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Delivery Pending: A Checklist for Mare OwnersBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 18, 2017

Your broodmare is about to be busy! Is she ready for foaling, nursing, and rebreeding? If you’re unsure, consider this eight-point checklist.

1. Be sure tall fescue was not offered during the mare’s third trimester of pregnancy. If there’s any chance she consumed this forage, which might have been contaminated with a fungus, watch for dystocia (difficult birth), red bag (premature placental separation), and expect delayed parturition. Call your veterinarian to discuss possible measures to counteract the effects of the fungus.

2. Mares should be all nestled into their foaling stalls well before their anticipated foaling date. This allows mares to become familiar with new surroundings, including shifts in neighbors and routine.

3. Mares should be in moderate or moderately fleshy body condition at the expected time of parturition, or a 5 or 6 on the nine-point Henneke scale.

4. Review the basic milestones of the birthing process and first few weeks and months of a foal’s life to know what to expect.

5. Monitor the mare so you’re in attendance at the foal’s birth, as most problems can be better managed if they’re identified quickly, but only assist the birthing process if necessary. If you’re uneasy about foaling, consider hiring a foaling attendant or sending the mare to a reputable foaling farm. 

6. Ensure your foal nurses within two hours of birth. The mare’s first milk, colostrum, is the most important meal a horse will ever have.

7. If your foal doesn’t nurse during that “golden period,” do you have a backup plan? Powdered colostrum, frozen colostrum, a nurse mare, and hyperimmunized equine plasma are all options to explore prior to foaling.

8. Have all foals examined by a veterinarian within the first 24 hours of life.

“Don’t forget about the value of vitamin E, yeast, and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation before, during, and after foaling to benefit both mare and foal health. EO•3, for example, is a potent, effective source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids,” recommended Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research.

Rest assured that even if your checklist is only partially completed, most foalings proceed uneventfully. One study conducted in a completely unmanaged herd maintained in western Manitoba, Canada, found that the overall survival rate of the 334 foals was nearly 80%*. 

*Haas, S.D., F. Bristol, and C.E. Card. 1996. Risk factors associated with the incidence of foal mortality in an extensively managed mare herd. Canadian Veterinary Journal. 37(2):91-95.