We finally had our first foal of the season, a very handsome tall chestnut pinto with a pretty blaze down his face. He is a full brother to Mystical Oreo. Larry had driven home from the new farm to be here to help. But he was dead tired and sleeping. I left the phone on the bed just in case I needed help. About 9:30 p.m. after watching the mare on the monitor for an hour I went to the barn. She laid down about 10 minutes after I got there and broke her water. I always go into the vagina and check the position of the foal as soon as the water breaks if it is in normal foaling position and before the water breaks if the mare has been in hard labor and nothing is happening. This had all parts in position (two front legs and nose). I assisted by keeping a steady pull on the legs while she pushed.
The foal was strong and I fed him colostrum, gave an enema, turned on the heat lamp, blanketed him and I went to bed too. It was nice to sleep a night without worrying about waking up to look at the monitor. I did not have the assurance of an alarm system because our halter system was on the fritz and Larry has been working on the new farm, framing in the shop section of the barn. Life has been difficult without my technical renaissance man available. Our colt is really a beauty. Now that we have the digital video, we will video him and post a photo soon. Now it is back over to the other farm to make some decisions about which fence contractor to use on our pasture fences. I want to go look at their work before I make my choice.
I went to visit my mom overnight and returned home to a bagged up mare on Sunday. She did not test very high on the milk test strip, so I did not put a halter alarm on her. I felt she had another day or two.
Well, my husband, who went into the bedroom to watch TV on the bed, started watching the monitor and kept saying, “Are you sure that mare isn’t trying to foal?” She was doing a lot of pacing. Needless to say after watching her for a half-hour, I thought I better get her prepared. I ran to the barn, wrapped her tail, got the foal kit and towels out. I ran the wheel barrow up to the other barn to get a bale of straw. When I returned, she was down and ready to push. I threw the straw down in the stall. After getting on exam gloves and wiping her vulva down with iodine scrub, I went in to check for the foal’s position. It was all there ready to go, two feet and a nose. That is always a relief. In five minutes, out comes a solid bay colt with a star. He is very refined, seemed strong and very independent.
I usually hand feed 60 cc of colostrum to the newborns. He was not interested at all, even after an hour. I tried every variation of syringe for feeding the foal, rubber nose syringe, 35 ml. Syringe with plastic tube, syringe without tube. All were more or less unsuccessful. I think I did get a little down, but he spit most of it back out. It is times like that when I would like to know how to use a nasal/gastric tube. So I finally gave up and said, ” It’s all up to you, little Bud’.
He seems fine today. My husband was worried that he wasn’t sucking. But his little tummy was extended, so I think he was getting enough to make him full and sleepy. When he was awake, he was racing around his mom, bucking and kicking. This is always a comforting sign of a healthy foal.
I have been expecting a birth by two mares for several days. The mares were wearing the foaling alarm halters. I think they know I am watching with the beeper. They took turns lying down all night long every 1/2 hour or so setting the alarm off. I always look forward to six o’clock a.m. or so when they start getting anxious to eat. We don’t feed until 8:30, but they are awake and waiting. It is during that time I get some of my best sleep. The next mare to foal was a mare named Scott Creek Ice Queen. She is a pretty bay pinto. She is also a maiden mare, having never foaled before. Friends own Queen. They had sent the mare to Indiana to be bred to BTU a national champion Buckskin stallion. They had expected to have their farm up and running by this time. Because of delays, we were asked to do the honors. This was to be their very first foal. So needless to say the pressure to get a live foal on the ground was triple for me. My trusty sidekick, Larry, was gone to our new farm for the week to do construction and supervise the fence builders. I have a lot of confidence in my foaling abilities. But sometimes that vice grip my husband has is needed on the slippery legs of a foal in the birth canal when a turn is necessary. After three days of thinking this was it, the mare waxed and was rock tight. Feeling pretty confident I called our friends to let them know they would receive THE CALL tonight. About 10:00 the mare laid down and set off the alarm. I had been snoozing and awoke with a jolt of adrenaline. I called my neighbor with whom I had made arrangements to assist me with the foaling. The mare quit progressing after we arrived. Being a maiden perhaps she needed some privacy. So we went up to the house to watch on the monitor and have hot cocoa. Within 15 minutes she was down and pushing. We returned to the barn and watched from the corner of the stall. She was in full labor but not breaking the water. Very aware that miniatures are notorious for placenta previa (red bag) premature placental detachment in labor, I was very nervous about waiting too long. I did my usual iodine scrub on the vulva and lubed up my latex gloves to go into the birth canal to check the foal’s position. Everything was there, one leg, the nose, then the other leg slightly back. When I touched the first leg, the baby immediately pulled it back; a good sign of a strong and viable foal. The mare lied down and continued to push. After several minutes of no progress, I went back into the birth canal and pinched the placenta between my thumb and finger and poked the middle finger through the sack. It was fairly tough to break. A small amount of water had gushed out. The mare was back up, not really feeling comfortable with my being with her. I backed off and let her push. Not much happened. So I went back in and gripped the front foot and began the firm constant traction. The mare got back up. I had my helper grab her halter and keep her from walking around. It was apparent that she was going to have this baby standing up. Not the easiest position as she was working against gravity. My firm traction was getting me nowhere. Sitting on the straw, I put my feet against the back of the mare’s gaskins and began pulling down with all my strength as she pushed. Finally the second foot appeared. The nose bulged the vulva near the anus, always a sticky point to get that part over the eyes and bulge of the forehead. Finally the head slipped through, the tongue a purple birth color. More pulling brought the shoulders through as I moved the foal’s second elbow forward through the pelvic opening. It was tight the whole way. As the majority of the foal presented itself, I got up and “caught it”, holding it mid-air to let the blood pass through the umbilical cord into the foal. After several minutes we set the baby down with the cord easily separating. Grabbing the Nolvasan 1:3 solution we dipped the navel in the tiny cup for ten seconds. It was a very pretty pinto filly, probably a dark palomino. Her pasterns look similar to her dam’s in length, meaning she will mature about the same size as her mom. The little star and stripe set off her pretty head. She was very strong and up in about five minutes. We gave the mare a Banamine injection to help reduce the uterine contraction pain, wormed her with Ivermectin, and dosed the baby’s navel several times with our Nolvasan solution. After about a half hour we milked out the mare, feeding about 60 cc of colostrum to the foal with a rubber, human infant nose syringe. She sucked greedily. Oh, how I like to see that. We then gave the foal a warm enema to help her pass the hard tar like poo called meconium. Now it is Colors turn to do her thing!! Maybe tonight??? Then sleep for a few nights for us humans.
It is Friday night, I came back from town after feeding and went directly to the house. About 9 p.m. I went to the barn to check my expectant mommies. I had been watching my national champion mare, Dynamos Sophisticated Lady, a black pinto mare. This would be her second foaling.
In 1999, as a maiden mare, the night she foaled I finally got a few drops of milk from her bag. There was not enough to test with strips. I gave it the sticky feel test between the fingers. It felt the consistency and stickiness of honey. Her bag was not rock-hard as the usual bags are. Even though her bag was not completely full and she did not have much milk, she did foal. This is the typical scenario with maiden mares. Usually a person is unable to express milk from the mare’s bag until the night she foals and then only a small amount.
This year, I was a little anxious because I had committed to teach the halter class at our club’s training show on Saturday and I didn’t want to miss this foaling even though I had a farm sitter to watch the mare. I rechecked last year’s foaling journal to refresh my memory about this mare. She had foaled almost 3 weeks prior to her theoretical foaling date.
Tonight was about three weeks before her due date. I checked her bag. It was a little tighter, about 3/4th full. I was able to get some milk out to check. The test strips gave me a 3, which could mean a maybe. Stickiness was indicative of approaching birth. Sure enough around midnight the pager went off. On the monitor in the bedroom I could see the mare was down and had started to foal. My handy bicycle was at the door for the quick trip to the barn. Larry always has to go to “elsewhere” for a few minutes due the adrenaline rush and then heads down in the van. He is very “goose-like”.
When I arrived at the barn (approximately 1 minute), she had broken her water. I put on rubber gloves, wiped the vulva down with iodine scrub, put lube on my gloves, I verified the position of the foal in the mare. I could feel one leg and the nose. A little panicked, but not wanting to let Larry know my worry, I told him to scrub up, just in case his wrist strength and wonderful visualization of what was happening was needed. After going in further, I felt the second hoof up behind the right ear. I grabbed it and gently pulled it forward into position. Larry had returned by then. So I told him to go in the mare and double-check my tactile observations. He agreed all was there and began the strong but gentle traction as the mare pushed. We soon had a black pinto filly by Mystic with a big white saddle and a little star on the head. We fed her and gave her an enema within a half -hour to pass the meconium. She was strong and had lots of suck. Lady had passed her placenta within 5 minutes of the birth. I blanketed the little girl and turned on the overhead heat lamp. Then I headed for bed to watch her on the monitor as she was already sucking on her own. These very normal births are always welcome. It is also useful to note that individual mares can take on relative foaling patterns from year to year.
Well here it is Friday again. Larry got home tonight from a week of work at the new farm. I have been sweating out our mare, Captivating Colors the last couple of days. She is a maiden and like most is very difficult to get a good “read” on as to her progress toward foaling. Her bag had definitely become somewhat harder today and I was finally able to obtain some milk but not enough to test. I always make these observations on the expectant mares the last thing in the evening before returning to the house. This gives me the “latest” info on the mares prior to turning in for the night.
About 9:30 p.m. Colors started pacing in her stall more than she had in days past. Before she had primarily done a lot of standing with her back side pressed against the stall wall, eating quietly, or lying out flat sleeping. Tonight there was an obvious change due to her restless pacing in the stall. She also passed soft stool 2 or 3 times within an hour. She did some pawing at the stall bedding. These are typical signs of a mare getting ready to foal.
At about 11:00 p.m. the mare went down a couple of times, then got back up shortly then got right back down. At this point I was sure that she was in labor. Off to the barn we go. After putting down the straw bedding, removing the birthing halter and replacing it with a barn halter we went into the tackroom to watch for the first signs of active contractions.
Within 5 minutes the mare was down and aggressively pushing. I did my normal prep work of washing down the mares perineal region and checking the foal’s position. The water had not broke yet. With a few more pushes the water broke. I went back into the vulva to check on the foal position again. This time I found one foot out almost to the vulva. Feeling the hoof I could tell that the bottom of the hoof was facing up toward the mare’s tail. This was not good. The normal foaling position is with the bottom of the hooves facing down toward the mare’s legs. This meant one of two things. Either the foal was facing forward but coming out upside down which would mean the front legs were pointing upward; or the foal was coming out backward with a rear foot presenting itself.
Hey, Larry! Come here and check this out. Larry, having already scrubbed up, lubricated his hand and arm. He went into the mare and verified the upside down hoof. Following the leg back, he was able to determine it was a front leg due to the way the joints were placed. He also found the other leg and the head just entering the vagina from the uterus. After a little of his “wizardry” manipulating the foal, he said the foal was right and the mare foaled very easily. He was able to accomplish this easily because the foal was almost entirely within the uterus, not yet into the constricted birth canal. We had a spectacular sorrel pinto colt. His sire is Jane Taylor’s, Sierra Dawn Uno De Monarch, a AMHA National Futurity Champion. This colt’s grandsire on his dam’s side is Brewer’s Orion Captivation, AMHA National Reserve Grand Champion. Needless to say, we are very pleased.
After we got all of the after foaling necessities taken care of, I asked Larry how he repositioned the foal. He said that it was fairly easy to rotate the foal. Going into the uterus his arm is into the mare somewhere between his wrist and elbow. He pushed the one leg back into the mare’s uterus but did not let go of it. At the same time, he cupped the foal’s other front leg and nose in his hand. With all of the parts oriented correctly but upside down. He twisted them inside the mare’s uterus with his one hand and the rest of the foal’s body simply followed the movement. Larry always preaches about doing things quickly. He likes to address positioning problems right away primarily because of 3 reasons. First, there is still lots of lubrication (amniotic fluid) around the foal. Secondly, the foal has not got into the restricted space of the birth canal (vagina). Third, the uterus still has lots of room in it because it has not contracted down in size as the labor progresses. These three factors provide for maximum room and movement if the foal needs to be repositioned.
Larry is always harping at me about knowing leg anatomy of the horse by feel so that I can quickly determine which feet are present at foaling. He has said it is necessary to trace the leg up to the “knee” on the front leg and the “hock” on the back leg to verify which leg is being presented. Obviously these joints present an entirely different feel. This is why we choose to take advantage of the early position of the foal in the uterus to correct any positioning problem. This is probably why we have never had to do a caesarian section.
No new foals to report but we have got into a situation with our last foal. Today we noticed that this colt had quite short, silky hair when compared to most full term foals. This is usually an indicator of “dysmaturity”. This simply means the foal is full term but somewhat under developed. These foals present some special circumstances that can be life threatening if not monitored closely. In this little guy’s case, he has a great sucking reflex but he has been having a difficult time connecting with mom’s udder. Obviously horse udders are not like those of the milk cow. The nipples are particularly short, especially with maiden mares. In order for a foal to nurse they typically have to tip their head to the side to get at mom’s faucets. Dysmature foals seem to be a little slow at figuring out the geometry of suckling in this manner. Most foals get the hang of it in a matter of hours.
The risk with this foal is that he could not get his colostrum and therefore passive immunities to protect against infections. Also without enough milk he could essentially starve to death in a day or so because foals are born with little or no energy reserves. As a result, we have taken it upon ourselves to assist with the feeding of the foal. We are now feeding the foal on a frequency of every 2 hours. We do this by milking out mom, then using our trusty human nose syringe to let the foal nurse. The foal is doing very well.
In Larry’s reading he has found resources that say a foal needs between drink between 15% and 25% of its body weight per day of mare’s milk to maintain a healthy nutrition and growth rate. One can do simple math to break this down based on the foal’s weight. For example if a foal weighs 20 lbs. at birth it should drink somewhere around 4-5 lbs of milk per day. Changing this into ounces that equates to 64 oz. (2 qts.) to 80 oz. per 24 hours. There are approximately 28 ml. per oz. For the purpose of using syringes it is sometimes helpful to convert the volumes. In our example above this converts to somewhere between 1792 and 2240 ml. per day. If a person breaks this down into 12 feedings per day at 2 hour intervals, our theoretical foal should be getting somewhere between 150 and 190 ml. per feeding.
We are looking forward to the next day or so when we go to the barn and the foal will absolutely refuse to nurse from our syringe and run over to mom and aggressively attacks her udder. In the past we have had to help feed these foals from a couple of days to a week until they got their act together.
Today we finally got the response we were looking for from our little dysmature foal. He would absolutely not take any milk from the syringe. He immediately run to his mother’s udder and start to nurse aggressively for a significant period of time. With that indicator it was apparent that the foal had developed sufficiently to coordinate all of the body movements necessary to nurse on his own. It took almost 7 days for him to get his act together. Had we not watched his nursing early on, there is no doubt that this foal would have become septic from lack of colostrum and also starved due to lack of nutrition. The first 12-24 hours of a foal’s life is so critical to assure that all of the bodily functions are working properly. If not, we go into high gear to fill in for those necessities which the foal is not receiving.
Was hoping to visit the Event show and sale in Lufkin, TX, this weekend. Had a ticket reserved but Thursday night a mare’s bag changed significantly and the milk test strips indicated foaling was close at hand. With disappointment I cancelled the trip. Spent Thursday and Friday night sleepless. The mare was doing a lot of pacing in her stall with what would appear to be pre-foaling behavior, yet no foal. Went through the same routine on Saturday night. All of the test indicators pointed to the mare foaling any moment. The only thing that occurred was another night with no sleep watching our favorite soap opera “General Broodmares”.
Put the mare in her stall Sunday evening and barely got up to the house when the alarm went off. She was down and in labor. The birthing was a routine affair with the presentation of 1 front foot then the second followed closely by the head. The whole birthing was completed in 3 minutes, not untypical for a miniature.
Over the years I have been rigorous about watching the mares’ bags develop. I have also had all of the mares ultrasounded to verify pregnancy and determine a conception date. Normally these two factors lead one to when the “textbook” mare will foal. After 20 years of foaling out miniature horses, however, I am convinced that they are very illiterate. Very few of these mares have read the textbook.
I woke up this morning to find on the monitor a newborn filly just struggling to get up . After rushing to the barn, I looked into the pasture and found another newborn, a colt, dry and standing beside his mom in the pasture. How could this have happened? We looked carefully at both of these mares last night. Neither had normally developed bags. Neither would give more than a drop of two of milk. The milk appeared watery and clear. Their “theoretical” foaling dates were still a couple of weeks away.
Both of the foals, upon inspection, were full term based on the development of their hair coat and hoof pads. They were active, had aggressive suckling reflexes. Oh well, count ourselves lucky that there were no birthing problems and record that these mares had not read the “textbook”. Note in my daily journal that next year we will put these mares under the camera earlier.
Since neither of these foalings had been observed we did not know how long the foals had been on their own. The concern becomes whether or not the foal has gotten colostrum in a timely manner. An additional concern is the condition of the umbilical stump. The navel cord is a port of entry for all forms of nasty bacteria that can cause serious problems to newborn foals. In both of these foals we immediately soaked their navel in nolvasan (Chlorhexidine) solution to minimize the potential for infection. Secondly we checked the mare’s bag to determine the tightness. We also observed the behavior of the foals to determine if they were making contact with the milk supply. In one case the foal was nursing well. In the other case the foal was still searching for the nipple and the mare’s bag was quite hard. We decided to milk out the mare and syringe milk into the one foal. We fed the foal approximately 100 ml on an hourly basis for about 4 feedings. We then noticed that the foal was making contact with mom and wanted nothing to do with our syringes so we discontinued the assisted feedings.
Regardless of how scientific or “prepared” you think you are, these miniature horses are always going to come up with surprises to keep life interesting. Till next time.
Made a quick trip to our new place in Salem, Oregon, today. I wanted to see what progress Larry has been making. He has been spending most of his time at the new place working on the barn (his shop) and overseeing the fence building. I talked Larry into coming back home for a couple of days. When we arrived home, I stopped by the barn to take a look at the mares. Two mares had been getting close to foaling so I wanted to give them the once-over before heading up to the house for the evening. Upon checking the mares, signs looked very positive that one would foal tonight. She showed many of the classic signs. Her tail head had loosened. Her udder had fully distended with almost no separation between the sides. The nipples were pointing outward instead of toward the centerline of the horse. When I drew some milk from the mare, it had changed color from what it had been the last few days and become stickier. The milk test strips also tested very high for calcium and about 6.8 pH. (a lowering pH is more indicative of approaching foaling. ) I wrapped her tail in preparation for a foaling. The other mare did not show all of these signs so I was pretty sure she was a day or two off before foaling.
About 11:00 p.m. our mare started going through the preliminaries of labor, loose stools, pacing, pawing. She went down her first time at about 11:45. Off to the barn we went. By the time we had arrived, the mare’s water had broken. I quickly washed up the mare’s backside, gloved-up, lubed up and went in to check for position on the foal. Upon entering the mare I found one leg in the vagina. I tested for the bending of joints and found that the leg was wanting to bend upward toward the mare’s tail. Obviously we had another upside-down or backward foaling. “Hey, Larry!”
Larry was scrubbed up as usual. He went into the vagina feeling up the leg to determine if it was a knee or hock. Finding that it was a knee we indeed had a front leg and potentially an upside down foal in the birth canal. We put our 1/2 nylon foaling strap onto the accessible leg with half hitches. I was assigned to keep a light tension on the strap. After applying lots of lube into the mare’s vagina with his hand, Larry then went through the vagina and into the uterus to find the other leg and determine the position of the body. The other leg was bent back at the knee and positioned toward the mare’s backbone instead of its belly. This further verified the foal as being upside down. He first, carefully straightened the bent leg so that the hoof was barely into the vagina. After straightening this leg the mare contracted and there was slight movement of the foal toward the vagina. The foal’s head was in position and heading toward the vagina, although upside down. He moved the free leg and nose together so they could both be grasped by one hand. He then held both of them with his vice grip hand. Together he twisted his leg and head clockwise while I pulled the other leg with the strap in a similar clockwise motion. With all the lube to help us the foal quickly rotated to the normal position. He immediately came out. I sat him on his sternum and rubbed hard all over his body to quickly stimulate his breathing and heart rhythm. After about 15 minutes, he struggled to his feet with a little help from his human observers. While waiting for this event, Larry gave the mare a shot of banimine and wormed her with the ivermectin worm paste. Wormer (in theory) kills any threadworms that are hatching in the mare which can be transferred to the foal through nursing.
The foal started to suck on his lip. We fed about 60 cc of colostrum to the little guy with the nose syringe, gave him a warm enema, 25 ml of prepared human enema like Fleets. We use a 30 cc dose syringe with a narrow 10 inch puppy feeding tube on the end to deliver the enema into the bowel. A bit of lube applied to the end of the tube helps it slip easily into the rectum of the foal. Then it was off to bed to catch up on our sleep.
A little note about delivering an upside down foal. The foaling canal (Uterus > Vagina) is a downward arc which faces the mare’s stomach and legs. Foals (as well as humans) readily bend in an arc with the head and legs flex toward each other. At birth, the normal position of the foal is face pointing downward toward the mare’s legs. This provides for the natural flex of the foal to follow the natural arc of the mare’s birth canal. It is extremely difficult if not impossible for a foal to be born upside down. The foal is severely limited in its flexibility bending backward. How many of us are capable of doing a back bend unless we are some form of contortionist. For this reason, it is necessary to rotate the foal half way around while in the uterus. Once the front legs and head are all gathered together, twisting the front of the foal while in the uterus will cause the the entire foal to flop over and get into the normal birthing position. Once again we advocate doing this quickly after the onset of labor. If the foal gets into the vagina in this upside down position it is difficult if not almost impossible to rotate the foal. The room for repositioning is drastically reduced. The powerful uterine contractions cannot be overcome without drug intervention. Without first turning the foal, and attempting to deliver the foal upside down, you may do irreparable damage to your mare’s reproductive tract, not mentioning the difficulty in extracting the foal.
Over the years we been repeatedly quizzed about the miniature horse foaling experience. Since each foaling event is a unique experience with its own set of circumstances we thought it may be of use to chronicle some of our foalings. We are posting these discussions in the hopes of providing additional information to all who may be interested in the birthing event of miniature horses. Please keep in mind that there are no absolutes when it comes to the birthing event. There are numerous ways to address foaling of horses. Much thought must be given to personal experience level, veterinary availability, mare status, and numerous other factors. We are simply providing these descriptions for the purpose of enlightenment to the reader. You need to evaluate your individual circumstances as they pertain to the foaling of your mares. Please refer to the HEALTH ARTICLES in the menu above to find in-depth discussions of various topics related to birthing, foal care, etc. We will periodically post additional entries to these chronicles as we encounter other experiences that we think may be of use to others. We have listed the components of our foaling kit that we have at hand for each of our deliveries. If you are interested in assembling a foaling kit similar to ours, click here to see what is included in our FOALING KIT.