In this post we look at five ways to tell your newborn foal is healthy.

I’ll never forget my first foal that I delivered – I was sure it was stillborn. I waited sitting in the caravan for so long watching the mares under the lights, trying to keep warm next to an oil column heater while simultaneously convincing myself I did NOT need to go to the toilet (the portaloo with no lights over the back of the garden).

I was so excited when the mare finally started foaling.

At that stage I didn’t know that it was normal for a foal to remain still until its chest had been pushed out. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead in regards to when the foal may or may not start breathing.

Needless to say the foal started breathing just when it was supposed to and everything else went like clockwork.

Thinking about that night and my first foal recently lead me to wonder the question – how do you know if your newborn foal is healthy? What should it be doing and what should you be looking for?

That’s what we’re going to cover in this post.

Normal Timeframes and Signs Your Newborn Foal is Healthy

  • Moving around immediately at birth (once the ribcage has passed through the mare’s vulva)
  • Pink gums (mucous membranes)
  • Eyelids turned in the right way
  • Sternally recumbent within one – two minutes (chest and head upright – like a dog)
  • Standing within one hour (fillies can stand as early as 45 minutes, some colts take closer to 1.5 – 2 hours, but they should start trying to stand pretty quickly)
  • Suckle reflex approx.10 –  20 minutes
  • Drinking within two hours (if not then give a bottle feed to ensure adequate colostrum)
  • Meconium passed within two – three hours
  • Heart rate 80 – 120 bpm
  • Breaths 30 – 40 bpm
  • Temperature 38- 39°
  • Capillary refill 1 – 2 seconds

The timeframes are intended as guidelines only. All times are subjective and each foal will be different but it gives you a good ballpark starting point.

1. Movement

A healthy foal should start thrashing and moving once its chest has been pushed out of the mare. At this stage it’s important to make sure that the ‘white bag’ around the foal’s face has been broken enabling the foal to breathe. Clearing the foal’s nose is also recommended at this stage to help clear the airways.

A foal that does not move when it has been passed out of the mare may require further stimulation or assistance. Sometimes rubbing the foal’s chest and neck is enough to get it moving.

It is likely that the foal is also not breathing if it isn’t moving. If the rubbing does not successfully get the foal moving and breathing then CPR or oxygen (if available) may be required to get the foal moving and breathing.

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Newborn foals are sternally recumbent (chest upright) within minutes of birth and are immediately reactive to their environment

2. Response and Vocalisation

Your foal should be responsive to touching or rubbing almost as soon as it’s born. It is also likely that the foal will vocalise at this stage – whinnying (often loudly) as it figures out what’s going on. It’s very common for foal’s to jerk their head as they look around immediately after arriving. These are all positive signs that the foal is alert and healthy.

3. Membrane Colour

It’s important to check your foal’s vital signs and one of the first signs you’re going to check in a newborn foal is the colour of their membranes. When the lip of a foal is folded back the membrane under the lip and the gum of the foal should be a healthy pink colour (the eyelids should also be nice and pink).

When gently pressed the gum will turn white and then colour should return to the gum within 1 – 3 seconds. This is known as the capillary refill time. A delayed capillary refill time is potentially indicative of something being wrong with the foal.

A foal that has had oxygen deprivation is going to have gums in some shade of blue. If this is the case this is an emergency as the foal’s body is not getting enough oxygen. CPR is often the only option available at this stage, but if an oxygen tank is on site then tubing the foal with oxygen is the first choice.

If the foal has blue gums this is AN EMERGENCY and you need to call the vet immediately,  even if you get the foal breathing. There may be issues following on from getting the foal breathing.

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A newborn foal looks for a drink from about 20 minutes of age

4. Suckle Reflex

Your foal should have a suckle reflex within the first 20 minutes or so. Newborn foals will attempt to suckle off EVERYTHING. This includes their mother’s face, the placenta (if that gets in the way), their own foot, you or even the ground if there’s nothing else around. The suckle reflex is a very good sign of a healthy foal.

5. Standing

Your foal should attempt to stand pretty quickly after being born. The average foal takes anywhere from 45 minutes to one and a half hours to stand but they attempt to start standing very quickly.

All these things can give you a very clear picture on whether your foal is healthy. The first three can be checked in the first few moments of a foal’s life – providing for an early snapshot of health and any potential problems.

The suckle reflex and attempts to stand will also appear very quickly. Remember – a sick foal will look sick so run with your gut instinct – if something looks wrong then it probably is. Make sure you have a contingency plan where you can in case something goes wrong, and have your vet’s after hours number programmed into your phone – just in case.

All the best with your foalings and remember – if you want more information on foaling, including a lot of what is contained in The Horse Midwife posts (in more detail and with more information and images etc.) we have loads of resources available for you!

Some of the exciting things on the go at the moment – the Intro to Foaling Online Course is now LIVE and LIFETIME ACCESS can be purchased at www.onlinetraining.foaled.co.nz

We’ve just concluded the very first “Prepare Yourself for Foaling” Challenge – but don’t panic if you missed it – there will be another one in 2018 – you can get yourself on the waitlist at www.onlinetraining.foaled.co.nz/challenge-signup

Until then, happy foaling all!

The Horse Midwife

P.S. As always please feel free to check out our Website (www.FoalEd.co.nz) or Facebook Support Group (www.facebook.com/groups/foaledsupportgroup), or download our free Foaling Roadmap at www.foaled.co.nz/getfoalingroadmap

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