Foaling

Reproduction management of horses also includes the foaling process, which is closely related to breeding because of the short postpartum interval before beginning the next gestation. The normal gestation length for horses is 340 days, with a range of 330 350 days.

Parturition occurs in three stages. Stage I is a preparatory stage for delivery and usually goes unnoticed, except for waxing of the teats. Stage II begins when the waterbag (allantois) ruptures. Stage II is the actual delivery of the foal and lasts approximately 20 minutes. If delivery takes longer, veterinary assistance should be sought. A key to a fairly normal delivery is the position of the emerging foal. The front feet should protrude through the vulva, one slightly behind the other. The muzzle should appear resting on the cannon bones or knees (Fig. 3). If this order of emergence is not observed, the foal may be malpositioned and normal delivery may not be possible. Mares seldom experience dystocia (only 2 3%). When they do, however, they require assistance immediately to prevent potential loss of foal and/or dam.

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Fig. 3 Stage II of the foaling process, during which the foal is pushed out of the mare's uterus front feet and head first. (View this art in color at www.dekker.com.)

Stage III of parturition is the passage of the placenta. It usually occurs within 30 minutes to 1 hour, but may take several hours. Again, if this stage is prolonged, veterinary care may be required.

Within 30 minutes, the foal may be able to stand. Nursing should be accomplished within 2 hours. Routine neonatal care includes treatment of the navel stump, administration of tetanus antitoxin, administration of an enema, and testing the foal's immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels 12 hours after it has consumed colostrum. Foals do not receive any type of immunity from the dam before birth and must receive colostrum that is rich in antibodies for protection from disease. On-the-farm kits are available that can provide qualitative assessment of the foal's IgG levels.

Mares typically have a fertile estrus 7 15 days postpartum. Some breeders will choose to breed on this cycle, while others will use hormonal treatments (prosta-glandin) to short cycle or will wait until the next normal cycle (around 30 days postpartum). With the long gestation of the horse, breeding must occur fairly soon after foaling in order to produce offspring every year.

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