Thinking About Breeding Your Mare?

By: Marta Davis-Tetrault Powers, D.V.M


“Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.”

– Owl, Bambi (1942) Walt Disney Company

There is almost nothing more heartwarming than a newborn foal as it stands and nurses for the first time. For a horse owner, watching a foal grow, learn, and develop a personality can be one of the most satisfying experiences associated with caring for horses. The desire for this experience inspires many to contemplate breeding a mare.

With that in mind, it is also vital to realize the path to the birth of a foal can also be fraught with exasperation, irritation, financial commitment, and sadness. There are many things to consider, learn, and prepare.

006_anoka-equine_2012One of the most important things to contemplate is your expectation for the experience. Breeding a mare, having a healthy pregnancy, and the birth of a viable foal is not always as simple as throwing a mare in with a stallion for a while. Success can be influenced by many factors not readily visible to even the most observant eye. Additionally, it is important to remember every horse is an individual and what works for one mare may not work for another. A young healthy mare’s likelihood of conceiving is far greater than an older maiden mare with medical issues. Because of this, working with your veterinarian can help avoid many frustrating moments, vexing expenses, and disappointment.

Before diving into a breeding program, your mare must be up to date on core vaccinations, be on a balanced diet, and have her teeth examined and floated if needed. You want your mare in optimum health to give her the best chance possible of conceiving and carrying a foal to term. Once you have decided to breed a mare it is important to schedule a pre-breeding examination. The goal of this appointment is to identify any current or potential problems your mare might have that could negatively affect her fertility. Potential complications can be treated or prevented and a more accurate prognosis for conception and pregnancy can be discussed. When you arrive for your mare’s appointment it is useful to bring any questions you have as well as her medical history including vaccinations, prior illnesses or surgeries, current medications/supplements, and breeding history. During the general examination your mare will be assessed on body condition (ideally a 5 on a 1-9 Henneke scale), dental health, health of coat, muscling, conformation, and musculoskeletal health.

Additionally, a specific reproductive examination will be performed during the pre-breeding appointment. This exam will include an evaluation of your mare’s perineal region, vulvar and vaginal conformation, mammary anatomy, as well as palpation and ultrasonographic imaging of her cervix, uterus, and ovaries. Depending on the examination findings, further diagnostics and treatment will be discussed during the appointment.

If you are thinking of breeding your mare, please call and speak to your veterinarian today.




Fall tune up for broodmares

082_anoka-equine_2012Is your mare expecting a foal next spring? If so, there are a few dates to remember. Vaccination against Rhinopneumonitis, a common cause for mid to late term abortions, should be administered at months 5, 7 and 9 of gestation.   This vaccine provides good protection against this cause of abortion, but the protection is short lived – hence the set of three vaccinations.  Administering prefoaling vaccinations  approximately a month prior to foaling will booster the mare’s immunity as she is making colostrum for the foal. This will elevate the necessary antibodies in the mare’s colostrum to help ensure the new foal is adequately protected against the most important diseases for the first few months of life.

Nutrition is an important element of a foal’s in utero development. An appropriately balanced diet is not difficult to provide, and the first part of that equation is to know what the nutritional value of the hay that you are feeding. Hay analysis is easily done by dropping off a hay sample at the clinic with your name and the ages and uses of the horses you are feeding. The cost is approximately $60, but is subject to change. Please call Anoka Equine for a current price.  From this initial information we can help you build an appropriate diet for your pregnant mare (and the rest of your equine population).

Physical signs to monitor during gestation: 1. Vulvar discharge: any appreciable discharge for a pregnant mare’s vulva has the possibility of being abnormal. 2. Premature udder development: most mares start to “bag up” approximately 4 – 5 weeks before foaling. Significant udder development prior to that time may indicate significant placental issues that could result in the loss of the foal if left untreated. 3. Weight: Run your hands over the fuzzy winter coat. You should not be able to easily tick ribs on your pregnant mare. This relates to the above paragraph. Any concerns related to these three items should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

If you were unsuccessful in your breeding attempt this year, remember to make sure your 006_anoka-equine_2012mare is ready to go for next breeding season by having a uterine culture and possibly a caslicks performed.

If your goal is to breed your mare early in next year’s breeding season there are a few things that need attention. Mares (the vast majority) cycle seasonally, and do not start to cycle regularly until mid to late March/early April in the upper Midwest. If you are planning on breeding your mare prior to that time she needs to be started under lights – a full 16 hours of light – the first part of December. The easiest method is to calculate the number of hours after natural daylight that will need to be added to total 16 hours and put a light (200 watt bulb) on a timer to make up the difference. There are studies that indicate “flash lighting” will also work. This is a short period of light “flashed” at the end of the 16 hour period instead of lights on the entire time. Most mares will respond to the flash lighting, but light for the entire 16 hour period gives a more consistent response. The other important aspect of this protocol is the need for either a heated barn or blankets and a hood. The “recipe” for fooling a mare into cycling early involves both light and heat. It takes a minimum of 60 days for a mare to respond to the early cycling protocol, and she should be in a normal cyclical pattern prior to breeding, so starting the protocol early December should provide a cycling mare by mid/late February.


It Takes a Village to Raise a Foal

   By: Marta Powers, DVM

One of the most dangerous times for any animal is birth.  Not only are there significant risks to the offspring in this time of transition, IMG_20130128_073856_0but there are also profound dangers to the dam.  Unfortunately, one or both may be lost.  By the standard definition an orphan is a child whose parents are dead.  When dealing with horses, the definition of orphan must be expanded to not only include foals whose dam has died, but those foals whose dam shows maternal rejection (often with significant violence or savaging) or may be medically incapable of providing for her offspring.  When contemplating the needs of an orphan foal it is vital to consider not only their nutritional requirements but also their medical needs and social/behavioral development.  How do we fulfill those needs?Finding a substitute dam (nurse mare) for an orphan foal will assure that orphan receives the most normal upbringing in a difficult situation.  Mare’s milk and a natural feeding pattern will not only provide food but will assist in the development of the foals gastrointestinal tract and overall health.  Additionally, a surrogate dam, unlike a human (even the best intentioned human), provides equine maternal protection, equine discipline, and a natural behavioral model for everything from horse to horse interaction to correctly eating solid foods.

Bucket feeding or bottle-feeding an orphan is also a viable option but the limitations of these rearing methods must be appreciated.  The human who raises an orphan foal needs to be completely dedicated to the responsibility, even when the foal needs attention every few hours, all day, every day.  The care needed is time consuming, can be emotionally draining, expensive and should not be underestimated.  Foals raised without a surrogate dam are also predisposed to gastrointestinal issues including constipation, diarrhea, abnormal gut flora, and slower intake of solid foods.  Furthermore, these foals show abnormal (often slow) development of social behaviors and although tight bonding with a human is cute when a foal is small, it can become a serious and dangerous situation when the foal turns into a 1200-pound horse.

When contemplating the raising of an orphan foal the ideal is to make the best out of a difficult and often emotional situation.  A foal’s medical and emotional health is vital to successfully raise it into a healthy and safe adult.  The bottom line is raising an orphan foal is not as simple as giving it food.  It takes a village to raise a foal, and that village is even more important with an orphan foal.

When a nurse mare is bounded to an orphaned foal, often her biological foal becomes an orphan.  This is not the only way nurse mares are made, however. A mare may be weaning her own foal, or her foal may have dies.  Additionally, a mare can be brought into lactation without giving birth.  Here is a link to a blog that shows what happens to the nurse mare’s biological foal, please read here.

Safe Foal Delivery

Anticipating a new foal can be exciting, but can be nerve-racking. The average gestational length of the horse is 342 days but 1% of mares will go a full 365 days (1 year) normally. Labor and delivery, while momentous, are generally uneventful. In most cases, you will simply need to be a quiet observer- if you are lucky enough to witness the birth. Mares prefer to foal at night in privacy, and apparently have some control over their delivery. As your mare nears her due date, follow these suggestions from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help the new mother and baby get off to a great start:dripping milk

  • Write down your veterinarian’s phone number well in advance of the birth and keep it by all phones.
  • Keep a watch or clock on hand so you can time each stage of labor. When you’re worried or anxious, your perception of time becomes distorted. The watch will help you keep accurate track of the mare’s progress during labor.
  • Wrap the mare’s tail with a clean wrap when you observe the first stage of labor. Be sure that the wrap is not applied too tightly or left on too long, as it can cut off circulation and permanently damage the tail.
  • Wash the mare’s vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean and disinfect the stall area as thoroughly as possible and provide adequate bedding.

Signs that your mare is getting close to foaling include: waxing of the teats and dripping milk, relaxation and elongation of the vulva and softening of the muscles around the tail head. Labor in the mare is divided into three stages: Stage 1: begins with the initiation of uterine contractions.  Mares may go down and get up repeatedly, sweat and appear uncomfortable as the foal is moving into the normal birth position. Keep the barn as quiet as possible and try to have minimal disruptions to the mare during this time. If mares are disrupted too much they can delay progressing to stage 2.

foal presentation

Above: Normal presentation and white fetal membrane at delivery.

Stage 2: is signaled by the rupture of the fetal membranes (“water breaking”). During stage 2 labor the mare may get up and down during the delivery. This is normal. Mares usually deliver lying down on their side with delivery occurring within 20-30 minutes of the membranes rupturing. Occasionally the mare will actually stand up after being down and the foal is “dropped’ out with the mare standing up. Forelegs present with one leg in front of the other covered with a white membrane. Red Bag

If you observe a red velvet appearing membrane (“red bag”) please contact your veterinarian immediately.

The muzzle then appears when the forelegs are 5-7 inches past her vulva. Make sure to remove any membranes that are covering the nose, so that the foals’ breathing is not obstructed. The shoulders are the widest part of the foal and are the most difficult part of the delivery, the rest of the body quickly follows. If 10 minutes of strenuous stage 2 labor fails to advance the foal to the next step or further into the birth canal. or the foal is in an abnormal position. you should call for veterinary assistance.  Let the mare and foal lay quietly after the birth is done.  Do NOT cut the umbilicus. When the mare decides to rise, it will tear on its own.

Stage 3 involves the expulsion of the placenta and should be competed within 4 hours. Save the placenta for your veterinarian to examine. If the placenta has not passed within 4 hours or a portion still remains inside the mare, it is considered retained.  Your mare should be seen by a veterinarian. After your foal has been safely delivered follow these Placentaguidelines:

  • Foal should sit sternal within 1-2 minutes of birth
  • Foal should stand by 1hour old
  • Foal should nurse (make sure the foal is latching on to the teat) by 2-3 hours of age

If your foal is not following this timeline, please contact your veterinarian. A neonatal examination of the foal and postpartum examination of the mare and placenta should be completed by your veterinarian within 12-24 hours of birth. Your veterinarian will recommend checking the foal’s immunoglobulin level (lgG) which makes sure the foal has gotten enough quality and quantity of colostrum.