Seasonal Breeding Behavior Horses exhibit seasonal breeding patterns.
In general, they are referred to as “long-day breeders,” because as the days increase in length in the spring, they come into heat.
Mares are also called “seasonally polyestrous” because they have multiple cycling periods.
The most likely breeding season for horses is the spring or summer.
Since light is a factor in controlling the seasonal breeding pattern, horses are sometimes called “increasing-light” breeders.
Most studies have indicated a tendency toward anestrus (not cycling) in the winter months; however, some mares may cycle during this time as well . BEHAVIOR AT FOALING TIME Behavioral traits associated with the birth process (parturition) are deeply rooted in the ancient development of animals.
A basic assumption is that animals have evolved behavioral strategies that insure their survival.
During the birth process, both the dam and her offspring are in a weakened state, and are susceptible to attack by predators.
Steps are taken to increase their safety.
In general, these steps may include location of safe sites for the birthing process, quickening the process, protecting the process, minimizing evidence of the process and achieving rapid recovery.
There are few things more disappointing than the death of a foal.
Most of these losses occur during or shortly after parturition (foaling).
Many of the causes of foal death are related to behavior.
Researchers have studied many aspects of horse behavior before, during and after foaling.
The serious student of horse ethology, for example, can find studies that detail behavioral traits of the fetus.
The following information should help the 4-H member have a better understanding of the behavior of the mare prior to giving birth.
This information includes the behavior of the mare before foaling, the behavior of the mare at foaling time, the behavior of the mare after foaling and the behavior of the foal during the period after birth. shown a range of gestation from 315 to 387 days, with an average of about 341 days.
There is evidence that smaller breeds tend to have shorter gestation periods.
One study, for example, found ponies had a gestation of 336 days.
The foaling date can be determined from a combination of a calendar estimate of gestation and by watching for physical signs of approaching gestation, such as distended udder, swelling of the vulva and teat secretions.
Behavioral changes in late gestation are generally minimal, and may not be observed until shortly before birth.
The first sign that can be observed — but not always — is the tendency for the mare to isolate herself from the rest of the herd.
One study conducted with freeranging horses showed that mares may separate as far as three miles from the herd, while another study in a desert environment found that many of the mares foaled near the herd.
Younger mares were less likely to seek isolation.
Mares foaling in pens or stalls will often seek a corner or an area that offers the most privacy. Mare Behavior at Foaling Time Mares prefer privacy at foaling time.
If possible, mares will delay birth until human observers are not around.
Mares generally foal at night.
One study, for example, indicated that approximately 80 percent of foals were born between midnight and 6 a.m.
Mares become restless during the first stage of foaling.
They will not eat, they may walk in circles, look back toward their flank, and switch their tails.
Some mares lie down and stand up repeatedly.
This restless period is usually shorter for older mares.
As labor progresses, mares may assume a straddling, 13 The Behavior of the Pre-Parturient Mare 4-H’ers who have a number of mares should learn to recognize the behavioral patterns that are characteristic of a mare that is about to give birth.
Mares will generally foal after an 11-month gestation, but this is highly variable.
Studies have crouching position, and they may urinate frequently.
When the mare starts expelling fluid, she may exhibit the Flehmen (lip-curling) reflex.
The second stage of parturition, actual birth, is usually shorter in duration than the first stage.
Shortly before the foal is born, the mare may sweat profusely, especially around the flanks.
If she is disturbed, the mare may temporarily delay the birth process.
This is why observers of the foaling process are cautioned to keep interference to a minimum as long as the birth process is proceeding normally.
The mare may be standing or laying down as contractions begin, but she usually is flat on her side by the time heavy straining is initiated.
The foal is usually born within 12 to 18 minutes of heavy labor.
First-foal mares are more likely to have labor that extends over an hour, but handlers should be ready to assist if it goes much longer than an hour.
If mature mares are in labor for more than one-half to three-fourths of an hour, assistance may be needed.
After the foal is born, the mare will continue to lie on her side for another 15 to 20 minutes.
This time is important for the mare to rest and to serve as a period for the blood from the placental tissues to pass into the colt.
A mare who is disturbed during this period may rise prematurely and sever the umbilical cord.
This is why it is wise to avoid disturbing the mare for at least 15 minutes after a normal delivery.
Handlers should also be aware that a normally gentle mare is likely to become nervous and protective during the first hours after giving birth.
The mare may, in her protectiveness, become aggressive enough to be dangerous to people. Mare Behavior After Foaling The post-foaling period is often called the third stage of the birth process.
If there has been a normal birth, mares will stand some 15 to 20 minutes after the birth of the foal and begin to nuzzle and lick.
This period, referred to as the “critical period” by behaviorists, is an important time for establishing the dam/foal bond.
The licking and cleaning behavior, which usually starts at the head, serves to stimulate the foal while also drying it.
The cleaning is probably also part of the initial bonding process, and is typically accompanied by vocalizations and a thorough visual and olfactory examination of the foal by the mare.
New-born offspring learn to recognize their dam by her voice.
The process by which the newborn foal learns to recognize its dam is called imprinting.
The cleaning/licking is also accompanied by nuzzling, which appears to assist the foal in learning to stand.
The mare usually starts the licking at the head, so that by the time she has reached the rear, she is able to assist the standing process by the nuzzling.
The mare normally remains close to her newborn offspring.
This is in contrast to other common livestock species.
Cattle, for example, tend to find hiding places for calves while the cow seeks food.
Sheep and goats tend to place their offspring in play groups while grazing nearby.
The mare and foal tend to remain in close proximity at all times.
The afterbirth is usually expelled within an hour or two after birth.
Another contrasting characteristic between mares and other livestock is that mares are not typically interested in consuming placental tissues.
Again, the mare is truly focused on her new foal.
The mare is likely to not appreciate anything that interferes with her companionship with her new best buddy.
Mares can identify her foal within hours of birth.
Odor is the primary recognition factor.
The most significant identification is usually made when the mare smells the rear area of the foal. Foal Behavior after Birth The foal may stand as soon as 30 minutes, usually after several failed attempts.
As soon as it is steady on its feet, often within an hour of birth, the foal will start looking for
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