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Foaling Tips - Mares & Foals

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What can you expect when your mare is going to have a foal
Information on foaling, birthing, mares and foaling tips

So your mare is going to have a foal. What can you expect and how can you be prepared for the big birthing day. Here are just a few hints and tips we find helpful.


It is recommended that mares receive a pneumabort K vaccine at 5, 7 and 9 months of pregnancy. This vaccine will help the foal from aborting and it will protect it from contracting pneumonia from herpes virus. This is in addition to the regular vaccines. A tetanus toxoid vaccine about a month to six weeks prior to foaling is very important to both the mare and foal. 

Remove all fescue hay or grass from the mare's diet 3 months before parturition. Fescue can cause complications such as low milk production, prolonged pregnancy and hardening of the sac surrounding the foal which makes delivery more difficult. Please note that all horse's feed changes should be done slowly over a 5 to 7 day period.

The mare should have free choice of hay, (but not fescue). Alfalfa or an alfalfa grass mix is preferred in late pregnancy and while nursing.

Beginning 3 months before the foaling date, gradually increase the mare's grain ration by 25% at an increase rate of about 2% per week.

If your mare has not delivered 15 minutes after the foal's head begins to crown, call you veterinarian!

It is important to make sure all the afterbirth is completely discharged from the mare within 6 hours after foaling. Two ways to check this are: (1) Lay the afterbirth on the ground. If the tissue forms an "F" shape, it is probably all discharged. (2) If the afterbirth almost fills a two gallon bucket, it is probably all discharged. If this is not the case, then please contact your veterinarian.


Check to make sure the foal does not have a split in the roof of its mouth, (cleft palate).

The foal needs to nurse within 12 hours of birth in order to receive the best benefit from it's mother's colostrum. The foal begins to lose it's ability to absorb colostrum after the first 12 hours following birth. Colostrum contains natural antibodies that protect the foal from certain diseases. The mare's first milk will be rich in colostrum and it is very important that the foal get this first milk.

Use 1% Iodine or Betadine scrub to clean the foal's navel 3 times in the first 24 hours.

An enema should be given within 6 hours of birth, especially if the foal has not had a bowel movement.

If you have a stud colt, make sure his penis drops when he urinates. (Note: A colt is always a male and a filly is always a female. Many people still call all foals "colts" regardless of their sex.)

Some veterinarians recommend a penicillin injection - 1 cc for every 30 pounds, (usually 3cc for an average size foal).

A tetanus antitoxin injection should be given in the muscle.

A foal should receive its first set of vaccinations at 4 months of age with boosters a 6 months and 1 year old.


Watch your calendar. Pregnancy lasts around 340 days, + or - 30 days. Your mare may foal in 310 days or as long as 370 days.

Mare's vulva lengthens and softens.

Muscles beside mare's tail head will soften.

Mare's abdomen distends.

Mare's udder begins to fill with milk and may start to leak.

Teats may wax or seal over.

Signs of restlessness; circling in her stall, frequently getting up and down, looking at her abdomen.

Elevation of tail.


Increased rectal temperature.

Reddening of vaginal mucosa.

The above hints and tips are not meant as a diagnosis, treatment advise or replacement for the medical advisement of your veterinarian. It is offered as a general informational resource based on personal experience and study.

The Foaling Mare Management Guidelines

By Kenneth Gallagher, D.V.M., Veterinary Medicine
Extension; and John F. Leech, Extension Agricultural Agents,
Genesee and Oakland Counties, Michigan State University

A live, healthy foal is the result of considerable time, money and effort. Good management practices should not be relaxed at any time in an equine program and especially not prior to the time the foal is weaned. The mare should be on a regular worming, exercise, and vaccination schedule and an adequate nutritional program, and the horse owner should have an established relationship with a veterinarian who will be available for advice or emergency calls.

Variation of the gestation period in the individual foaling mare is important as it relates to length of pregnancy and other aspects of foaling. Mares may change their foaling habits from one year to the next. The "normal" length of gestation is 340 days; however, this is an average and there are documented cases of "normal" pregnancies ranging from 315 to 365 days. Pregnancy examination by a veterinarian, known breeding dates and the foaling signs exhibited by the mare are helpful in predicting the time of parturition.


The foaling stall should be prepared in advance. It should be at least 12 by 14 feet, clean, maintained at a comfortable temperature, and located in a quiet area of the barn. The stall should contain foaling rails if possible to keep the mare off the wall and out of corners. Because straw is less adherent to the wet foal's mouth and nose, it would be the bedding of choice over wood chips or sawdust. It is desirable to foal on clean pasture where there is minimal exposure to infection, but many farm managers, owners and veterinarians prefer to have the mare inside where she can be closely watched and assistance can be provided more easily when necessary.

The expectant mare should be closely watched during the last month of pregnancy. The signs observed will help determine when to change feeding practices and when to move the mare from the maternity area to the foaling stall.


Mares may exhibit all or none of the following signs: the musculature around the tailhead becomes soft and flaccid 2 to 4 weeks before foaling. The genitalia relaxes, and the udder begins to fill during the same period. The mare may show signs of uneasiness during the last two weeks of gestation. Waxing of the teats (sticky droplets on the ends of the teats) occurs 24 to 28 hours before foaling. Milky fluid may leak from the teats for hours or days before parturition. Some mares, especially maiden mares, might not produce milk until after foaling. Move the mare to a foaling stall 7 days before expected foaling.


Reduce the grain and feed a more bulky ration which includes bran at least 1 week before foaling. One pound of oats and two pounds of bran morning and evening is recommended to decrease the likelihood of constipation before and after foaling. This ration will also discourage heavy milk flow, thereby decreasing the chance of scours in the foal and mastitis in the mare. After foaling, the grain can be increased gradually over a ten day period until a full grain ration is resumed.


Keep the mare in the foaling stall. If possible, an experienced person should attend her. This attendant can be helpful if problems arise but must know his or her limitations and call a veterinarian without delay when problem signs appear.

A list of commonly used items to have on hand at foaling should include: umbilical cord antiseptic (50% tincture of iodine and 50% glycerine), towels, clamp to crush the cord, flashlight, enema kit, plastic garbage bag, tail wrap, scissors and twitch.

Wash the mare's genitalia with a mild soap. If the mare has had a Caslick's operation (the vulva sutured), open the vulva with a clean pair of scissors. Wash the udder to remove only secretions and dirt buildup between the two glands. Wrap the tail and readjust wrap (remove and reapply) several times each day until foaling is complete.

The Three Stage Labor Processor Process

STAGE 1 - During the first stage of labor, the muscles of the pelvic girdle relax, allowing the bones to spread so the foal can be positioned toward the birth canal. This stage will last from 2 to 24 hours. Movement is often noticeable as the foal turns into position. The abdominal wall above the flank and behind the ribs becomes concave, and the tailhead becomes more prominent. Uterine contractions cause nervousness, erratic eating, sweating, pacing, tail switching and frequent urination. Colic can also cause these signs, and it is possible for a mare to become colicky from constipation prior to foaling. If the colic signs become severe or the signs continue for hours, call a veterinarian.

STAGE 2 - The second stage of labor can last from a few to 30 minutes and include contractions and delivery. It is important to leave the mare alone at this point if birth is progressing normally. Disturbances may interrupt or prolong the birth process. The mare has very powerful uterine contractions, and when the unborn foal is positioned in the birth canal properly, delivery can occur in a relatively short period of time (10 to 15 minutes). Birth usually occurs shortly after the outer water bag ruptures. If birth does not occur within a reasonable length of time (20 to 30 minutes) after strong contractions begin or shortly after the rupture of the water bag, malpositioning may be present, and a veterinarian should be notified.

Presentation of the foal's front feet, soles down, relatively close together, one slightly more advanced than the other, occurs first in a normal delivery, and the nose of the foal should be positioned between the front legs near the knees.

Most mares are down during the delivery of the foal; however, some insist on standing. Standing mares should be tied or held to prevent walking. An attendant should stand behind the mare so the arriving foal can be assisted. A fall may not only injure the newborn foal but also tear the umbilical opening in the abdominal wall and predispose the foal to a hernia. The urachus (tube leading to the urinary bladder) may also tear, causing urine leakage into the foals abdomen.

Do not pull on a foal progressing slowly through the vagina. If birth progress stops for more than ten minutes in one spot, apply gentle traction times with the contractions. If the foal feels "locked in," rotate the body one way, then the other; this might allow the hips to slip through the pelvic opening of the mare. Call a veterinarian if this technique is not immediately successful. Walk the mare until the veterinarian arrives.

Suspect malposition of the foal and call a veterinarian when only one foot is present, more than two feet are visible, feet are upside down, the nose does not appear, or the nose appears without the front feet.

As the foal emerges, the inner sac usually breaks. If the sac does not break, free the foal from the sac and wipe the nose and mouth. Foals not breathing well should be rubbed vigorously with a towel to stimulate breathing. Allow the foal to lie quietly behind the mare for 10 to 25 minutes until the pulsations in the umbilical cord cease. This allows the foal to take advantage of the blood remaining in the placenta still attached to the uterus. Then crush the navel cord and separate it three inches from the body and dip in antiseptic (iodine and glycerine). This antiseptic will destroy bacteria, help dry up the stump, and prevent infections. Dip the stump again in a few hours. Some individuals also dip the feet (a possible portal of entry for bacteria).

The novice horse owner should be warned to be careful. A mare's disposition can change quickly from friendly to aggressive at this time due to maternal instinct.

STAGE 3 - The afterbirth is expelled during the final stage of labor with the aid of uterine contractions. Once the membranes are expelled, these contractions continue to decrease the size of the uterus. Colicky symptoms may also appear at this time which are caused by contractions of the uterine muscles.

Passage of the membranes should take only a few hours. Membranes which are not expelled within four hours are considered retained. Do not pull on these retained membranes. Tie them in a plastic bag near the mare's vulva to keep the mare from walking on them. A veterinarian should treat a mare with retained afterbirth to prevent possible uterine infection and founder (laminitis). Membranes which are passed should be saved in the plastic bag for the veterinarian to examine.

During this time, the mare will clean the foal which should be trying to stand. Foals not standing within the first 2 to 4 hours after birth may be weak or abnormal and may require special treatment. The mare should be "milked out" and the foal fed 4 to 8 ounces. This will stimulate most of the slow starters. The foal also needs first milk (colostrum) before 6 hours pass to help combat disease and to aid in eliminating fecal material which has built up in the intestinal tract. Once on his feet, the foal will generally find his way to the udder. "Milking out" a small amount of milk by hand will open and clean the teat ducts. Check the teats for soreness. Some mares will not accept their foal readily if their udder is inflamed. Let the foal find the teat himself; to help him by forcing his head is futile. Maiden mares should be held during this first nursing in the event they become anxious and kick at the foal.

An enema to help the foal pass meconium (sticky feces in the rectum and colon) is a preventive step because retained meconium in the intestine can form chunks and become impacted, causing the foal to strain to defecate and flag his tail back and forth. A fecal blockage might require corrective surgery if the enema does not relieve the problem.

A word of warning regarding the enema: long or sharp objects should never be placed in the rectum by inexperienced persons. A human rubber bulb syringe with the tip lubricated with Vaseline and gently placed no more than 1 inches inside the anus works well. A pint of warm soapy water is instilled and then allowed to be expelled. Repeat the process several times. The foal usually passes pieces of yellow-yellow brown manure (meconium). If the foal fails to defecate, becomes constipated or colicky, call a veterinarian.

Soon after parturition a veterinarian should examine the mare and foal for abnormalities such as cleft palate, heart defects, cataracts and musculoskeletal disorders. At this time, the veterinarian can also vaccinate against tetanus and administer any appropriate antibiotics. He should also examine the mare for damage to the reproductive tract and palpate the udder to check for mastitis. The mare should receive a tetanus toxoid injection at this time if she has not had a booster recently. The placenta should be examined to make sure it is completely intact. Retained placenta, even small pieces, could impair future breeding ability. After a complete examination the veterinarian can advise whether or not the mare should be bred back on foal heat, which usually occurs 7 to 10 days after foaling.

Good foaling management is an important aspect for optimum health and survivability of both the mare and the foal.

This document is copyrighted by: Michigan State University Extension

This information is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned. This information becomes public property upon publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU Extension. Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product or company.

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