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Predicting Foaling

 

Most mares foal late at night or early in the morning when everything is quiet and they are undisturbed. They also have the ability to delay foaling for awhile if they feel insecure. This means that you can watch your mare for hours on end, week after week, then when you return after a quick break you find your mare has foaled on her own with no one peeking at her. 

Fortunately the majority of mares will foal normally without any assistance. But there are a few mares who get in trouble and need human intervention to prevent the death of the foal, the mare, or both. Therefore someone should attend all foalings. But how do you know when?

Although you should monitor your mare, you probably won't need to spend eleven months of nearly sleepless nights. Normal gestation for a mare lasts about 335 days, with some healthy foals born as early as 300 days and others taking over 360 days. However, foals born before about 320 days are usually weak, have a low birth weight, and may require intensive care. Environmental factors, sex of the foal, and age of the mare can all affect the length of gestation. Foals born during the early spring are often carried a week to ten days longer than foals born during late summer. Colts are usually carried a couple of days longer than fillies. Mares tend to carry their foals longer as they age - usually about one day longer for each year of age over ten years. Mares seem to follow a pattern year after year therefore good record keeping helps to predict when an individual mare will foal.

As foaling time nears, your mare will show various signs that she is getting ready. Not all mares will show all of the signs, but you should see at least some of the signs.

Signs of impending foaling

  • Size - The mare's abdomen will continue to increase in size. Beware though if she gets much bigger than you would expect for the stage of gestation. One of the signs that the foal is in trouble is when the mare's abdomen is huge.

  • Udder development - In preparation for foaling, the mare's udder will start to fill ("bagging up") as early as a month before she foals. But some mares won't develop a bag until after she has foaled. Often mares that have developed a bag will start to drip a clear fluid that gradually turns white. Within the last 24 hours or so before foaling the substance will turn sticky and creamy. This substance is colostrum, and if the mare is losing a significant amount it should be collected and frozen to give to the foal later.

  • Waxing - Once the mare has developed a bag, she may exhibit a honey colored, waxy substance on the nipples. Some mares may wax a couple of weeks before foaling, while others don't show anything until after they have foaled.

  • Relaxation around the mare's hindquarters - Often the muscles in the mare's pelvic area will gradually relax causing the area around her tail head to appear hollow. This may occur two or three weeks before foaling. Then her vulva will relax and elongate to allow it to stretch to several times its normal size during foaling. This often occurs within the last day or two before foaling.

  • Behavior - During the last few weeks of gestation, the mare may become cranky and restless. She may also want to be alone. As she starts into the first stage of foaling she may switch her tail, stamp her feet and kick at her abdomen. These are also signs of colic, but if she is still eating, drinking, defecating and/or urinating she is probably started into labor.

Now that you know what signs to look for, how should you monitor your mare?

Many people monitor their mares by setting an alarm clock to wake them up every few hours and trudging out to the barn to look. But it seems like the more often you check, the longer you have to wait. Besides, mares are sneaky - they wait until you go back into the house and then they foal in privacy. So what do you do? You could just sleep in the barn, although that can be uncomfortable.

You could hire someone to watch or impose on family members to take turns checking on the mare. Hopefully your family doesn't mind.

You could buy a collar with a transmitter to put on the mare to alert you when she lies down on her side. Of course, there will be plenty of false alarms. It's amazing how many times a mare will lie down when you are monitoring her. Another system utilizes a transmitter that is attached to the mare's vulva. The transmitter is activated when the vulvar lips are separated just prior to foaling.

You could install a closed-circuit television to watch the mare in her stall. An advantage of using this system is that you can monitor the mare without disturbing her. But although you don't have to trudge out to the barn every few hours, you still need to be watching the monitor when the mare starts to foal. Then there is the cost of installing cameras, cable and monitors. A similar, but less expensive, option is to install a baby monitor in the stall. You can't see the mare, but you can hear her as she moves around.

You can also monitor the calcium concentration in the mare's milk. There are commercial kits for this, such as Predict-A-Foal. When the mare's udder starts to fill, place a couple of drops of milk on the test strip and watch for the color to change. Always do this in the evening. Once two out of four zones on the test strip change color, you should start checking the mare's rectal temperature in the morning and in the evening. When her evening temperature is equal to or less than her morning temperature and three or four out of four zones on the test strip change color, you should monitor the mare around the clock as she will probably foal within the next couple of days.

Perhaps the best idea is some combination of monitoring techniques - such as a collar to warn you to check the television monitor. Otherwise, make sure your alarm clock is working and you have plenty of coffee available.


 


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