Many things can be done to help ensure the health and early development of your newborn foal. Being present at the birth allows the owner to recognize possible problems and to get help with the process, if needed. If the foal is delivered without any complications, the owner can follow some simple steps to help give the foal an early, healthy jump on life.
Make sure the foal is breathing well- Even if the foaling went flawlessly, check the nostrils for bedding or obstruction that would compromise the foal’s ability to get air. Pull any placental membranes back off the nostril and muzzle region. Stimulating inside a nostril with apiece of hay or vigorously rubbing the chest will encourage better breathing. Listen for “gurgling” sounds that might indicate aspiration of fetal fluids, a problem that may need to be addressed by a veterinarian.
Remove the placenta- If the placenta is passed at the time of foaling or within 5-10 minutes, remove it from the foaling area and save it in a bucket or plastic garbage bag to be examined later by a veterinarian. If it is not passed, tie the exposed membranes in a “knot” that hangs to about the level of the hocks (can use baling twine, shoelaces, cloth strips, etc.). The placenta should pass within four (4) hours, if not, call the veterinarian.
Clean the mare- One of the biggest sources of foal contamination and eventual sickness is from the bacteria that come from the mare’s own hindquarter area. Before the foal gets up to nurse, clean the area around the mare’s anus, vulva and mammary glands with water and a mild soap. Use plenty of volume. This also gets the mare used to stimulation in the area before the foal gets “banging” around to nurse.
Dip the navel- Use either a non-burning iodine or chlorhexidine solution on the umbilical stump. This solution can be obtained from our office. Use a shot glass or 6cc syringe case to fully douse the proper area. Avoid splashing over a large area, as this could cause skin irritation. This can be done 2-3 times in the first couple of days. This may be easier to do when the foal is standing.
Clean the foaling area- Remove bedding and hay “soiled” with fetal fluids and blood as soon as possible after foaling. This is a prime source of contamination to the newborn. You may need to gently move the foal to a slightly different area of the stall, or to the front of the mare, to clean effectively. Add clean, fresh bedding to the area.
Feed some colostrum- Depending on your expertise and comfort level, you may “milk out” 2-4 ounces (60-120cc) of colostrum from the mare’s mammary gland and feed it orally to the foal before he/she has risen for the first time. This has been determined to aid their desire to nurse, provide some early nutrients and stimulate some important intestinal functions. The mare gets used to mammary stimulation and “milk letdown”.
Stand and nurse- Most healthy foals will be active enough to stand within one (1) hour after being born. They will usually find the mammary gland and suckle within two-three (2-3) hours. They should get stronger and more stable over time. If they weaken, veterinary assistance should be sought and stomach tube feeding may be necessary.
Imprinting- If you elect to “imprint your foal” for the benefit of future handling, this is the time. There are numerous references (videos, tapes, articles) available on the technique from Dr. R M Miller. If you prefer the mare to “imprint” the foal, this is a good time to stand back and just observe the miracle before you.
Pass meconium and urinate- The “first” dark feces (meconium) are usually passed around the time of suckling. Foals may strain fairly hard to pass these firm fecal pellets initially. Continued straining and obvious discomfort may be reason for concern. Enemas may be warranted but care should be taken due to the fragile nature of the foal’s rectal tissues. Foals will generally urinate within 4-8 hrs of birth. It is nice to witness this to be assured that things are working properly. If a foal, especially a colt, starts acting dull and the belly looks “swelled” at 24-36 hrs of age, with no confirmation of passing urine, veterinary assistance should be sought.
Veterinary Post-Foaling Examination- In the case of an “apparent” normal foaling, this should be done 12-24 hours post foaling. This involves an exam of the mare for any complications related to the foaling, milk production and an early assessment of her capability for rebreeding, if desired. The saved placenta will be examined for problems. A plan for nutrition, treatment or rebreeding can be developed with the veterinarian. The newborn foal is examined for physical health and any conformational concerns which may potentially impact future development or use as an athlete. Vitamin/Mineral injections and/or an enema may be suggested in certain conditions. A blood sample can be taken to determine if the foal has received and absorbed adequate maternal IgG antibodies (from the colostrum) that are an essential element of protection from infections during the first three months of life. If the level of IgG is deemed inadequate, appropriate treatment can be started. A CBC/Fibrinogen blood sample can help determine if the foal is at risk from a latent (hidden) low grade infection that may have been present during gestation. Depending on the vaccination and deworming status of the mare, a specific program may need to be planned for the newborn foal.
Mares have been successfully giving birth to healthy foals for millions of years. In most cases, very few complications develop. Following these guidelines during a normal birth will help to minimize and recognize potential health concerns later in development.