Foaling Maiden Mares – Part 2 of 2: Pre-foaling behaviours
Welcome back! Thanks to everyone for the great response to our last article.
Last month we talked about some of the differences in behaviour you might expect to see in maiden mares before foaling. We had some great feedback so I’m looking forward to bringing you Part 2!
This month we’re going to cover some of the differences you may come across during and after foaling. On the whole maiden mares and multiparous mares follow a similar
Because maiden mares haven’t delivered a foal before it can sometimes be a bit of a tight squeeze getting that first baby out. The most important thing here is to not panic and rush in too quickly, because pulling the foal out before the mare is completely ready causes two problems.
- The mare may not learn to foal properly by herself – if she’s expecting you to pull it out and then next time you’re not there it can lead to problems.
- If you pull the foal out too quickly and before the body is completely ready there’s a chance that you may cause excessive tearing to the mare’s vulva. During the foaling process the mare’s body and muscles all relax naturally. Make sure her body has the chance to do this before you rush in and start pulling things out!
That being said, sometimes the foal is too big. Sometimes it will need assistance getting out. This is where it’s really important to have some calving/foaling straps on hand. These can be put on to the foal’s legs so you can assist the mare.
MAKE SURE that the straps close over the cannon bone, above the fetlock and below the knee – the fetlock joint is a lot weaker in foals and fixing the foaling straps over this joint can cause major injuries to the foal.
When you pull the foal it is important to pull in time with the mare’s contractions to minimise damage and maximise effectiveness. The pulls should also be on a slightly downward angle, as it needs to follow the natural curvature of the foal’s body and the mare’s uterus.
PANIC – PLACENTA
It’s not uncommon for maiden mares to panic when they stand up and feel the afterbirth/placenta flapping around their back legs. Unfortunately the more they panic and try to run away from it, the more panicked they become as it flaps.
Be aware that your mare may panic and be extra cautious when she stands for the first time after foaling. If she will let you do so the best thing is to tie the placenta into a knot so that it is not hanging around her legs. This also helps to keep the membranes intact and assist her naturally to pass the placenta. Below is a photo of a mare’s placenta tied into a knot. Make sure you pull the knot all the way through – placentas are pretty slippery and pretty good at undoing themselves if not tied up nice and tight!
If your mare does panic make sure that you and the foal are out of harm’s way first and foremost, and then tend to your mare. She will likely calm down on her own eventually. Reassuring her, doing your best to keep her calm and tying up her placenta should help you to get it sorted.
Foal rejection is something that can happen in any more but is slightly more common in maiden mares. This is often because of the confusion about the whole process. Most mares are confused in some form at their first foaling, but generally the hormones take over and nature does its thing.
On rare occasions mares will show no interest in their foals after foaling, or worse; will be aggressive towards their foals.
There are several methods of managing this issue. These are outlined briefly below:
- Physical restraint: Using either handlers, twitches, or barricades the mare is restrained to prevent her moving and allow the foal to drink. The hormone, oxytocin, which is responsible for milk let down is also called the ‘love’ hormone and can help to foster the bond between mare and foal. Often this is a very successful method, particularly for maiden mares, and once the foal has had a few drinks there is a good chance the mare will accept them.
- Positive reinforcement – behaviour modification using treats and rewards to encourage good behaviours (such as nuzzling the foal, letting it drink etc.) and is especially effective when used in combination with physical restraint (above).
- Vet intervention – if the above methods fail then contacting your vet may be your next point of call. There are a number of pharmaceutical options available to vets to help encourage the foaling bond between the mare and foal.
- Surrogate – if all of the above options fail then sometimes the only option is to attempt to foster the foal onto another mare or raise it as an orphan. This is a more difficult option and ideally a last resort.
The most important thing when dealing with a mare who is rejecting her foal is to ensure the safety of all the people and horses involved. The handlers and foal are particularly at risk.
MILK LET DOWN
It is not uncommon for mares to foal on very small (or non-existent) udders (known as bags). We covered this last week in Part 1.
If a mare does foal with no bag there are generally two ways it can go.
In some mares the milk may come on very quickly after foaling. Earlier I mentioned a hormone called ‘oxytocin’ which is responsible for milk let down. This hormone is also what causes that mare’s uterus to contract at foaling so there is a lot of it flowing around her body at this time. Often this is enough to stimulate the development and let down of milk for the foal.
If the mare’s udder does not start to fill in the hour or so immediately following foaling it is likely that she is going to need veterninary intervention. There are a number of drugs a vet can prescribe to assist in milk let down.
If you are concerned that your mare is close to foaling and has no (or a very small) bag it is worth contacting your vet before foaling to make preparations and see if there is anything you can do.
Your foal is going to need good quality colostrum as soon as possible (at the latest it needs its first drink in the first two to three hours after birth) so if your mare does not have milk available you may need to look at alternative sources of colostrum for your foal. Your vet may be able to help with this.
Ultimately foaling as a pretty complex experience – even with mares who have foaled many times before. And while maidens may be predisposed to having additional issues, with the right knowledge and observations there is no reason that they can’t do just as well as multiparous mares.
Have you foaled maiden mares before? Did you see some of these behaviours? Or perhaps some different ones? I’d love to hear about your experience from you so feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember – if there’s something you want to see just let me know!
Until then, happy foaling all!
The Horse Midwife
P.P.S If you haven’t already – this information and more is available for download as part of our Foaling Roadmap