The duration of pregnancy is usually between 335-342 days but can be quite variable ranging between 305-400 days. One of the most common concerns for clients is mares going over their due date. Remember they can go up to 400 days and still be ok.
IMPORTANT! – THE MONTH BEFORE FOALING
It is important that one month prior to foaling the mare is wormed and vaccinated for at least Tetanus/Strangles to ensure the foal has the best immunity during its first three months of life. These antibodies are passed through the colostrum on the first day foal suckles.
The signs can be quite varied depending on the mare’s history or lack of, but the most consistent sign is the filling up of the udder and teats with milk/colostrum, commonly known as “bagging up”. This can start a couple of weeks before birth and usually 24-48 hours prior to the foaling dry, waxy colostrum appears on the teats commonly termed “waxing up”. Other signs include lengthening of the vulva and loosing of muscles towards the back of the rump.
LABOUR – THE 3 STAGES
This stage can start up to 4-5 hours before active labour begins. The uterus starts to contract and position the foal in preparation for birth. The mare becomes uncomfortable and restless and may start to sweat. She will walk around with her tail raised, may urinate frequently, and seem restless, getting up and down constantly.
Eventually, the allantochorion ruptures (water breaks) and this marks the start of stage two of labour.
This stage involves active forceful straining from the mare and the foal is usually born within 20 minutes of commencement. The mare may lie down and strain for a few minutes and then get up and change position or rest. If there is active forceful straining for more than 20-30 minutes with no progression, there may be a problem and veterinary assistance should be obtained. It is important that the foal is positioned with its two front feet first followed by the nose. If this is not observed a vet needs to be contacted immediately to assess the situation.
Upon presentation of the two front hooves and nose, the foaling should be quick once the shoulders pass through the pelvic passage. The amniotic sac will break on its own accord when the foal is expelled, however you may remove it from the foals head once born. Allow the umbilical cord to break on its own accord and let the mare rest until she is ready to get up.
It is important to allow the mare to deliver with minimum interference and in a quiet relaxed environment. This is especially important for maiden mares that may be made anxious by too much human involvement.
The placenta should be expelled within 3 hours. If it does not veterinary assistance will be needed as the mare may have a retained membrane, which can be quite harmful. You should examine the placenta by spreading it out to ensure it is intact. Note: remembering that there will be a hole from the opening of the sack to allow the foal out.
The foal should normally stand within one hour and start sucking the mare within 2 hours, any longer than 2 hours to stand or longer than 3-4 hours to suck will require you to contact your vet immediately. The first milk or colostrum is absorbed during the first 24 hours of life, so for the best immunity the foal should be suck effectively within this time.
The foals first bowel movement or meconium is passed normally within 12 hours and ensures the bowels are working efficiently. Often colts will retain their meconium, which can cause colic, more than fillies due to the narrowing of their pelvis compared to that of the females. If the foal shows signs of non-productive straining or colic then there may be retained meconium and a veterinarian should be called.
Remember most of the time the mare will foal with no assistance and natural instinct takes over. However, owners can play an important role by observing the process to ensure everything is on the right track, and problems are dealt with in a timely manner by contacting your veterinarian.