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Foal coming: everything you need to know!

Is there anything that gives more joy than a mare and foal in the pasture? The mare is in her final days before giving birth and the foaling is imminent. An exciting moment! But how do you know your mare is getting ready? And what is important during and just after the parturition?


Not all mares in foal will equally show signs that the foaling is imminent. Typically, when your mare’s udder fills, a hollow develops on either side of the base of the tail, and wax-like beads appear on the end of each teat, foaling may only be hours away. Make sure that you have the following items ready or arranged in order to be optimally prepared for the foaling:

  • Towards the end of the gestation, have a birth alarm system ready for use.
  • Install a webcam, so you can also check on your mare from home.
  • Have a big foaling box clean and ready, with a thick straw bedding, so that the mare can lay down comfortably. Alternatively, prepare a safe paddock.
  • Ensure there is enough light in the stable (leave a lamp on also during the night).
  • Write down useful phone numbers, such as your vet’s phone number, or someone who can drive you should you need to take the mare and/or foal to a clinic.
  • Make sure you have some colostrum frozen in your freezer, or a Pavo S.O.S-kit, just in case something goes wrong with the mare, or if the foal does not want to drink.
  • Put a bandage on your mare’s tail, so you can properly watch the entire process.
  • You also need to prepare: towels, a clean bucket, Povidone iodine and iodopovidone shampoo, an umbilical cord clamp and a pair of scissors.

During the parturition

When the mare starts to give birth and the amniotic membrane is visible, check if the foal’s position is correct. Check if you can feel the two front legs and the head. If this is not the case, then the foal might be in a wrong position. Make your mare stand up and call the vet immediately.

The first 24 hours after parturition

The first 24 hours in the life of a foal are crucial. It is important that you check a number of issues (see table 1 below). After the birth, for resistance to diseases, the foal is completely dependent on the antibodies in the first mare’s milk, also called colostrum. Only during the first 24 hours, the antibodies can pass through the foal’s intestinal wall and be absorbed in the bloodstream. If the foal does not want to drink, if the mare suffers from mastitis or has died, then frozen colostrum or the Pavo S.O.S-kit containing artificial colostrum can offer a solution if it really is not working.

Table 1: What happens with a healthy foal?

A healthy foal                                       within:

Stands                                                < 1-2 hours

Nurses                                                < 2-4 hours

Urinates                                              < 8 hours

Intake of moisture                              < 12 hours

Pass the meconium                           < 12-24 hours

An orphan foal

It is the nightmare of every breeder: problems during the birthing. Should the mare or the foal not survive the birthing, than check the Facebook page of the Foster Mares and Orphan Foals UK. Through this page, you can try to arrange an adoption. Should you need a surrogate mare that has lost her foal, then check what the cause was. If a disease is suspected, it is better not to place a foal. Make good arrangements prior to the placement and put them in writing.
There are accommodations where several orphaned foals are placed together. Another solution could be a mare that did not give birth to a foal, but will lactate after a special treatment. Usually, in this situation, the orphaned foal is accepted more easily. During the foal season, Dierenkliniek Dennenoord in Duizel, near Eindhoven, has forty foster mares available that can be taken home with the foal from the moment of adoption to the moment of weaning, allowing the foal to be raised in its own environment. The costs are € 2.500. This seems a lot of money, however, the advantage compared to having to feed the foal a bottle every two hours, and the upbringing by a mare, teaching the foal normal horse behaviour, surely counterbalance the costs.

Weaning the foal

Most foals are weaned between five and six months of age, when it eats independently foal pellets and roughage. Read here more about feeding the foal. In order to allow the lactation to dry up gradually, it is wise to reduce the quantity of concentrates of the mare by half. Three days before the planned weaning, the concentrate feed should be tapered off all together. Ensure the mare gets sufficient exercise too.

Deworming the foal

It is advisable to deworm the foal between day four and day eight. This should be repeated after four to six weeks. After that, in consultation with your vet, a normal deworming program can be maintained. Note well: the deworming paste should be appropriate for foals.


Pavo S.O.S. Kit

Survival kit for the birth of a foal