Foaling and Caring for the Young

Foaling or giving birth is a natural process and animals usually give birth without help. You should know when the mare is about to foal and keep watch on her as she may have difficulties.

The Signs of Foaling

Enlargement of the udder is the most reliable sign that foaling is close. A thick, clear secretion may be seen dripping from the teats and the vulva becomes swollen and loose. Put the mare in a stable or shelter with plenty of clean bedding to give birth.

Natural Foaling

The mare rarely has difficulty giving birth and usually gives birth at night when no one is around. The water bag breaks and the front legs appear followed by the foal’s head. When the foal’s shoulders are clear of the mother you can clear the membrane from around the foal’s nose to help it breathe. Sometimes the back legs of the foal come first but this does not present a problem.

The afterbirth will normally be passed within an hour after the foal has been born. You must check that it has been passed within 24 hours of birth. If it is not you will need to get veterinary help immediately.

Difficulties in foaling

If the mare is showing signs of distress and no foal has appeared or if the foal is in an unusual position you will need to get veterinary help. You may find that:

Only the foal’s head has emerged from the mother.
Only one leg is out.
There is no sign of the foal.

You can try to help deliver the foal in the same way as in a difficult calving Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, make sure your nails are short and scrub them well. Soap your hand well and insert it into the vagina to discover what is causing the problem. Try to correct the problem as for a calf or lamb and bring the foal’s front feet and head into the correct position for birth.

If the navel cord is attached to the young it is advisable to cut it 3 cm from the body of the foal. Tie a clean string around the end of the cord and dress it with tincture of iodine, Dettol or gentian violet (see R1, Annex 1).

Care of the foal

The foal should be on its feet within 2 hours and suckling within 4 hours. It is essential that the foal takes colostrum from its mother immediately and if the foal has difficulty in suckling you should milk the colostrum from the mare into a clean container and feed it to the foal with a bottle. If a foal has not had colostrum within 8 hours it can become infected.

Foals are weaned after 10 months if the mother becomes pregnant again. Otherwise the young animal may be left to suckle from the mother until it is 20 months old.

Foals should be trained to the head collar at an early age and should become accustomed to being tied up. Use a safety knot when tying up animals so that they may be quickly released if necessary.

Castration of the Colt Foal

The young male (colt) should be castrated when 2 months old. Animals up to 2 to 3 years old can also be castrated.

If your community has many equines it is advisable for you to purchase an emasculator which is a tool which crushes and cuts the testicular cord. Castration can be done with a knife but castration should be carried out by a veterinarian and you should ask for advice and assistance when it comes to castrating equines.