Welcome to the preparation period for the foaling season. We wanted to take the time to give you some
pointers for preparing your farm and your mare for the arrival of a new baby. In addition, we have included
the latest on foal management.
Recent research shows that foals can get essential minerals prior to birth that help
to prevent developmental orthopedic disease if their dams are supplemented with
microminerals. It is important that during pregnancy mares are started on a balanced
mineral supplement designed specifically for horses—Grostrong (for either grass or
alfalfa forage) or Ranch-O-Min 1011, at 1 oz twice daily in concentrate.
After birth, however, the milk is deficient in these minerals and foals from may
not catch up on mineral deficiencies until they are eating minerals themselves.
Nonlactating mares in good condition just need maintenance feed through the first 8
months of gestation. The concentrate should be gradually increased through the last
three months until the mare is receiving approximately 3 pounds of a mare/foal (14%
protein) concentrate by foaling. Triple Crown Growth, Purina Strategy or Nutrena
Safe Choice, or Triple Crown or Purina Senior all provide essential amino acids
as well as adequate protein for fetal development and on into the lactation period.
Average Mares need 15 pounds of hay daily for maintenance during the first 8 months of
gestation, but adjust by body condition score—maintain at least a 6 BCS. Increase hay
about 20% during the last 3 months. Towards the end of the pregnancy, the foal size
limits the amount of hay a mare can handle at any one time, so feeding opportunities
should be increased to smaller meals four times daily.
Give all vaccinations 4 to 6 weeks prior to foaling to ensure adequate
antibodies in colostrum. Deworm the mare 4-6 weeks prior and 1 day after birth.
Set aside a large cleanable stall or shelter to be designated as the foaling site.
Clean straw should be used to bed the stall for foaling as it doesn’t cling to
the newborn as much as shavings do. This decreases the risk of bacterial spread.
Stalls must be kept clean and dry. Until the foaling date arrives, shavings may
be used as they are more absorbent. Clean the area twice daily.
Introduce the mare to the foaling area at least 3 weeks before due date.
There are several mare monitoring systems available:
- You can spend many nights with your mare (and then she will foal when you go inside for that one needed cup of coffee).
- Video monitoring (you still have to stay awake).
- “Foal Alert” vulvar remote monitors that detect the “water breaking”
- Foal Watch kit—used to check mineral content in the developing milk
Mares normally foal 335 to 345 days from the last breeding date, but can easily
vary 10 days on either side of these limits.
Other signs that foaling is approaching:
- Filling of the udder 2-4 weeks pre foaling
- Distention of the teats 4-6 days pre foaling
- Waxing of the teats (persistent yellow to white crusting or strands)
- Dripping milk (excessive streaming more than a few hours prior to foaling will result in loss of colostrum, the antibody-rich first milk)
- Softening of the croup muscles on either side of the tail
- Relaxation of the vulva
When the mare’s time is near, her tail should be wrapped and her hind legs and
udder should be washed with a mild soap (Chlorhexidine Scrub or Ivory Soap)and rinsed well.
Theory says that one of the main routes of bacteria into the newborn is when they lick all over
the mare trying to find the teat.
Items you need by the stall include:
- Vet phone number
- blunt object to tear the placenta (no sharp objects that might injure the foal)
- chlorhexidine solution diluted 1:4 in sterile saline or distilled water
or on gauze squares to treat the umbilicus
- Dry, clean towels
There are three stages to labor.
During stage one the mare is generally uncomfortable.
She may pace, get up and down, look at her sides, stretch. She will commonly urinate
and pass manure. This stage can last 1-2 hours or more.
Stage 2 is the actual labor
and begins when the water breaks. If you see a red bag coming through the vulva
first, this indicates premature placental separation which means the foal has no
oxygen supply. The bag should be broken and the foal helped out of the mare as
soon as possible and the vet called immediately. Normally, a pearl colored fluid
filled bag is the first sign of impending delivery. Stage 2 of active pushing
should last no more than 30 minutes. If after 15 minutes there is no progress,
call us so that we can advise you and be on the way. Usually one forefoot is
presented before the other, and the nose behind the knees—in a diving position.
The mare may get up and down a couple of times during the delivery—even with the
foal’s forelegs presenting.
Stage 3 is the passing of the placenta, usually within
1-3 hours after birth. Save the placenta in a plastic bag or bucket for examination.
- Treat the foal’s navel with diluted chlorhexidine solution
- The foal should STAND WITHIN 2 HOURS, NURSE BY 3 HOURS AFTER BIRTH. Be patient
and allow the foal and mare to bond without too much interference. After one hour
without the foal nursing, however, feel free to gently intervene by holding the mare still
and lightly supporting the foal.
- Aggressive behavior by the mare towards the foal or refusal by the mare to allow the foal to nurse
warrants intervention. Tranquilization may be required, but try haltering and restraining the mare
- Observe the foal for signs of straining and WATCH FOR PASSAGE OF FIRST STOOL—many inches of dark meconium.
We usually advise gently administering a phosphate Fleet enema within 4-6 hours of birth.
- The mare should PASS THE PLACENTA BY 3 HOURS. Treatment will be needed if she does not.
- Foal Imprint Training and Habituation: The foal should be exposed to humans at
birth so that he recognizes people as acceptable, familiar and generally not to be
feared. Habituation is exposing your foal to specific experiences that include
touch, noise and sight to reduce his fear in the future and allow him to be trained
with less stress. This must be done correctly in order to be effective. The initial
habituation may be done after the umbilical cord has severed but prior to the foal
attempting to rise and nurse. It is our opinion, however, that you should not delay
the foal’s nursing and remember that foals need to nap and nurse at about 20
The mare should be haltered and brought close to the foal to nuzzle and
bond. First habituation is done with the foal still lying down. All habituation to
handling, haltering, clippers, and handling the nose, mouth, ears, tail and anal
area, and feet manipulation is done until the foal relaxes with the procedure.
Stopping before the relaxation actually teaches avoidance.
These procedures should be repeated daily during the first week and then
weekly. Note that the area just behind the girth and in front of the flank are not
"habituated" so that they remain sensitive for future training. Horses can be
exposed to clapping, crowd noise, flapping paper and plastic, etc.
- Physical exam of the mare and foal should be done at 8-12 hours
- Determine IgG status of the foal—blood test to screen for adequate transfer of colostral antibodies.
- Antibiotics given only if difficult birth or delayed nursing, or illness
- Failure of the foal to stand within 2 hours or to nurse within 3 requires attention.
- Abnormal limb conformation or abnormal breathing require attention
- Examination of the placenta for completeness and normal size/anatomy
- Check mare for post foaling complications: vaginal trauma, blood loss
- Check the foal frequently during the first 2 days. Any signs of depression,
decreasing vigor or reduced nursing (full, dripping udder) should be reported.
- 2 Months: Deworm foal with ivermectin product at 2 months and every 2 months until one year of age (change schedule and products if known ascarid infestation on farm)
- 4 Months: 1st West Nile Virus vaccine, boosted at 5 months of age, Deworm
- 5 Months: 1st EWT vaccine, boost WNV
- 6 Months: : Deworm. 2nd EWT vaccine
- 8 Months: : Deworm.
- 10 Months: : Deworm, 1st Influenza/Rhino vaccine, boost at 11 months.
- Spring of yearling year: : Deworming, EWT, West Nile, Influenza vaccine/Rhino. Strangles only if high exposure potential.
The lactating mare should have a 14-16% protein mare/foal concentrate fed twice daily.
Minimum amount should be 3 pounds twice daily once the mare is accustomed to the feed.
The nutritional needs of the foal are met by nursing only for about 6 weeks. Foals may
begin to eat with their dams by 1 week of age, and should be eating approximately ½
pound of concentrate PER DAY per month of age. A greedy mare may not allow the foal
to eat that amount, so a creep feed can be set up. The foal should have access to grass
or hay by 10 days of age.
Foals require a minimum of 10 hours of unrestricted exercise. Salt and a balanced
vitamin/mineral supplement should be available.
Foals should maintain good body condition—not overweight or underweight.
Lactating mares in good body condition should be fed decreasing concentrate after the
first three months, and the foal should be eating well by 3 months. Foals may be weaned
as early as 4 months of age, or as late as 6 months. This is a very stressful event
for mare and foal and should be done in a safely fenced environment where the foal
can see the mare but is unable to suckle. A friendly gelding with the foal makes
a good companion. Beware—foals are resourceful and adequate fencing is essential.
Mares should be hand-exercised to reduce udder swelling at weaning. Do not milk the mare.
Cold water hosing may help.
The weanling will be about 85% of its adult height and 45% of its mature weight.
Foals should remain on a 14%-16% high quality growth concentrate fed at 1/2-3/4
pound per month of age with good quality hay and fed a balanced vitamin/mineral
supplement. Weanlings should be freely exercising at least 10 hours per day.
Colts should be castrated in the first year of life and this can be accomplished at early
as 3 months of age. This procedure involves general anesthesia and should be done in the
fall or spring when fly populations are minimal. Foals recover easily when still nursing
and turned out with their dams.
Colts that are castrated early actually attain slightly greater height than if castration
is delayed to age 2.