THE FOALING MARE
1. Prior to going to stud. Please ensure the necessary blood and bacteriology tests are done with plenty of time and not at the last minute. Remember the samples have to be run at a laboratory and they take time to obtain a result.
Also ensure that the necessary vaccinations are up to date some studs require these vaccinations to be completed before they arrive at the stud. Always check with the stud well in advance for the necessary requirements.
2. To anticipate the time when your mare will foal it is important to know the covering date and the gestation periods.
3. Distension of the udder may start up to six weeks ahead of foaling but it normally starts two to four weeks ahead, and the teats start to fill 7-10 days prior to foaling. Slackening of the base of the tail starts 1-3 weeks before foaling and the vulva relaxes 48 hours before foaling. These are the physical signs of the birthing process but it is essential that you have good clinical observation and the knowledge of your mare and her own idiosyncrasies.
4. There is unfortunately an increasingly number of devices that aid in the prediction of the imminent foaling or foaling itself, but however good and sophisticated these may be there is no substitute for being present at the birth.
a. Video surveillance is useful to watch the mare in her stable from the warmth and comfort of your home. This does have the advantage of not worrying the mare by checking on her every hour or so. Some mares do get put off. One company Avtech offers a wireless system that allows you to access your wireless cameras video over the internet.
b. Alarm systems connected to the mare sweating or being excessively restless are used
c Colour coded test strips can be used to analyse the mare’s milk. It has been found that the calcium level in the milk rises steadily with the onset of foaling. The milk can be tested once or twice daily when foaling approaches. The calcium level rises from 500 ppm when foaling is imminent.
d .Another system utilises a transmitter which is stitched on to the edge of the vulva and a tiny magnet stitched to the other side which is attached to the transmitter. When the mare goes into labour and the vulval lips part the magnet is pulled from the transmitter which activates a receiver to sound an alarm.
These technological developments can be useful in predicting foaling but only if they are utilised with ongoing observation.
Stage 1….Most mares are restless at this stage. They walk around their box snatching a mouthful of hay or not eating at all. She may lie down, roll, kick at her abdomen, stamp her hind legs…very similar to colicy symptoms. The reason for this discomfort is that the foal rotates from on its back to being presented on its stomach with its feet forward. At this stage the cervix dilates providing access to the birth canal. Just before serious labour she will sweat around the shoulders flanks and chest. Some mares will exhibit this stage for a day or two or even several days…..Most mares will follow a set pattern year after year so it would be prudent to keep a note of her idiosyncracies.
Stage 1 ends with the rupture of the chorioallantoic membrane (water bag breaking)
Stage 2 This is the actual birth stage and it often lasts no longer than 20-30 minutes. The foetal placenta will start to separate from the uterus during the birthing process. The foetus continuing to receive oxygen from the mare’s blood via the umbilical cord where the placenta is still attatched. The foal is then squeezed through the birth canal pushing past the placental membrane at its point of rupture. The fluid between the placenta and the amniotic sac lubricates the vagina. A normal presentation means that the front feet emerge within the amnion ( a translucent bubble surrounding the foal) the first foot about 3 to 4 inches in advance of the other. This expedites passage through the birth canal. Further contractions and the foals nose appears and will be at about knee level. The amnion will usually by now have ruptured. Repeated contractions releases the head and body the foals hind feet often remaining inside the mare for some minutes after the rest of the body has been expelled.
Stage 3 This involves expelling the placenta and the associated membranes..(afterbirth). This can take from about 15-20 minutes to several hours to be expelled.
These are explanations of what may happen when the foaling process does not go as according to plan. Veterinary assistance in these cases is usually sought.
1. RED BAG PRESENTATION
Red bag presentation is when the placenta is presented at the vulva instead of the amniotic sac. This occurs when the placenta has prematurely separated from the uterine wall and the mare is trying to void all the structures in one go. So the two intact bags with the foal are being expelled..note there will be no attatchment of placenta to uterus so the foal is not receiving oxygen. When this occurs it is important to quickly cut the placenta reach inside for the feet within the amniotic sac, which is then broken and remove the foal manually.
2. ELBOW LOCK
One foot is presented in front of the other to allow easier passage through the birth canal, when this is not the case, a condition known as elbow lock occurs. This is suspected when one or both feet are presented at the same level as the muzzle, with one or both elbows lodged against the pelvic brim. By repelling the foal to allow room to extend first one elbow, then the other, to permit delivery, rectifies this.
3. CARPAL FLEXION
This means the head is ready for presentation but one or both knees are flexed. This is suspected when checking the vagina the nose can be felt but not the feet. Once again the foal is pushed back into the uterus and carefully repositioning the legs for delivery.
4. FOOT NAPE POSTURE
This is when the foal’s head is in the vagina with the two front legs crossed over the head with the points of the hooves pointing towards the roof of the vagina. This must be sorted quickly lest the strong contractions of the mare can result in perforation of the vagina and rectum. Correction involves repelling the foal repositioning the legs so they are under the foals chin.
5. HEAD DEVIATION
This is when the head lies towards the side of the foal or towards the belly. This is suspected when the legs are presented into the vagina without the head. Because the length of neck can be long this presentation can be difficult to resolve. An epidural anaesthetic, copious amounts of lubricant and the use of a head snare may all be required to bring the head into place. The head is usually brought into position at the same time the body is repelled back into the uterus. The epidural anaesthetic eliminates the contractions allowing the foal to be pushed back into the uterus.
6. POSTERIOR PRESENTATION
This is a very rare finding. The hind legs are usually lodged at the pelvic brim. This is suspected when despite the mare giving severe contractions no foal appears. A vaginal exam locates the presence of a tail. The hocks are pushed forward to present the feet which are then pulled.
7. DOG SITTING
This is extremely difficult to resolve. In this situation the hind legs are drawn up or flexed beneath the foal’s underside and lodged against the pelvic brim. In theory the legs should be pushed forward so the hips can enter the birth canal. This is usually impossible and when caesarian is by far the easiest option.