Mares usually foal about 330 to 345 days after a successful breeding, but they may foal a week or so earlier or later than this window. Experienced broodmare managers know some of the usual signs that show a mare is close to giving birth. However, first-time breeders may not as be familiar with these signs. In order to be more prepared for delivery of a foal, anyone keeping a pregnant mare should watch for these indications.
Changes to the mare's udder will be seen during the last month of pregnancy. In the weeks before foaling, the udder may appear fuller in the morning and less full as the mare exercises during the day. When the udder stays distended all day, and especially when the teats enlarge and begin to point slightly to the side rather than straight downward, foaling is getting close and the mare should be checked frequently.
Many mares will develop beads of colostrum at the ends of the teats within 12 to 36 hours of foaling. This “waxing” is different for each mare and may occur earlier or not at all; however, it is considered a strong indication that the mare will foal soon. Some mares will actually begin to drip colostrum, losing fluid and antibodies that are vital to the newborn foal's protection from disease. If the mare is losing a lot of colostrum, it should be collected, frozen, and fed to the foal after birth.
Muscles in the mare's pelvic area will begin to relax a few weeks before foaling occurs. Watch for the appearance of hollowed areas on either side of the top of the tail. Like other signs, this change is more obvious in some mares than in others. Within the last day or two before foaling, the mare's vulva will also swell and relax.
Toward the end of pregnancy, mares may show the same signs of discomfort that are seen in horses with colic. These include restlessness, kicking at the belly, looking at the flanks, and generally seeming irritable or anxious. An increase in these signs may indicate that the first stage of labor has begun, especially if the mare also shows patches of sweat on her neck and flanks. However, the actual delivery may still be hours away.
As prey animals, mares instinctively look for a quiet, safe place to deliver their foals. This same instinct keeps some mares from showing obvious signs that foaling is near, even if they are in familiar surroundings and in the company of trusted caretakers. Even among experienced foaling assistants, the saying is, “Only the mare knows exactly when she's going to foal…and she's not telling.”
Owners should be sure mares are in a secure, quiet place (foaling stall or paddock) if the mare is showing definite signs of labor. Entering the stall or even being visible outside it will keep some mares from proceeding, and stories abound of mares seeming to be asleep and then producing a foal while the caretaker runs to the house for a quick cup of coffee. A remote camera mounted in the foaling stall allows an owner to keep track of a mare's progress without interfering.
Article reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Visit equinews.com for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to The Weekly Feed to receive these articles directly (equinews.com/newsletters).
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