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Ready, Set, FOAL! Part I – Care of the Pregnant Mare

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You’ve been watching your mare slowing growing in girth for the past 11 months. The time is drawing near for a little foal nicker to be heard in your barn.  Are you ready for the big event?  Here’s a time line of things to do to get your mare (and yourself) ready for foaling.

5, 7 and 9 months gestation:  Your mare should be vaccinated against  rhinopneumatitis EVH-1 at 5, 7 and 9 months gestation.  Check with your veterinarian to see if you live in an area where a 3 month rhino vaccine might also be advised. There are two different types of rhino vaccines- one for respiratory rhino (EVH 1/4) and one specifically to protect pregnant mares (EVH-1).  Check the label to make sure the vaccine protects against EHV-1 abortion. 

During the last trimester of your mare’s gestation is when her nutritional needs increase the most.  In the last 120 days of gestation, the fetus will be gaining weight at a rate of up to a pound a day.  To meet these demands, the mare’s digestible energy and protein levels need to increase.  Mares on grass hay should be on grain formulated for pregnant mares that has 12-13% protein.  Mares on alfalfa hay can get by with a grain ration that contains 10% protein. Mares should be maintained throughout pregnancy on a vitamin and mineral supplement that is specially formulated for pregnant mares.    Free choice water and a salt block should be available at all times.

60 days before her due date:  If your mare grazes on a pasture that contains fescue, move the mare from the pasture to a dry lot or a fescue free pasture.  Fescue can contain an edophyte fungus that can cause a variety of severe problems for the pregnant mare, including a lack of normal pre-foaling signs, increased dystocias  (difficult births), thickened placentas, “red bag” foalings and a lack of udder development and milk production even after the foal is born. 

30-45 days before her due date:  Vaccinate the late gestation pregnant mare 30-45 days prior to her due date to ensure that the mare has ample time to develop antibodies in her colostrum. Pregnant mares should be vaccinated only with killed or inactivated vaccines.  Talk with your veterinarian about which vaccines are needed in your area.  These vaccines are likely to include are Eastern and Western encephalitis and Tetanus (EWT), West Nile Virus (WNV), intramuscluar strangles, rhino/flu and in some areas, Potomac Horse Fever, EVA or botulism.  Check with your veterinarian to see what he or she recommends for your area.

30 days prior to foaling:

–       Move your mare to the place where you are intending to have her foal. If you are taking her to a foaling facility, now would be the time to move her in order for her to develop adequate antibodies to her surroundings.  This is also the time to acclimate the mare to her foaling stall, new pasture or new location. 

–       The foaling stall or stall that the mare will be living in should be disinfected prior to moving the mare in. 

–       Open the mare’s caslicks, if she has one.  A caslicks is a surgical procedure that closes the top portion of the mare’s vulva to prevent her from sucking in air or debris that can contaminate the mare’s uterus.  Racehorses commonly come off the track with a caslicks, and it’s not uncommon for older mares or mares with a tilted vulva to have a caslicks. 

–       Start making daily observations of the mare’s vulva, udder and upper tail head muscles (looking for signs of muscle laxity, or a “dropped” look around the tail head).  Observe her behavior and appetite.  A journal of these findings might prove useful for in later years as mares tend to follow similar patterns foal after foal.  The following should be watched for and noted:

–      Udder development- mares will start to “bag up” as much as a month before foaling.  As the mare gets closer, her teats will fill, the teats will point to the ground and eventually become tightly engorged.

–      Softening and elongation of vulva- the vulva in the pre-foaling mare will become long and soft in preparation for foaling.  This occurs two weeks to 2 days prior to foaling. 

–      Relaxation of the muscles around the tail head- muscle and tissue laxity increases as the mare gets closer to foaling.  This causes the tail head to appear more prominent and the tail itself will lose the ability to clamp down as it is lifted up.

–      Consistency and color of mammary secretions changes- a drop of two of the mare’s “milk” can be excreted and observed for changes.  The closer the mare gets to foaling, the thicker and whiter the fluid will appear.  Milk calcium and pH levels can be tested with water hardness test strips to help determine foaling readiness. 

–      Drop in body temperature- 24 hours prior to foaling, the mare’s temperature will drop.  Check your mare’s temperature twice a day- if her temperature in the evening is equal to or lower than her temperature was that morning, foaling is getting close.

–      Behavior- loss of appetite, restlessness, frequent defecation and urination, rubbing her tail, frequent lifting her tail, pawing, circling, sweating and agitation are all signs of impending foaling.

–      Waxing- drops of thick, yellowish to white waxy secretion with a honey like texture the ends of the mare’s teats.  Most mares wax 6-36 hours prior to foaling.

For stages of labor, read Ready, Set FOAL! Part II, The Time has Come- Foaling Time! 

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