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If I didn’t manage to convince you with my article last month on the dangers of home foaling, then I will give you as much help as possible to ensure a safe and healthy foaling result. My name is Jo Howard, I am an equine midwife and sport horse breeder. I will try to lead you through the process from pre-foaling, foaling, and to the first 7 days.
Head lamp and torch
Surgical or milking gloves
Mobile phone (vet’s number)
Covered bucket for Placenta and cleaning
One of the first signs of foaling is when the mare’s waters break. This is generally followed by the presence of the white bag (amnion) ballooning out of the mare’s vulva. When I see the white bag appear or the waters break I will quietly enter the paddock with my foaling kit, all the time talking calmly to the mare. Keep your distance until the mare lies down. She may sit initially or get up and down or roll before she finally lies on her side. Mares are often reluctant to lie flat but it is very difficult to deliver the foal in a sitting or standing position. Watch out for flailing hooves as the mare will often try extreme measures to deliver her foal. Wrap mare’s tail with bandage. Once the white bag is out you should see at least one leg sticking out of the vulva. Presentation is always one leg slightly in front of the other followed by the nose. Break open the white bag and gently grab the extended leg while you search for the other leg. Soles of the foal’s feet should be facing downwards. Pull second leg straight releasing the foal’s shoulder from the mare’s pelvis. Do not try to pull the foal out. You are there to assist only. When the mare has a contraction and pushes then you can pull on the two legs. When the mare stops pushing, you stop pulling. Check the foal’s nose is at the vulva. The foals head should be between its legs. If not reach into the vulva and feel for the head. Pull the legs downwards towards the mare’s hocks in a banana shape. The mare must do the work, with several good pushes she should be able to push foal out without your assistance. Once the foal’s chest is delivered the foal can breath and will often start to kick its legs. Don’t stop now as the hind legs could also be kicking and damaging the mare. Keep pulling the foal until the hips are released.
Leave the delivered foal behind the mare for a couple of minutes while you run your hand down the foal’s nose to get rid of the amniotic fluid, clear off the white bag from the foal, then drag foal by its front legs towards the mare’s head so she can remain lying down but can bond with her foal. At this point, the umbilical cord should break at its weakest point about 30mm from the foal’s belly. Blood may squirt out from the severed end so just pinch it together for a minute to stop the bleeding. Immediately dip the umbilical stump in disinfectant. I use a specimen pot with a disinfectant/antiseptic and hold it over the stump for several seconds. Rub down the foal with a towel. It will probably start trying to get up immediately. Using the baling twine in your foaling kit, tie around the top of the placenta that is protruding out of the vulva, then loop the white bag over the baling twine several times, tying it up into a tight bag. This will help the mare release the entire,placenta later. If the mare jumps up early and rips the white bag, tie it onto the remaining piece or use a 1 litre milk bottle half filled with water and attach to the piece of placenta sticking out of the vulva. This procedure will reduce the chance of a retained placenta and a vet call. At this point, leave the mare and foal alone to bond. Go and make a cup of tea.
You may think it is all over but its not. Observe the mare closely for next 24 to 48 hours. She may still haemorrhage or colic. Observe the foal from a distance if you can. After delivery, the foal will automatically try to stand and fall. After several attempts, the foal may just have a big sleep. Check the foal is breathing and leave alone until it is standing up. If you keep standing the foal up too early, it will just stagger around and fall over. Better for them to figure it out for themselves.
There is a 3 hour rule
If the weather is cold or wet, put a foal coat on the foal. Dog covers are great with Velcro fasteners. The foal should pass meconium after 6 hours. These are hard, big pellets that are black or dark in colour. If the foal is straining with its tail up, give it an enema or call the vet. You will need someone to hold the foal. Be very careful inserting the nozzle into the anus. You can use Microlax or just a wide nosed syringe with warm water and obstetric lube. You know when the meconium is finally expelled when the foal’s faeces if bright yellow. Dip the umbilical stump twice more over the next 12 hours.
The foal should drink every 20 minutes then lie down and sleep or run around.
While waiting for the vet, get the mare up and walk her around. She is unlikely to push while she is walking. Don’t let her lie down until vet arrives.
IgG This is a blood test to determine the amount of successful absorption of colostrum by the foal. Vet will take blood after 24 hours and within a day give you an IgG reading. Above 800 is considered successful colostral transfer. Below 800 means partial or little transfer. In this case the foal will need a plasma IV infusion to increase its immunity. Low immunity can lead to joint infection and inability to fight off infections, and potentially death.
Monitor your foal closely. For the first 7 days, the neonate foal is very fragile. If your foal stops drinking, appears listless or is scouring call your vet immediately. The faster the treatment, the better the outlook for your foal. Scouring can occur anytime during the first 7 days but the earlier it happens the more serious. You may notice wet diarrhea on either side of the foal’s bottom or a dripping wet tail. Call the vet urgently. A scouring foal will not survive very long without aggressive treatment. This is the popular treatment for a scouring foal: 3 days Gentamicin, 5 days Calefur, Metronidazole, Carafate, and Bio Sponge. Try to stay away from Penicillin as this is very hard to administer to a jumpy foal safely.
Foaling your own mare at home can be a fantastic experience or a fatal disaster. I always think that the loneliest place in the world is the foaling paddock at 3am in the morning when you mare develops foaling problems. Preparation and knowledge will help you through this process. Good Luck. If you have a problem or want to discuss your foaling, I am happy for you to call me 24/7, even at 2am in the morning while waiting for the vet. 027 685 7717.