Whether you choose to foal out your own mare or have someone else at a veterinary hospital or breeding farm does it for you, there is always a possibility that some complications might occur. Time is precious and we want you to be able to identify a potential problem as soon as possible.
Once active labor has begun, you should see the “water” break and the amnion (a white opaque to translucent material) bulge out of your mare’s vulva. If you see a red velvety structure, then you have a red-bag delivery. Action must be taken immediately or the foal will die due to lack of oxygen because the placenta has prematurely separated. Using your fingers or scissors, tear a hole in the red material until you see the translucent amnion and try to get the foal out. These foals often need assistance and become sick easily, therefore veterinary help/advice should be sought immediately.
Foal positioning is one of the most important factors of the delivery process. The foal should be in the diving position with its soles pointing down and nose on top. If you do not see two feet, and a nose with active contractions then there is a problem, and a veterinarian should be called. You can try to determine the problem and correct it before your veterinarian arrives but use extreme care.
Foals can get stuck at any time during delivery and often gentle traction can be useful, and in some cases more than gentle traction is required. Foals must be born in 20 minutes or less since the oxygen supply has been terminated (the placenta has started to separate from the uterus). Cesarean sections are reserved to save the mare 99% of the time; it is rare to save a foal once delivery has gone wrong. If a mare is trying to deliver through her rectum, an obvious bulge at the rectum can be seen and the foals’ feet and head need to be pushed back into the mare and redirected through the vulva.
Normal presentation of amnion, with front feet and nose of foal
Abnormal “red bag” presentation from premature placenta separation. This bag needs to be opened until you see the translucent amnion.
Complete or partial rectal tears will need initial veterinary attention and then are often repaired a few months after the trauma.
After delivery, the foal should be breathing, shaking his head and fussing with its legs. If your foal remains listless, stimulate the foal by briskly rubbing the baby and have someone call your veterinarian for advice or assistance. The foal should try and stand in less than an hour and be nursing by about two hours. Your foal should be nursing with vigor and should not have an excess amount of milk on its forehead or in its nostrils. If the placenta has not passed within three hours, a veterinarian should be called. A retained placenta can result in a uterine infection, fever, laminitis and sepsis, and can be life threatening. Once the placenta has passed it should be saved in a bag or bucket in a cool area for inspection so a veterinarian can determine if there are any abnormalities.
Follow-Up with your Veterinarian
Physical examinations of both mare and foal are necessary at 12-18 hours even if none of these problems have occurred. Foals should have their IgG and white blood cell levels checked. If these counts are low, then plasma and/or antibiotics should be considered. The mare should have an examination at the same time as the foal to check for the presence of a fever, tearing of her vulva or other abnormalities. Some mares can be colicky after birth due to uterine contractions but these should not last longer than a few hours or be too severe. Lastly, please do not hesitate to call The Equine Center if you have any questions or concerns. Remember that time is valuable and we are here to help!
Some simple things to remember:
1. Vaccinate your mare 300 days before delivery.
2. Have an adequate Foaling Kit (see our website for more information).
3. Know your mare and watch for signs of impending delivery.
4. Have a truck and trailer hooked up and ready to go to the hospital for an emergency.
5. Have a clean, safe, QUIET and dry place for the mare to deliver.
6. Once the water has broken, delivery should happen very quickly (20 minutes or so).
7. Once the foal has been normally delivered the foal should try and stand (1 hour) and nurse (2 hours) and the placenta should be passed in less than 3 hours (The 1, 2 & 3 rules).
8. Call your veterinarian if you notice any unusual symptoms.