Foaling Maiden Mares – Part 1 of 2: Pre-foaling behaviours
Hello all! I can’t believe it’s been a month already – time flies!
Thank you all so much for your feedback on the last article – it was really great to hear from all of you.
This week I thought I’d tackle a topic I get asked about a lot – maiden mares. The only foalings I’ve ever missed in over 200 mares have ALL been maidens. It’s not a nice feeling to find a surprise foal – especially when it’s your job to be watching them!
We’ll do a two part article on maidens – this month’s will be on maiden behaviours leading in to foaling, next month we will look at behaviours during and after foaling.
If you’re not familiar with the term it refers to a mare who hasn’t had a foal before. A mare is called a maiden whether she is pregnant or not, right up until she delivers her first foal. It differs, obviously, from the term maiden which is used to refer to racehorses who haven’t won a race.
The reason it’s important to talk about maidens, and the reason I get asked about them so much, is because they can be quite different to experienced or ‘multiparous’ mares. They’re so different that I generally dedicate an entire section of our Intro to Foaling Seminars to talking about maidens.
I recently posted a picture to my Facebook page:
Needless to say I got a LOT of comments on that post – mainly from people who had had fantastic maidens and pointed out that theirs did in fact follow the textbook. So of course there is going to be some – and if your mare ends up being one of those that does follow the textbooks then great – count that as a win!
I’d be stretching the truth if I said that any mare follows the textbook. We learn about all these signs and behaviours and gather all this information that’s going to help us to perfectly predict when our mares will foal – and they do what they want anyway. But maidens (making gross generalisations here) tend to be even less loyal to the textbook than multiparous mares.
My rule of thumb is to treat all maidens as though they’re going to show no signs and drop a surprise on me and then if they do follow the normal signs great – no harm done!
Below are some (not all, but a lot of common ones) surprises that foaling maiden mares might have in store for you!
Waxing up reeeeeeally early:
It’s not uncommon for maiden mares to wax up weeks in advance of their foaling date. This wax will normally be the colour of earwax and will be very small, on one or both teats. This can be quite normal for maidens. Keep a close eye on them for other behavioural changes and take note of any changes in consistency of the wax – as it gets thicker/more milk coloured she may be moving closer to foaling.
Foaling with no bag or wax:
But wait a minute – didn’t I just say maidens can wax up early? They can. This is what can make them so challenging. While one may wax up weeks in advance, its also not uncommon for maiden mares to foal with no wax and a very small/no bag. No wax means there’s one less sign to look out for – so don’t always count on seeing wax leading into your maiden mare foaling.
Mares that foal with no bag (maidens or otherwise) can be a bit more of a problem. Generally mares that have no milk will require vet intervention to help stimulate them to produce milk, and the foals will need supplementary colostrum in the first few hours of its life. If your mare is looking like foaling on no bag it may pay to speak to your vet and make a plan of action just in case.
Being very uneasy and restless:
As maiden mares have never foaled before it can be a confusing time for them and they can be very uneasy and restless as the foal begins to move into position. Behavioural changes are a very good sign that things might be moving in your maiden mare.
Showing no behavioural changes before foaling:
This is ALSO commonly seen in maidens. Confusing right? As I mentioned earlier, the only foals I ever missed foaling were maidens. Most of them had been checked inside of the last 60-90 minutes and had (at that point) shown no signs of foaling. Then when I turned up for their next check – surprise! Babies were landing/had landed.
Confused? Don’t worry – there’s a solution
Foaling maiden mares can be a bit overwhelming – especially when I tell you they can behave one way, or do the complete opposite. But there is one thing you can do to put your mind it ease if you’re foaling your maiden mare yourself.
TIP #1: In the final weeks before your mares due she should be being checked at least once per day, preferably twice – in the morning and in the evening. Mares can develop bags and other signs of foaling in quite short periods.
TIP #2: In at least the last two weeks before foaling check your mare every 90 minutes where possible. Obviously you’re going to be at work for a large portion of the day – so you can only do what you can. And because you probably work, you’ll need sleep. But wherever possible I would recommend checking your mare every 90 minutes at the minimum. The reason for this timeframe is that:
- You should be able to notice any obvious behaviour changes between checks
- If you’re checking her every 90 minutes and she has problems then these shouldn’t have progressed too far, provided everything was normal and she wasn’t looking like foaling when she was last checked
- If you arrive to a foal 90 minutes after your last check then she clearly didn’t need your help!
TIP #3: Foaling alarms! Foaling alarms have saved many a difficulty foaling and helped owners to get some well-deserved sleep. Different foaling alarms work in different ways but they all serve the purpose of helping you to be notified when your mare is foaling. Many vets and saddleries hire alarms out so it’s an option that’s well worth looking at.
That’s it for pre-foaling. The key is to remember there is no guarantee what behaviours any mare will show foaling. The best thing you can do is to gather as much information and be checking your mare as regularly as possible. As always, if you have any concerns about the health or wellbeing of your mare or foal you should always contact a vet. I would also encourage you to do some research – the more armed you are with information, the better; but hopefully this has given you a good starting point!
Next week we will cover common maiden behaviours and problems during and immediately after foaling.
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