Hour 1: Your foal’s first mission in life is to stand and be walking about by one hour of age. If the foal has not yet gotten up on all fours by one hour of age but is attempting to stand, you can assist them in trying to balance. Dr. Mrad is quick to point out, “Do not get in between the mare and foal.” A mare can quickly become aggressive to protect her foal from a perceived threat. It is a good idea to always keep one eye on the mare.
If the foal does not stand on its own between hours one and two then it is time to call your veterinary for guidance. Remember not to panic. It is always good to be prepared and have your vet’s 24-hour emergency number on speed dial or posted on the stall so someone else can call quickly without fumbling for the number.
Hour 2: Your foal should be successfully nursing by the END of hour two. Dr. Mrad recommends, “Letting nature take its course,” and don’t try and force the baby to the teat. The baby will have some trial and error but instinct should take over.
In the case of some mares, and even more so with first-time mares, the baby will be trying to reach the teat and the mare will turn to look at it. This results in the mare moving her hind end away from the foal. These repeated efforts result in a mare and foal walking in a continuous circle. The mare isn’t rejecting her foal…she is probably just curious, or anxious, and maybe a little confused. If you see this happening, Dr. Mrad recommends “Holding the mare in place.” This should help her relax and give the foal a chance to latch on.
If the foal is showing no desire to nurse between the 2-3 hours of age then your veterinarian should be called.
Hour 3: The mare should clean and drop the afterbirth by the end of the third hour after foaling. “It is a veterinary emergency,” explains Dr. Mrad, if the mare does not drop the afterbirth by the end of the third hour.
Just as important as delivering the placenta is delivering a complete placenta. Make yourself familiar with what a fully delivered placenta looks like and inspect it. If a portion of the placenta remains in the uterus, infection and toxemia can occur.
After the placenta is delivered, turn it inside out and lay it out flat so you can examine it. You should see the body of the uterus, the pregnant horn, the non-pregnant horn, the umbilical cord, and cervical star (tends to be point of rupture where foal emerges). If all of these are present then look for tears or abnormalities. If you notice yellow or brown staining that could be a sign of fetal stress. Retain the afterbirth so that your veterinarian can inspect it.
If these critical events in the 1-2-3 Rule are delayed, contact your veterinarian immediately. Generally they are easily corrected if detected early.
Foaling Questions & Answers With Dr. Mrad
Q: How long should it take for the foal to completely deliver?
A: Full delivery should take place in 15-20 minutes. If the foal is not completely delivered at the 20-minute mark it is time to call your veterinarian.
Q: What should an owner do if a foal gets stuck in the birth canal?
A: If you are inexperienced at foaling, contact your veterinarian. There are some things an owner can do to with the guidance of a vet that may help. In some instances we can walk you through correcting a problem over the phone. If the foal is emerging in the incorrect position it will likely get stuck. You should see the two front feet first (hooves pointed down) and then the nose. If you see one leg, or a hind end or foot, or the nose emerging first this is not a typical birth and will likely require veterinary assistance.
Q: What is the reason for using straw in the birthing stall as opposed to typical bedding?
A: During birth, the baby moves back and forth in the uterine canal. Shavings start to stick to the foal and can inadvertently get stuck in the uterus as it moves back and forth. Once the baby and afterbirth have both delivered, you should quickly change out the soiled bedding.
Q: What foal maladies should owners look for that would require a veterinarians quick attention?
A: If the foal is colicking, having trouble breathing has diarrhea, won’t nurse, is a lethal white; or the umbilical cord continues to bleed, veterinary assistance may be required.
Q: What if my mare rejects her foal?
A: It is extremely rare that we see a mare reject her foal. Stay out of the way and give the mare and foal time to bond. Your mare will begin bonding by licking, nuzzling, sniffing, and nickering at her baby. If the mare is not doing those things it is okay, don’t panic just give them some time. Some mares are nervous about their foals and may just be confused. First time mares can sometimes be like a bull in a china shop and need a little direction. Just keep a watchful eye to make sure she doesn’t accidentally harm the foal. If the mare is going to reject her foal it usually happens within the first 24 hours. Signs include ignoring the foal, pushing it away, or aggressively pawing at it. Again, the biggest problem is that first time mares don’t know what they are doing.
Q: How many times a day should my foal nurse?
A: It’s not how many times a day, but how many times an hour. On average, foals nurse 7 times an hour….around the clock.
Q: How do I know if my foal is getting enough milk to drink?
A: A foal will nurse for very short periods of time. If it suckles for more than 30 seconds at a time, it may not be receiving enough milk, and a supplemental feed or milk replacer may be required. If it is trying to nurse all the time it is probably not getting enough milk. If the foal is satisfied, you will know because it will sleep in-between feedings. If you suspect your mare isn’t producing enough milk, contact your veterinarian for an evaluation. Even if you try to express some milk it may not be a true indicator of how much milk is being produced. Your mare may tense up during the collection process causing less milk to drop, resulting in an inaccurate measurement.
During lactation, a mare will produce an average of three gallons of milk per day. But in order to do so, she must receive ample feed and water. Be sure to observe your foal’s nursing habits. Peak lactation generally occurs during the second and third month of a foal’s life, and at this time your mare will need almost double the amount of feed she required during her early pregnancy. In addition to extra energy, her diet must include adequate protein, vitamins and minerals to keep her own body reserves from depleting. By feeding your lactating mare a proper diet, you can help ensure that both foal and mare will enjoy the healthy lives they deserve!
Q: How soon after a foal is born should it be evaluated by a veterinarian?
A: If the birth is completed with the 1-2-3 rule, then the baby can be checked 12-24 hours after delivery. At that time your veterinarian will do a complete neonatal exam. They will examine the eyes, palate, bite, heart, lungs, umbilical cord, and check for hernias. They will also check to make sure the baby is urinating and has passed meconium.