.  I am hearing now that mares should be dewormed with ivermectin when the foal is one week old, stating that the foal will have lessened chances of having scours (diarrhea) during the mare’s foal heat (first estrus cycle following birth).  I don’t know that there is concrete documentation to back this theory up, but apparently many farms are taking this approach with success.

The length of gestation is typically 330 to 350 days.

DIET

In preparation for breeding as well as during pregnancy, the mare should receive a well-balanced diet of grain and hay with access to fresh water of course, a white salt block, and a 12:12 mineral block.  The grain should be 14% protein and the fat/fiber content determined according to your mare’s body condition.  Some horses require more fat than others to maintain weight; this is a very subjective area and really just depends on the horse.

The diet should remain the same throughout pregnancy except for the last 120 days.  Again, this depends on the mare and her body condition/score.  I start to add beet pulp to the feed ration and add water to soak into beet pulp.  I used to use wheat bran to make a mash, but wheat bran is high in phosphorus and low in calcium, which is the opposite of what you want to do (see Nutrition page, phosphorus/calcium). I do this to add fiber content to enhance gut motility and, therefore, lessen any chance of colic while the foal is so rapidly growing and pressing on internal structures.  Beet pulp is also high in calcium, which is quite beneficial in late pregnancy to the growing fetus and milk production.  In cold climates, I add warm water (not hot) and in warmer climates cold water works just fine.  I put the beet in the bucket first so it absorbs the majority of the water, then the grain, and then the water.  I would not recommend feeding without water as it soaks up quite a large amount of water and we want to add water to the gut rather than take it away.

I have to emphasize the importance to watch your mare’s body condition.  I do believe the beet pulp is an important component in the diet of the expectant mare. Remember all horses are different; some are hard keepers and some are easy keepers and this must be kept in mind.  An overweight expectant mare is no better off than an underfed expectant mare.

STAGES OF LABOR

STAGE 1:        Outward signs/changes, ending in “the breaking of the water.”

STAGE 2:        Birth of foal (parturition).

STAGE 3:        Passage of afterbirth.

I start to really watch my expectant mare one month prior to her “due” date.  Whatever daily routine you plan to have once the foal arrives, you should begin to get the mare used to now, one month prior to the foal arriving.  If you have a barn and plan to bring your mare into the barn to foal, begin bringing her in each evening at this point if you have not been doing so.  You will also want to begin to check her teats for “bagging up” in the mornings and the evenings.  Also begin to watch for any muscle relaxation in the tail head and vulva – this will begin much closer to her due date, but it is a good idea to start looking for any changes at this point.

Observations to watch for in your mare prior to entering Stage 1 may or may not include:  Sprung ribs and abdomen; flaccid musculature (particularly of tail head and relaxation of vulva), slow gait, full/warm udder with our without milk on teat ends.

STAGE 1: 

When the mare enters Stage 1, observations include a flat-sided appearance to the abdomen (stand behind mare and look forward).  When looking from the side, you will notice a dramatic drop of the abdomen.  Tail head will become flaccid and the vulva will progressively relax.  The udder should be full and warm and may have wax on ends of teats (this is a strong sign that parturition (birth) is imminent).  However, a mare may or may not show wax.  Some mares will go straight to dripping milk and this should be considered imminent.  She may begin to sweat, appear restless, pace, dig or she may just quietly eat.

When the above signs are present, the mare should not be left alone because although a large percentage of mares will give birth without problems, there is always that small percentage that will need assistance and, without proper intervention, one may risk losing both foal and mare.  The tail should be wrapped and the perineal region cleansed with water and an iodine-based cleanser (such as Betadine), making a clean sweep from top to bottom, repeating several times, each time with a new cloth (I like to use square gauze for this).  This ensures you are not re-contaminating the area you are cleaning.  See video of below if you are not familiar with this technique.

The next thing to watch for is the water to break.  She may suddenly lie down and have a rush of water or she may pace and become gradually more restless, transitioning between lying down and standing up.  The length of time between Stage 1 and Stage 2 varies from a short time to an extreme 24 hours.  The end result, however, is the breakage of water and then time is of the essence and should progress rather quickly.

STAGE 2:

Once the water has broken (rupture of placental membranes), delivery of the foal should progress steadily and time is of extreme importance.  If for any reason you become uncomfortable with the process, call your licensed veterinarian for assistance.  It is always best to be safe.

The mare should lie down at this point with all four legs extended.  Some mares will remain on their feet, which can make even an experienced handler nervous.  If she insists on standing, it becomes necessary to assist her to protect the foal from injury and this ideally requires two people, one to stand at the head of the mare to keep her from walking and one to deliver the foal and keep it from dropping to the ground and prematurely rupturing the cord or sustaining injury.  I will note here that the umbilical cord continues to provide vital nutrients to the newborn foal after its arrival and should not be interfered with.  When the mare is ready, she will stand, naturally rupturing the cord.

The next thing to watch for is the presentation of the foal.  You should see one tiny foot slightly in front of the other.  If you see a nose first, you need to summon your veterinarian as the foal is not presenting in the correct position.  If you do not see the sac at all after two or three strong contractions, the foal may be malpositioned and you need to summon your veterinarian immediately as well as get your mare back to her feet and walk her, attempting to delay the process while waiting for your veterinarian to arrive.

Once the feet present themselves, you should then see the nose and head of the foal.  The sac that surrounds the foal is a double-sac arrangement, the amniotic sac and the allantois chorion (placenta).  As the foal moves through the birth canal, its feet rupture the outer sac (allantois chorion), which is the “breaking of water” and is delivered in its own protective sac (amniotic sac).  It is at this point, when you see the feet present followed by the head, you may peel back the sac from the nose and head and clear the nasal passages (a bulb syringe works nicely but must be used properly and gently).  Scissors help greatly as this sac is tough and slippery.  The mare may rest now as she has just passed the widest part of the foal, the shoulders.  After a short rest, she should continue to contract and deliver the rest of the foal.  It is important to only remove the sac the foal is personally in, remembering not to disrupt the cord, and DO NOT by any means pull any of the sac away from the mare.

If the mare is having exceptional trouble and appears to be labored in trying to pass the foal through the birth canal, once the feet have presented themselves properly, you may grasp both forefeet, being careful to keep them in the one-in-front-of-the-other presentation and give manual traction only in harmony with the mare’s contractions in a downward direction toward her hocks. 

By the time the hind feet arrive, the foal should be breathing and, if not, you need to summon help and make sure you have cleared the nasal passages.  Allowing gravity of the foal’s head to rest beside its front legs (free of bedding) usually is enough to clear the passages.  After the amniotic sac has been removed from the foal’s hind feet, the foal should be rubbed vigorously with towels, which aids in respiration and circulation.  You should be able to see pulsations in the umbilical cord still attached between foal and mare.  Hopefully the mare will remain down until these pulsations cease.  The pulsations are passing very important oxygenated and enriched blood to the foal.  After the mare stands up and naturally ruptures the umbilical cord, you should drench the foal’s navel stump with a 7% iodine tincture before it comes in contact with any bedding or dirt.

STAGE 3:

Stage 3 begins when the foal has arrived and the umbilical cord is ruptured.  The internal double-sac is still attached to the mare internally and will be trailing behind her.  It is important not to pull or apply traction to the sac by any means or allow the mare to step on it, possibly detaching it prematurely.  The sacs are pretty much turned inside out with the birth of the foal.  You will see a gray sac with white veins and you will see a dark red area expelled; this should occur within an hour after the end of Stage 2.  If this expulsion does not occur within a couple of hours, you need to summon your veterinarian as it is considered a retained placenta.  You should also keep the expelled membranes for your veterinarian to examine to ensure everything has expelled.

Now your new precious foal should be attempting to get on those beautiful wobbly long legs and begin looking for mother’s milk!  Some foals need a little assistance finding the teats to suckle and sometimes require using your finger in their mouth to lead the way.  Some mares may also become feisty with their new responsibility as her teats are full and can be uncomfortable and sore, more commonly seen in a maiden mare, a term given to a mare experiencing her first pregnancy.  One needs to make sure she does allow the foal to suckle.  I have had to apply a nose twitch to allow this to happen.

The next thing to watch for is the passing of the foal’s meconium (first bowel movement).  This is a very dark, tarry-looking stool.  It is a good idea to just routinely give an enema, thus triggering bowel movements.  If the foal is elevating its tail, this is a sign of discomfort or constipation and an enema should be given.

The next thing to watch with your new foal is the navel stump, checking it daily to make sure it is not moist and is drying up and shrinking.  Also watch the mare’s teats to make sure they are being suckled on enough and are not overly tense and full.

Remember, when in doubt, call your veterinarian!!

I hope you have found this information useful and I wish you good luck with your new foal!  For foal vaccinations and deworming schedules, please see Vaccinations and Deworming Practices.