The Newborn Foal

 

The experience of raising a foal is one of the great joys of owning a horse, but in order to rear a healthy foal the first step is proper preparation of the mare prior to foaling. 

 

In the weeks before foaling

 

    preg-tb-mare                  pregnant-cute-horse-191                 pregnant-mare-mare1

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Ensure that the mare is in good health – not over fat or in poor condition, but preferably on a rising plain of nutrition so that she will have an adequate milk supply to nurture the foal.

Give the mare a booster vaccination against tetanus, strangles, salmonella, rotavirus and equine herpes virus 4 – 6 weeks before foaling. If her vaccination history is not known, enough time should be allowed to give her two vaccinations 4 weeks apart to ensure that antibodies are transferred to the foal.

Ensure that the mare’s worming schedule is up to date, to protect the foal from ingesting worm eggs when suckling milk from the mare.  mare-waxing

As she gets close to foaling check the mare’s udder for her milk supply. If no udder development is seen she may need greater nutritional intake. If the mare is dripping milk consideration should be given to collecting and freezing some colostrum for the newborn foal.  However if she has no milk, or will not let milk down for the foal to suckle, contact your veterinarian.

 

When to start watching

 

The gestation period (length of pregnancy) for most mares is from 335 – 345 days. However you should begin watching your mare closely from 330 days and be aware of any changes either in her behaviour, such as leaving the other mares, or waxing (a drop of milk on the end of the teats) indicating that she may be close to foaling. Prepare a clean environment for the foaling – preferably a well grassed, sheltered area - that will allow the mare to be closely monitored and leave her ample room to get up and down easily during foaling.  She should be moved to this environment at least 2 weeks before foaling for exposure to the bacterial population in the area so that adequate levels of environment specific antibodies are built up in the colostrum.

 

new-born-foal-1Make sure that you have your veterinarian’s contact details available and phone for assistance immediately if you are worried, as it is critical that the foal does not become stressed due to a prolonged labour. A normal, uneventful delivery should happen within 20 minutes of the mare starting contractions.  

Fig. 1 Both resting after the birth.

 

After foaling the mare should remain lying down quietly with the foals hind legs still inside her and with the umbilical cord intact so that the foal continues to obtain blood from the mare. (Fig. 1)  The umbilical cord may separate spontaneously or be broken when either the mare or the foal attempts to stand. Be on hand to remove the membranes from the foal’s face so that it can breathe, then leave the mare & foal lying down to bond with each other and observe them from a distance. (Fig 2)new-born-foal-2

 

 

                                             Fig. 2 Getting to know each other.

 

 

 

foaling2Immediately after birth the normal foal will shake its head a few times and endeavour to sit up. As it becomes stronger it generally succeeds in gaining a normal sitting position during the next 15-20 minutes. At first its efforts to stand are very clumsy and it may fall over at several attempts, but it will gradually gain strength and should be able to gain its feet within the first hour. (Fig. 3)

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Provided the foal is getting stronger there is usually no reason to interfere unless the mare is upsetting the foal. This can sometimes happen in maiden mares, and it may be necessary to simply restrain her with a halter and lead rope as the foal attempts to find the teat and suckle.  If she fidgets and moves away and refuses to let the foal drink it may be necessary for your veterinarian to tranquilize her until she becomes accustomed to the foal and accepts it drinking. (Fig. 4)   

                                                                      

            The first few hours of the foal’s life are critical.  

 

     A healthy newborn foal should:

 

  •  Breathe within seconds of birth
  •  Lift its head within 5 minutes
  •  Stand within 60 minutes
  •  Vocalize (call to the mare) 60 minutes                
  •  Attempt to suckle within 60 minutes
  •  Walk / canter within 90 minutes
  •  Takes its first sleep within 2 hours.

 

           It is a very busy time for the NEWBORN foal.

 

Once the foal is established bathe the umbilical stump with dilute iodine solution to prevent infection. The stump should dry within 3 days, but if it continues to leak fluid (possibly urine), or becomes smelly, call your veterinarian.

new-born-foal--4It is important for the foal to drink at least 2 -3 litres of colostrum during the first 12 hours of life. It may suckle from 3 to 5 times per hour, consuming 50-60 mls at a time.

 If your mare does not have sufficient colostrum, it may be obtained from another newly foaled mare. Your veterinarian or a nearby horse stud may be able to help obtain a supply. Colostrum is essential to provide immunity against infections during the first vulnerable weeks of life until the foal can establish it’s own antibodies. A blood test to measure the antibody or immunogloblin level of the foal can be conducted by your veterinarian, and if necessary antibodies may be administered via plasma.  Inadequate antibody levels will make the foal less able to defend itself against bacteria that cause diarrhoea, pneumonia or joint-ill.

 

Another important activity for the newborn foal is to pass meconium – the first sticky, dark-coloured pellets of dung that have accumulated in the intestine while the foal is in the uterus. Some straining is often necessary to pass this stool, but excessive un-productive straining should be investigated by your veterinarian to prevent serious impaction. This is particularly important in colt foals which have a more narrow pelvic structure. If the meconium is not passed the foal will become listless and may stop drinking – resulting in dehydration which is a serious problem.

Once the foal is up and active, check the limbs for severe abnormalities that may prevent it from moving well. It is common for foals to have some limb deviations due to the long time they are confined within the mare’s uterus, but if these deviations are severe and prevent normal movement you should consult your veterinarian.

Also check that the foals eyelashes and eyelids are turned out and that the lashes are not irritating the surface of the eyeball. If there is any discharge from the eye – call your veterinarian.

 

New Foal Check List 

 

You may suspect trouble and need to call your veterinarian urgently if your foal appears normal at birth and any of the following signs appear:

 

  • Behavioural changes – foals should become stronger and more active over the first few days. The first sign of trouble may be increased lying down and sleepiness. 
  • A distended abdomen and failure to pass urine in the first 8 hours. 
  • Failure to pass meconium – with frequent straining to pass manure and signs of abdominal discomfort. 
  • A jaundiced or yellowish appearance and listless behaviour. 
  • Diarrhoea with depression and loss of appetite. (Do not confuse this with the normal loose motions that accompany “foal heat” in the mare, in which case the foal will still be bright, alert and still drinking.) 
  • Any swelling in the joints or lameness. 
  • Discharge, odours, swelling or staining around the umbilical stump. 
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  • A build up of milk in the mare’s udder which may indicate that the foal is not suckling adequately. 

  

BUT REMEMBER – most foals are active, curious and normal and are well worth the time and effort it takes to ensure their well-being.

 

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 A Happy & Healthy Mare & Foal

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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