Getting Ready for Foaling

— Written By Paul Westfall

Mares that are allowed to follow the natural progression of estrus through foaling should start having their foals soon. The season runs from about May 1 through the summer months. If you have decided that it would be great to have young horses born on your farm, you may want to take stock of the supplies to have on hand for foaling.

Decide whether a foaling stall or a clean paddock will be used. In either case, the key word is CLEAN! If using a stall, be sure that the walls, feeder, and waterer are all cleaned with soapy water and then disinfected. Ideally, the stall should not be used until the mare is ready to foal. Add a thick layer of fresh straw bedding just before she starts.

If using a paddock, it does not need to be large. It should be securely fenced, especially if predators or the neighbor’s dogs are a problem. Ideally, the paddock should be grass and should not be used until the mare is ready to foal so there aren’t any manure or urine spots.

Here are some things to have handy for when the mare gets ready to have her foal. This list is not exhaustive, and others may have some items to add, but this covers most scenarios:

  • Stainless steel bucket (clean and disinfected)
  • Access to water (warm water preferred)
  • Towels
  • Soap
  • Gauze
  • OB sleeves
  • Scissors
  • Twine or strong string
  • Enemas – in case the meconium does not pass right away
  • Antibacterial solution for dipping the navel
  • Small container to use for dipping the navel
  • Umbilical clamp or rubber bands
  • Disposable latex gloves (good luck finding any right now!)
  • Obstetric lubricant
  • Blankets
  • Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries
  • Cell phone
  • Phone numbers for the veterinarian or a neighbor with experience with foaling
  • Tail wrap or gauze

Be sure to have these items ready before the mare starts to get restless, the udder starts filling out, the muscles over the tail heal and around the croup start relaxing, and/or a mucus discharge is noticed. Other signs of impending parturition include watching the calendar to see when 340+ days have passed since breeding, milk calcium levels reaching 200 parts per million – mares usually foal within 48 hours of reaching this level – or waxing of the teats. Again, when this is noticed, parturition will usually occur within 48 hours.

Being prepared will help reduce the potential of problems when the foal decides it is ready to see the world. As was mentioned above, the operative word is clean to reduce the chance of bacterial infection. The cleaner the stall, paddock, and checklist items are, the better chance the newborn and the mare have to avoid unnecessary infections or stress.

Some of the items on the list may not be needed, but if a situation occurs and one or more of those items are needed, there won’t be a delay while the item is found, and cleaned. Time is critical during foaling and delays add to the stress that is already pretty high for the mare and her foal. Being prepared and avoiding problems help insure that the foal is healthy and the mare recovers quickly. There are few sights more picturesque than a mare with her newborn foal in a clean paddock. Being prepared helps put that picture together.