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Gestation and foaling

Gestation, or term of pregnancy, in a mare is approximately 340 days but can be anywhere from 330 to 350 days. Although the mare's age and breeding history do play roles in determining the gestation period, the weather at the time the mare is due to foal seems to be the biggest factor in determining whether the foal will be born earlier or later. If the weather is warm, gestation will be shorter and if it is cold, gestation will be longer.

Signs to look for when the mare is close to foaling

·         2-6 weeks before foaling - The udder distends and the milk veins under her belly may also grow large and stand out.

·         7-10 days before foaling - The muscles in the croup area shrink due to the relaxation of the pelvic muscles and ligaments, the abdomen develops a point at the lowest portion, while the vulva enlarges and relaxes. The tail and hip muscles will drop, resulting in the tail sticking out.

·         4-6 days prior - The teats fill out and the nipples may become shiny and tight.

·         2-4 days prior - A waxy secretion builds up on the nipples.

·         24 hours prior - The wax will drop off the nipples and milk drips from them.

Phase 1- Preparation

The first stage for the mare is preparation. She will often become nervous, lying down and getting up frequently. Also common are tail raising or switching, sweating, urination and mild signs of colic such as looking at her abdomen, pawing the ground, lying down, and sweating lightly. This stage usually lasts 2-3 hours. Once contractions begin it's time to keep an eye on her. Bring her into a safe, dry, roomy stable with lots of fresh beading. The foal is about to be born. The end of this phase is marked by the expulsion of 2-5 gallons of fluid.

Phase 2- Activation

Uterine contractions increase and the cervix dilates. The mare may lie down, roll, and get up repeatedly during this phase. The feet of the foal will protrude - the bottoms of the hooves should be facing downward, with the nose just behind them. This stage generally takes 10-15 minutes. If problems occur, it is usually during this phase that they are corrected.

Phase 3-Expusion of the foetus

When the mare lies down true labour begins. This stage lasts approximately 15 minutes. After the foal is born, the mare will generally allow herself 10-15 minutes to rest and allow the foal to get used to the surroundings. The umbilical cord may or may not be broken yet although once the foal stands; it will break and should be treated with iodine.

Phase 4-Expulsion of the membranes

The mild colic signs again may be seen when this is taking place and may continue for a few hours. This phase usually occurs 15 minutes to 1 hour after birth. If this hasn't taken place in 6-9 hours, a veterinarian should be called because failure to expel the placenta can cause problems such as laminitis, metritis, and infertility.

Leaving the mare alone to deliver is usually the best way, although some have installed cameras in order to monitor the progress of labour without disturbing the mare. If you are concerned about the health and safety of your mare, you might wish to consider this option. Foaling usually starts during the night and is finished in the early morning hours. But do not rush the mare - let her foal naturally and without interference. After delivery, the foal should be nursing within 30 minute to 2 hours. Colostrum is present in this milk and contains essential antibodies that the new foal needs.