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Springtime is foal time! Foals require a lot of prep work, and pregnant mares require extra care from your veterinarian to make sure they are ready to give birth. Are you ready?
Spring is baby season. This time of year elicits the excitement of having a new foal, but many horse owners worry about the arrival of a newborn foal. Preparation can help ease the transition from pregnancy to new mom, and keep both mom and baby safe and healthy. Mares should be kept up to date on their vaccines, on a good targeted deworming program, and have their teeth checked at least once a year. 3-4 weeks prior to their due date, they should have booster vaccines to ensure they have good antibody levels (more on this later!). Your mare should be in a safe, well maintained paddock with a good fence that the new foal cannot roll beneath. If the mare will foal in a stall, make sure the stall is large, clean, and deeply bedded. She should be acclimated to the stall well before her anticipated due date.
As your mare’s due date approaches, there are several ways to more closely pinpoint the actual day so you don’t spend many sleepless nights in the barn watching her like a hawk. Milk testing kits, such as Predict A Foal, are quite reliable – these test the electrolyte levels in the milk. Some farms use the reusable FoalAlert, which is sutured to the lips of the vulva, and alerts the owner when the magnets are pushed apart as the foal’s feet begin to enter the birth canal. Cameras can be used to monitor your mare’s activity at night, but require dedicated personnel to monitor.
Here is a great article about predicting foaling http://www.thehorse.com/articles/33682/how-to-predict-when-a-mare-will-foal .
This video (<4 minutes) gives a rundown of 5 things you need to know http://www.thehorse.com/videos/31507/5-things-you-need-to-know-newborn-foals
The 1, 2, 3, Rule
Did you know that a foal should stand within 1 hour of birth, nurse within 2, and the mare pass the placenta within 3? If your new mom and baby aren’t following this simple guideline, it’s time to place an emergency call to your veterinarian. Each of these steps represents a vital milestone in the transition from pregnant mare to healthy new mom and newborn. Because horses are a prey species, foals must be able to stand almost immediately after birth. Within a few hours they are able to run. If a foal cannot stand, they aren’t able to nurse and get the vital first milk (called colostrum). This is especially important because foals are born with little to no immune system. Colostrum is filled with IgG (immunoglobulin) and other vital proteins that provide the foal with antibodies derived from the mare’s immune system. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your mare gets booster vaccines 3 weeks prior to her anticipated foaling date, and to have the vet out 24 hours post foaling to check the baby’s IgG levels. Failure to get adequate levels leaves the foal vulnerable to life-threatening infection.
If your mare hasn’t passed her entire placenta within 3 hours after giving birth, it’s time to call the vet. A retained placenta (even a very small piece) can be life-threatening for the mare, causing her to become systemically ill and putting her at very high risk for laminitis. Always remove the placenta from the birthing stall as soon as you safely can. Keep it clean by placing it in a fresh trash bag. It can then be placed into a cool place, or a fridge, until the veterinarian can come inspect it.
The First Vet Visit
Once your baby is safely on the ground, it is vital to have the vet out and check both mom and baby. Mares should be inspected for damage that may have occurred during the birth (this may include a rectal exam). Foals should have a complete physical exam to check for birth defects or problems that can easily be fixed while they are young. They should also have blood drawn and a SNAP test performed to make sure they have received adequate antibodies from their colostrum. If they haven’t, they are at increased risk for infection, and veterinary intervention may be necessary.
Oh, the worms!
Once your baby is on the ground and gets the all clear at its first checkup, you may heave a sigh of relief. But don’t relax just yet! Babies explore the world with their mouths, and so are immediately exposed to gastrointestinal parasites (worms). Roundworms especially are a big problem in foals – in fact every foal is considered infected! Deworming should start at 2 months of age, and be repeated every 2 months until 6 months of age (weaning time). The PowerPak (fenbendazole for 5 days) can be useful for targeting roundworms (both adults and migrating stages), as they are frequently resistant to ivermectin and moxidectin products. Pyrantel products are also useful, but only for adults. If left untreated until later, foals with large ascarid burdens are at risk for impaction colics, which may require surgery to resolve.
Twinning in horses
Many people don’t realize, but after your mare is bred it is very important to have her pregnancy checked at strategic points in the early stages of pregnancy. Having your veterinarian out to do an ultrasound exam to make sure a single embryo is found is very important in the first 2 weeks of pregnancy. Ideally, a mare is checked 14 days after breeding. That way, if a second embryo is found there is time to deal with it. Twinning in horses is rare, and is very dangerous for the mare, as her uterus is simply not designed to support more than one fetus. Many twin pregnancies spontaneously abort because there simply is not enough room or placenta to supply 2 fetuses with all the essential nutrients to get to term. Rarely, twins are carried to term, and when this happens they frequently are not very healthy and require lengthy treatments and maybe even hospitalization! Click on this link to read a great article with more details on this subject: www.thehorse.com/articles/33858/seeing-double-handling-equine-twins