As the mare gets closer to foaling her udder will begin to develop. Some mares will ‘spring’ where the udder becomes large and then sometimes reduces again, while others will only develop their milk supply in the few days prior to foaling. One sign that foaling may be imminent is the development of a small wax plug at the tip of the teat and some mares may dribble milk.
Once a mare begins to have strong contractions the foal should be born within 25 to 30 minutes. Any longer than this and it may be a sign the mare is in trouble. She should pass the entire placenta within a couple of hours. Retained afterbirths are a serious, potentially fatal problem in mares which should be attended as soon as possible, preferably within 3-4 hours. Do not try to remove the placenta yourself, call your vet.
As a rule of thumb foals should stand within 30 minutes and drink within 2 hours of birth. They will spend a large part of the time feeding especially within the first week of life; feeding about seven times every hour. Foals which don’t drink regularly or frequently from the mare may be showing early signs of trouble.
Foals receive all of their immunity from the mare through the milk (colostrum). This immunity protects the foal from disease. Within 12 hrs of birth foals need 200-250ml of good quality colostrum. Mares which have dribbled milk prior to foaling may not have retained sufficient colostrum to provide their foals with good immunity. The immune system of the foal can be assessed with a simple blood test. If your mare dribbled milk it is advisable to have this test performed as a potentially life saving plasma infusion can be given to develop the foals immune system.
Umbilical cords need to be treated ideally as soon as possible after birth because the stump is a very good portal of entry for bacteria into the blood stream. Ideally the umbilical stump is dipped in chlorhexidine or iodine preparation. Be careful as strong iodine mixture can harm the skin of foals.