Published date: 03-2000 MANAGEMENT OF THE FOALING MARE & NEWBORN FOAL Dr Jennifer H Stewart BVSc BSc PhD MRCVS AAIM Dip BEP Equine Veterinarian and Consultant Nutritionist It is extremely difficult to compress so important and vast a subject as horse breeding into a small space and still more difficult to condense it into readable form.
The evolution of the horse goes back 50 million years and the relationship between humans and horses can be traced back to 20,000 BC, to the last Ice Age.
Said to have been fashioned by Allah from a handful of the Southwind, the Arab tap root is the worlds oldest bloodstock – passing to Europe via Egypt and North Africa and carried afar by the Arab seafaring traders long before the Christian era.
Mentioned in the Koran, The Prophet stresses the importance of preserving the pure Arabian bloodlines, giving specific instructions on how this should be achieved.
Following these precepts, in Middle Eastern countries today, a Moslem owner of an Arabian stallion will not charge service fees, so that even poorest owners of Arabian mares can upgrade their stock.
The Egyptians and Ancient Greeks were the first civilisations to practice selective breeding in horses.
Over 300 different breeds of domestic horse were developed in the course of many centuries.
The achievements have been impressive, but the basis for the large variety of breeds was created in the 50 million years that Equus evolved, created by nature before humans intervened.
Because of the stresses imposed by modern living conditions, management practices should wherever possible respect and mimic nature.
There are many ways in which we inadvertently and with the noblest of intent, work against the very life processes we most sincerely wish to support and foster.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to cover all aspects of mare and foal management, a working knowledge – based on the lore, wisdom and experience passed down through the ages – of best practice, what is normal and when to seek veterinary advice is presented.
Preparation for foaling: Three months before : Until the last 3 months of pregnancy, nutritional requirements do not differ from non-pregnant mares.
From 8 months pregnancy onwards, correct nutrition is essential, but simply feeding more may not be adequate.
The diet must be balanced and meet all nutrient requirements.
The milk of all species is low in minerals.
For this reason the fetal foal must store minerals – including copper, zinc, manganese, selenium and iodine.
These reserves are built up in the liver and will supply the foal with minerals during the most rapid period of bone growth the first 3 months after birth.
If the mare’s diet is lacking in these minerals, the foal will be unable to build reserves and bone and joint development will be affected.
If on good pasture, mares require only a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Both the amount and the ratios of vitamins and minerals are critical.
The graph below shows potential vitamin-mineral interactions. Feeding several different supplements increases the risk of overlap, toxicities, deficiencies and imbalances.
For this reason Mitavite has formulated Promita – a fully extruded, concentrate containing all recommended vitamins and minerals including protected, heat-stable chelated mineral proteinates.
This prevents mineral-vitamin interactions and improves mineral uptake and absorption.
Promita is used to balance both pasture and traditional diets.
Where pasture is limited or of variable quality then it is a source of roughage only.
A complete feed – balanced for energy, protein, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals – is required.
Extruded feeds offer significant advantages in terms of nutrient absorption and digestibility – reducing the weight of feed necessary to meet nutrient requirements.
Gut overfill is a risk factor for peri-foaling colics.
One month before: Mares should be vaccinated against tetanus and brought to the foaling location at least one month before foaling.
This allows the mare to produce antibodies to bacteria in the local environment and transfer this immunity to her foal.
In one study, the incidence of diarrhoea was 63% higher in foals born to mares recently bought to farms for foaling than it was in resident mares.
One week before: If the mare has had a Caslicks operation, this should be opened a few days before foaling.
Mares can be foaled in stables or on clean pasture.
Stables should be scrubbed with phenolic or iodophore compounds to kill bacteria and rotavirus.
Dirt or clay floors should be limed and rubber flooring should be cleaned and disinfected on both sides.
Straw bedding is preferable to wood or peat shavings as the latter are abrasive, cause contamination of the umbilicus, are readily inhaled by the foal, are more easily drawn into the vagina during foaling and double the risk of foal diarrhoea.
Predicting foaling time: The following table summarises changes, which commonly occur, but may not be present in all mares.
SIGNS OF IMPENDING FOALING Udder distension 2 – 4 weeks Abdomen drops, hollows in front of hips, relaxation of tail base 1 – 3 weeks Teats have clear, watery secretion, mare may become ‘clingy’ and seek 4 – 7 days 1 – 4 days your company Secretions become cloudy and wax-like, calcium levels rise 1/2 – 1 1/2 days Vulva becomes soft, no evening rise in rectal temperature Birth before 320 days is considered premature and before 300 or after 375 days is not usually compatible with life.
Two test which most reliably predict time of foaling are changes in rectal temperature and changes in calcium levels in udder secretions – rectal temperature indicating when foaling is likely and calcium levels indicating when she is not likely to foal.
Rectal temperature between 10pm and midnight is usually 0.1qC higher than mid-morning.
When evening temperature is equal to or lowers than the morning temperature birth will usually occur within 24 hours.
Mammary secretions can be collected to measure calcium levels.
A simple test-kit using colour change is available.
Because calcium levels increase to a maximum for 5 to 16 days before foaling, this method most reliably indicates when foaling is not likely to occur.
If calcium levels are low, the mare is not likely to foal soon, whereas if the level is high she will foal anytime in the following two weeks and most likely within the next 2 – 4 days.
Stages of Foaling: STAGE 1: WATER BREAKS Stops eating, restless, lying down and getting up (this helps 2 – 5 hours before delivery and 2-3 position the foal for delivery through the birth canal), hours tail before the membranes rupture (water swishing, sweating frequent urination – if disturbed at this breaks).
Delivery must occur within 30 stage, the mare can delay birth for many hours.
After the to 60 minutes after the water breaks.
Water breaks the mare cannot delay foaling.
STAGE 2: PRESENTATION 5 to 15 minutes after the water breaks the foal should be presenting at the vulva.
If it has not appeared after 20 to 30 minutes urgent help is required STAGE 3: DELIVERY 15 minutes or less to delivery The bag containing the foal presents at the vulva.
The two forefeet come first.
One foot is 10-15 cm in front of the other (this prevents the elbows squashing the chest as they pass through the canal).
The soles of the hooves should be facing down.
The muzzle appears, resting on the forelegs.
Most mares stand during this stage.
Most mares lie down and labour begins.
If the foal is not delivered within 15 minutes, she should be kept standing and walked until veterinary assistance arrives.
If the membranes are retained longer than 4 hours, the risk of infection and laminitis is high and veterinary assistance should be sought. STAGE 4: EXPULSION OF THE MEMBRANES 15 to 90 minutes after delivery The desire to intervene in a normal delivery should be resisted for several reasons.
Firstly, during natural unassisted delivery the passage of the foal forms an arch rather than a straight line.
When assistants grasp the front legs to hasten the exit of the foal, the direction of pull is generally straight and this has effects on chest compression, internal organ damage and the passage of the hips.
Second, the foal receives up to 1/3 (about 1500ml) of its blood volume after delivery, as the umbilical cord continues to pump blood into the foal.
If the cord ruptures prematurely due to overzealous intervention or the mare standing rapidly after birth, the foal is denied this transfusion and will be compromised.
The most important assistance at this stage is to ensure the membranes are not covering the nostrils.
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