Preparing For The Birth Of Your First Foal
This is the time to begin the preparations for your new arrival. Firstly, decide whether you wish your mare to foal in a paddock or stable. We prefer to foal down indoors because it is much easier to monitor proceedings and check the health of the foal. Foaling inside also provdes shelter from the inclement weather in the UK, but equally many people choose to let their mare foal outside.
If you choose the stable option, use the largest stable you can and clean it thoroughly before laying a thick bed of straw. It is better not to use shavings for foaling as they stick to everything and the foal can also accidently ingest them. A point to note is that it's quite a good idea to use water buckets without handles to minimise the risk of injury to the foal.
If the paddock option is your choice make sure it is safely fenced, post and rail being the best, with the bottom rail being low enough to stop the foal rolling underneath it. Whichever option you choose, you will need a safe paddock for the mare and her foal to go out in.
Once you have prepared the foaling area it is time to move the mare in, this gives her plenty of time to settle in her new environment and her system to adapt to the "local" bacteria. If she is to be stabled for foaling, she should still be turned in her foal paddock out as much as possible in the daytime (the majority of mares will foal at night, although there are always exceptions).
At about six weeks before birth the mare's udder may start to enlarge, known as "bagging up". This is perfectly normal and the timing may vary from mare to mare.
Make sure the mare has enough feed and ad-lib hay/haylage. The amount of feed required is relevant to the breed/type of mare, if in doubt contact your vet or local feed supplier who should be able to help you.
It is a good idea to prepare your foaling kit during the next couple of weeks. If you do decide to foal outside it will be more unlikely that you will be able to wash the mare and spray the foal's navel as she may be reluctant to let you near to start with. The following is what we include in our foaling kit:
- 3 Buckets - one to wash the mare off afterwards, one in case you need the vet and he needs a bucket of water for whatever reason and one (preferably with a lid) to put the afterbirth in for the vet to inspect if required at the 24 hour vet check. We write on each bucket with a permanent marker so they don't get mixed up.
- Sponges - for washing down the mare after she has settled with her foal, although some mares may not be happy for this to be done so be extremely careful.
- Tail bandage .
- Notepad with the vet's number (and maybe an experienced friend's) written on it and to make a note of the time labour starts plus any other relevant information.
- String to tie the afterbirth out of the way whilst waiting for it to be completely expelled. It is more difficult to check it is all there if the mare tears it by standing on it.
- Round tipped scissors.
- Iodine spray (or similar) for the foal's navel to help prevent infection.
- Soap and towels (for hand washing).
- Towels for drying the mare after washing her down, or for drying the foal if necessary.
- It is also worth sourcing a local supplier for replacement milk, bottles and teats, just in case.