Vet Corner: Dr. Davang on Preparing for Foaling Season

Dr. Lauren Davang is a 2017 graduate of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. She is an equine general practitioner in Wharton, Texas with a passion for equine reproduction. In her spare time, she is a competitive barrel racer and American Quarter Horse breeder along with her family.

Follow Dr. Davang on Facebook – @LaurenDVM

Preparing for Foaling Season
by Dr. Lauren Davang

2023 is here, which means foals will be hitting the ground soon. Here is my annual summary of preparing for foaling.

1- Have a list of breeding dates and due dates so you know when to give certain vaccines and when to start foal watching.

By this point, you are hopefully current on giving your EHV-1 vaccinations either at 5,7, and 9 months or 3,5,7 and 9 months depending on the risk factors of your herd. Going by your estimated due dates, you should vaccinate your pregnant mares about 4-6 weeks before their 340 due date with core vaccines plus any other vaccines your vet thinks may fit your breeding program. My personal mares get vaccinated for Flu/Rhino, Eastern, Western, Tetanus, West Nile Virus, Rabies. Some farms may also do more, so talk to your vet. By timing these vaccinations, you are stacking the odds in your favor for strong, potent colostrum. The antibodies in the mare’s colostrum are what the foal uses to protect itself while it’s own immune system learns the ropes throughout the first few months of life. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT and can save you vet bills and potentially your foal’s life!!!

2- Get in the habit of checking your mares at least once a day, but ideally I check them twice.

I watch for mammary development, vulva elongation, and softening of the muscles around the base of the tail. Many, but not all, mares will wax prior to foaling. Many, but not all mares, will also drip milk prior to foaling. You can get the test kits and gadgets but nothing- n o t h i n g- replaces good observational skills. If you notice your mare has been heavily leaking milk for days on end, you should contact your vet prior to the foal’s birth and plan on giving plasma. Once again, that colostrum- if they drip it all out, the foal will not get enough antibodies and will be susceptible to infections. This is called Failure of Passive Transfer and it can be deadly if not addressed quickly. Even if everything happens just fine, it’s good practice to have your veterinarian check the baby at 24 hours old (or within reason during business hours) and measure their IgG levels. This can be done on the farm and can tell you whether the baby received enough antibodies from the mare’s colostrum. If you check at that point, your veterinarian easily administer IV plasma before the foal starts to show signs of FPT and systemic illness.

3- CHECK FOR A CASLICKS!!!

For those who do not know, a caslicks is where a portion of the vulva is sutured together to help maintain a good seal keeping air and other debris out of the vagina. This is done usually because the mare’s conformation is lacking and she contaminates herself, which makes it hard to get her pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. But sometimes even maiden mares with normal conformation have a caslicks due to their job, like off the track horses or barrel horses… If you don’t remember if your mare has a caslicks or not, you can check yourself or have your veterinarian take a peek for you. I recommend having the caslicks cut 2-4 weeks from their due date. If you don’t have them cut, they can tear during delivery.

4- Get a plan together in case of emergency.

Know what clinics see emergencies near you. Find out if sick newborns or dystocias (trouble foaling) is something they can handle. And find out their policy on emergencies – are you a regular client and if not, do they see emergencies for those who aren’t? Figure out your nearest referral center. Have a list of phone numbers handy BEFORE you need to find them!!

5- Get a foaling kit together!

The majority of mares are great at having foals quickly and without help, but even if everything goes perfect, you need supplies. And if you need to intervene, it is best to be prepared. Have a relationship with a vet that sees emergencies before it’s an emergency. You can also send your mares to foal out at clinics or farms that offer those services if that suits your needs. Some ET facilities require their leased recips to be foaled out with professionals too, so check your ET contracts.

This is what I have in my foaling kit:

  • Towels
  • Scissors
  • Exam gloves and OB sleeves
  • OB lube
  • Sterile Lube
  • Thermometer
  • Saline enemas (you can find these at your local people pharmacy)
  • Vaseline (sometimes foal bottoms can get crusty and this can help with scalding)
  • Betadine or chlorehexidine to dip the navel (dip it at least two times during the first 12-24 hours of life)
  • Foal probiotics and anti diarrhea pastes. I personally keep FullBucket products on hand. They even make Foal starter kits that come with milk test strips too!

**check your horse trailer if you don’t haul often to make sure lights and tires and everything is in order in case you need to load up in case of emergency**

And finally, some quick “rules of thumb” regarding foaling.

There are 3 stages of labor.

The 1st stage is where the mare positions the baby. She is usually restless, may act colicky, and may be up and down and is uncomfortable. This may last hours. Stage 1 moves to stage 2 when the water breaks. **if you check on her too often she can and may hold off labor until you leave her alone. It is best to monitor where you aren’t constantly disturbing her**

Stage 2 is the active stage of labor. When the water breaks, a white bag should present shortly after. You should then see within the white bag two front feet and then the nose. ** 911 emergency is if you see a RED velvety bag instead of a white sac. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, google it, ask your vet or experienced friends, because you will need to intervene** For some mares this stage is very short, like 5 minutes, and in other mares it can last closer to 25-30 minutes. The biggest thing is there should be a clear progression of labor. If things aren’t moving forward, or you notice that the presentation is not normal- like no feet, or feet but no nose, or back feet, etc- call your vet and get a plan together.

Stage 3 is passing of the placenta. This sometimes happens pretty quickly after foaling, but can take up to several hours. Do not mistake the thin white amniotic sac for the entire placenta. That will come out, but you also need to see the thicker heavier sac (the chorioallantois) come out too. Check the placenta for tears or missing pieces. It should be a Y shape and should have ONE hole, the hole that the baby came out. If there’s holes in the tips of the Y shape or obvious pieces missing, or worse yet you see some membranes hanging from the mare AFTER 3 HOURS FROM BIRTH- do not pull it out- and call your vet. There are things we can do to facilitate getting the placenta out that won’t injure the mare or risk leaving pieces left behind inside.

The foal should be STANDING within ONE hour of birth, NURSING within TWO HOURS of birth, and the fetal membranes passed within THREE hours of birth.

Stay tuned for more critical foaling season reminders from Dr. Davang, and be sure to follow her on Facebook @LaurenDVM!

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