New Year, New Foals!
It's the start of foaling season, and therefore, a good time to dust off the old foaling manual. Normal gestational length in the horse is 335-342 days but can vary widely. The birth process in horses is quick, and often during the middle of the night. If you are lucky enough to witness the event, it can be exciting and stressful all at once. Once the mare's "water breaks", the foal should be on the ground within 30 minutes. If 20 minutes have gone by without any progression, call your veterinarian to apprise them of the situation. The clock is ticking at this point and if the veterinarian needs to reposition the foal, everyone will need to act fast.
Once the baby is on the ground, these are the THREE most important guidelines to abide by:
1. Foal should stand within 1 hour
2. Foal should nurse within 2 hours
3. Mare should pass her placenta within 3 hours (save that placenta for the vet to evaluate later)
Foals are born with very little natural immunity. They require colostrum from their mother to have a healthy immune system. If they do not nurse appropriately, they are extremely vulnerable to bacteria present in the environment. Approximately 12 hours after foaling, the mare and foal should have a thorough physical exam performed by a veterinarian. During this exam, the foal will have blood drawn for IgG testing. The IgG tests helps us determine whether or not the foal has ingested enough colostrum.
It is important to monitor that the foal is urinating and defecating normally. The first feces, called the meconium, is dark and firm. The meconium consists of swallowed amniotic fluid and other cellular debris ingested during pregnancy. Sometimes the foal can have difficulty passing these feces and become colicky. A change in the color and consistency of the feces from dark brown/black firm feces to lighter brown and pasty feces indicates that the meconium has passed. First urination occurs 6-12 hours after birth. Foals should urinate frequently after that.
First vaccination begins at 4 and 5 months old with a booster vaccine 1 month later. Weaning is typically performed around 6 months old (although it can be done sooner) and castration is typically performed between 6mo and 1 year old. Deworming is important in young animals. We recommend that they be dewormed every other month with an alternating schedule of Pyrantel Pamoate and Ivermectin/Praziquantel.
There is nothing cuter than a new foal. Taking an active role in their health early on will ensure that they are healthy for years to come.