The expected foaling date should be calculated as 11 months and 5 days. At approximately 30 days before foaling, booster vaccines should be given and the mare should be dewormed. If fescue toxicosis is problematic in the area, foaling mares should not be allowed to graze fescue pasture and should not be fed hay-containing fescue within 30 days of foaling. Domperidone may be given in a daily oral dose of 1.1 mg/kg, beginning 15 days before the anticipated foaling date if the threat of fescue toxicosis cannot be removed.
Weather permitting, foaling can take place outside in a grassy paddock. The mare should not be allowed to foal in the presence of other mares. If a foaling stall is used it must be prepared by thorough cleaning and disinfection. Cleaning is the first step and a detergent must be used to disperse the lipid biofilm layer that may protect some pathogens. After the stall has dried, an approved phenolic disinfectant should be used to soak all surfaces within the stall. Feed tubs and water buckets should be cleaned, rinsed, and allowed to dry before placing them back in service.
Then 2 weeks before foaling, the mare’s perineal area should be examined for conformation; the Caslick’s procedure should be opened if necessary. Signs of previous injury or tears may indicate that additional care is needed at parturition to avoid repeat foaling injuries.
On most large farms there will be a nighttime foaling attendant. This individual is trained to watch for the signs of stage 1 labor and then wrap the tail with gauze, tape, palpation sleeve, or some combination of these items, and wash the udder and perineal area with cotton soaked in a weak solution of water and povidone iodine scrub. A detergent is necessary in the scrub to break the lipid layer on the skin. The scrub should be rinsed off with water. After delivery, the umbilical cord is held close to the foal’s abdomen as the cord breaks, and the umbilical stump is immediately dipped in, or sprayed with, a navel dip solution. The application of navel dip solution is repeated again in 4 to 6 hours. Navel dip solutions such as 7% iodine are tissue destructive and should be avoided. Iodine-based solutions at 2% to 3.5%, povidone iodine solution at 2%, or chlorhexidine solution at 0.5% will reduce bacterial numbers without destroying tissue. Chlorhexidine scrub and povidone iodine scrubs have been used successfully as navel dips.
The newborn foal should be vigorously scrubbed with a towel to stimulate the foal’s movements and respirations. Then the mare and neonate should be observed from a distance for signs of normal or abnormal behavior. After the mare stands, the colostrum’s specific gravity should be tested to estimate quality. A specific gravity of 1.06 or greater is adequate. If the Eclipse refractometer is used a reading of 23% corresponds to a specific gravity of 1.06. It is good practice to collect a pint to freeze if quality is high. Colostrum with a specific gravity of 1.06 will have an approximate immunoglobulin (Ig) concentration of 3000 mg/dl. If the specific gravity of the colostrum is low, then 1 g of colostral IgG/kg of birth weight should be given by oral supplementation.
The soiled bedding should be removed and replaced with clean dry bedding. The mare and foal should still be observed for normal behavior. The foal should be in a sternal posture within 1 to 2 minutes, and a suckle reflex should be present within 2 to 20 minutes. Standing should occur within 2 hours, and the foal should nurse by 3 hours after birth. Once nursing has occurred the foal may be given a warm water or soap-based enema to facilitate passage of the meconium. Commercial phosphate enemas may be used, but repeated use should be avoided because of the absorption of the phosphate ion. If vital signs are taken, the foal’s temperature should fall in the range of 99° to 101.5° F (37.2°-38.6° C), the heart rate at 1 to 5 minutes should be greater than 60 beats per minute (bpm), and at 5 to 60 minutes it should be 80 to 130 bpm. The respiratory rate is high initially at 60 to 80 bpm in the first 30 minutes and then drops to 30 to 40 bpm within 1 to 12 hours after birth.