BY ASHLEIGH DAVIS
Hi everyone, hope you’re all doing well. The foals are hitting the ground thick and fast now – some showing the typical signs of foaling and others not so much, but that just comes with the territory when we’re foaling – it’s all part of the fun.
Over the last couple of months we have looked at Stage One and Stage Two Labour. Last month in Stage Two Labour we looked at the correct position of the foal for delivery and how to land them safely on the ground (all going well).
So once your foal is on the ground that’s the hardest part sorted right? Not so much. Getting your foal on the ground safely is definitely a huge part of the battle won – but there’s still a way to go.
Stage Three Labour is the ‘post foaling’ period and involves a number of milestones, some for the mare but mostly for the foal. It begins at the end of Stage 2 Labour once the foal is delivered and starts breathing, and ends (technically) when the mare passes her placenta. This is based off the average mare taking 2-3 hours to pass her placenta. As with anything, some mares fall into the ‘normal’ bracket, and some don’t. Some mares can take much longer to pass their placenta, while others can pass theirs as soon as they stand up after foaling. In this situation, while it is technically the end of Stage Three Labour in a textbook sense, in reality there are still a number of milestones that must be achieved before Stage Three Labour really ends.
The first milestone you want to observe is the foal moving into sternal recumbency within the first five minutes of being born. Sternal recumbency refers to the position your dog often lies in – body on the side but chest and head upright.
Ideally you will see a suckle reflex from your foal within the first 20 minutes.
Standing up is the next thing for your foal to tick off its list. Foals can stand as quickly as 30 – 45 minutes after foaling, but some may take as long as an hour and a half. Often fillies stand in a shorter time frame than colts. Your foal will be walking pretty quickly after getting itself up.
Most of the time they’re pretty good at getting themselves up, however on occasion they may require some assistance – particularly if they’re trying to stand in a muddy paddock and are having trouble getting traction. In this instance a small amount of support behind your foal once they get upright may be useful (just be careful once you let them go as they have a tendency to lean back on you and forget you’re not part of them!).
Once the foal is up and walking around it should be looking to drink pretty quickly. Initially the foal may try to suckle off anything that gets in its way – including the wrong part of the mare, walls, and even you on occasion if you happen to be around. Their instincts are pretty amazing though – and they’re pretty good at finding their way to the milk bar. Sometimes it can take a while to get to the right end and get the right angle. How long the foal takes to find the right spot can also depend on the shape of the teat (amongst other things) and how easy it is to find.
To help your foal out it doesn’t hurt to milk out the mare a little and rub some milk around the teat to help get the foal in the right place. As many of you may know it is very difficult to just ‘put’ a foal’s head in the right place and any pressure in one direction will be met with a lot of resistance in the other direction. The best thing to do is to be patient and do your best to guide your foal (if it needs it) without getting pushy.
It is important that the foal drinks as soon as possible, ideally around the two hour post-birth mark. The reason for this is because as the foal ages its ability to absorb the antibodies in the mare’s colostrum (the foal relies on these as it is born without antibodies) decreases significantly. Failure to take on adequate levels of colostrum can lead to a number of issues in a foal. We will look at colostrum specifically in a separate post at some point in the future. If the foal is struggling to find milk at the two to two and a half hour mark my practice has always been to strip milk off the mare into a bottle and bottle feed the foal at that point as a one-off. This is a personal decision that is up to you to decide whether you want to do so, and at what point, but for me I feel much more comfortable knowing the foal has had at least one good drink before that two and a half hour mark. We can then resume the hunt for the teat once the foal has had that drink. In the breeding world we refer to this as ‘getting the foal on the suck’.
The last big milestone for the foal is the passing of meconium (the first poo). This can sometimes happen while the foal is still lying on the ground after being born – this is ideal because it’s easier to see than trying to hunt through the paddock or box for the poo later, and also the sooner it happens then that means it’s one less thing to worry about.
The first poo a foal passes can be very hard and pallet/stone like – similar to sheep poo only harder. This can make it very difficult for the foal to push it out. To assist with this the foal is often given an enema not long after being born (you only need to try giving an enema to an active foal that’s found its feet once to understand why we do it when the foal is still new and confused by everything).
This enema helps to lubricate the foal’s rectum and assist in the passing of the meconium. Many human products can be used for foals – including Fleet (half a bottle to one Thoroughbred sized foal), Coloxyl and Microlax amongst other options. On the rare occasion where the foal hasn’t defecated within the first four hours of life it is advisable to contact the vet for advice, as they may need to intervene and assist to avoid further complications from meconium impaction (constipation).
Theoretically the last milestone that occurs in Stage Three Labour is the passing of the placenta. As I mentioned, this may sometimes happen on its own as quickly as when the mare stands up, however it can take a lot longer. Often difficulties arise when the amniotic sac (white bag) is torn away from the rest of the placenta in the foaling as this amniotic sac naturally provides weight to assist in passing the placenta.
If a mare has not passed her placenta within 6-8 hours post foaling then it is advisable to contact a vet. NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PULL ON, OR TRY TO REMOVE, THE PLACENTA. You are likely to cause a significant injury to your mare in doing so. Please contact a vet and let them manage it.
Once the mare has passed her placenta it is important to check it over for any noticeable holes or missing pieces. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for please hold on to your placenta and get a vet to check it the next day. Pieces of retained placenta inside the mare can cause her to get very ill, very quickly. Retained placenta is normally characterised by a pussy vaginal discharge in the day/s post-foaling and needs to be treated by a vet urgently if it is identified.
Stage Three Labour has a lot of important milestones that need to be passed so if you’re expecting a foal it may pay to make note of these milestones and record the time of your foal’s birth, as well as the time each milestone is achieved. The FoalEd App is not too far away and will provide you with prompts and notifications regarding milestones, as well as the ability to store them digitally so keep a close eye out for that!
If you want more information on foaling, including a lot of what is contained in The Horse Midwife posts (in more detail and with more information and images etc.) you can waitlist yourself for our Intro to Foaling Online Course (which is launching in October) at www.onlinetraining.foaled.co.nz
FoalEd will also be attending Equidays at Mystery Creek this year presenting alongside Equus Education so please pop along and say hi – would love to see you.
Until then, happy foaling all!
The Horse Midwife
P.S. As always please feel free to check out our Website (www.FoalEd.co.nz) or Facebook Support Group (www.facebook.com/groups/foaledsupportgroup), or download our free Foaling Roadmap at www.foaled.co.nz/getfoalingroadmap