Producing a healthy foal begins long before labour. It starts with having a healthy mare. Healthy mares have healthy foals, and healthy foals have healthy mares.
Exercise is an essential part of a healthy pregnancy – after all the uterus is a muscle too. One can reasonably ride a pregnant mare up to her last month. After that pasture turnout will be sufficient. Foaling on clean pasture ground, although more challenging to monitor, is advisable.
Good-quality hay, mineral supplement, salt, and fresh, clean water are the necessities prior to, during, and following foaling. If you need to add calories, increase the hay. If deworming and vaccinations are administered, be sure to give them six weeks before the expected foaling date.
During foaling, it is tempting to jump in and help the mare and the new foal, especially if things are going slower than expected. However, while it is a good idea to be available in case she needs you, most mares can and will foal entirely without help.
ONE, TWO, THREE
Once a foal is born, follow the one, two, three rule. The foal should stand within one hour, nurse within two hours and the mare should pass the placenta within three hours. Most healthy, vigorous foals are high achievers and easily make these checkpoints.
The mare may experience some mild cramping after foaling while the uterus prepares to, and eliminates the placenta. This is normal. Uterine discharge for a day or so following foaling is also normal. Discharge will be dark, thick and mucus-like in consistency. If it continues beyond a week or is malodorous, veterinary intervention is advisable.
The first milk produced by the mare is called colostrum. It is very energy and nutrient dense, most renowned for its ability to “jump-start” a healthy immune system. A healthy foal should receive 250 millilitres/one cup of colostrum every hour for the first 12 hours after birth. Milk flow is stimulated by the asking of a hungry foal. Young foals nurse frequently, keeping the mare’s udder stripped, often nursing more than 20 times a day.
The first feces passed by the foal is called meconium. It is a dark-green very sticky/tacky mass that accumulates in the bowel during fetal life and is discharged shortly after birth. It is not uncommon to see tags of sticky greenish meconium on the foal’s hindquarters within six hours of birth. This is evidence of a healthy ingestion of colostrum which provides laxative qualities. Movement of the foal early on as it follows the mare also stimulates healthy gut motility.
SLEEPY BUT ACTIVE
Healthy foals are always alert and have a strong affinity for the mare. Young foals play and move a lot, even if at first they only circle around the mare. They also lay down and sleep a lot! They alternate between being highly alert and in a deep sleep.
A foal lacking a vigorous vibrant attitude needs attention. When a foal “powers down” and fades like the screen saver on your computer particularly while standing, health is amiss.
“Foal heat scours,” the diarrhea that occurs in foals between seven and 10 days of age, is usually when the dam is experiencing her first heat since foaling. Foals with foal heat diarrhea are not systemically ill. They remain bright, alert, and continue to nurse well. This diarrhea resolves in a few days and needs no treatment. Young foals often eat feces during this time. Although this behaviour is not particularly pleasing to watch, it is normal for young foals and may be the way young foals populate their GI tract with friendly bacteria.
The connection between the healthy mare and foal does not stop when the umbilical cord breaks. There is a multitude of channels that continue to influence the foal’s development through the mother’s milk, movement and attitude.