When you decide to breed your first foal you must always remember to treat your mare like a Queen. She will need your help to make sure the foal grows properly and is delivered safely. This is a quick overview of the care you must spend on your broodmare over the breeding cycle.
Before sending your mare to a stallion you will need to make sure she is healthy. A mare that is underweight, obese or unwell is not likely to become pregnant. You will need to decide whether she will be sent to a stud to be covered by a stallion or Artificially Inseminated (AI) by a vet. Although AI can be safer for the mare than a rowdy stallion, it is quite expensive and not allowed in some breed registries.
Get your vet to check her in the run up to the covering to plot her cycles. You will want her to be covered at the peak of her fertility.
Once your mare has been covered, you will need to wait 14-16 days for their first ultrasound exam. This will show whether the mare is in foal, as well as if there are twins. If the mare isn’t in foal, she can be covered again. If twins are found the vet will usually palpate one so the mare has a better chance of carrying a foal to full term.
Another scan will be needed at 30 days. This will confirm if the mare has kept the egg or if it has been aborted. This is the last time a mare can be covered, so if she aborts after this she will have to wait another 3-4 months to be recovered.
For the first two trimesters you will need to continue to feed your mare the same amount as you did at conception. The foal starts to grow at a rapid rate in the last third of the pregnancy, so the mare will require extra food and nutrients to help them grow and also for her to lactate. Your mare will need an increase in high quality grass and alfalfa, as well as supplements of phosphorus, calcium and salt. Many food manufacturers make specialised supplements for broodmares so they are easy to obtain.
The mare will also require vitamins and minerals to help develop the foal’s liver, immune system and bone development. Iron and copper help the foal develop their liver and soundness, with Vitamin E helping to pass antibodies to the foal before it is born.
Make sure you exercise your mare often, to keep her fit and active. Lunge her or take her on walks with other mares, so their limbs don’t stiffen. Groom her regularly so she is easy to manage and affectionate. This will make her a lot less aggressive when the foal is born, as she will trust you.
You will need to watch the mare in her final stages of pregnancy to spot the signs that she is ready to give birth. Two weeks before her belly will change shape so her flank will become fuller. Prior to this her belly will be in a hanging position. A week before her udder will start to increase in size. This will give you the sign to start preparing her foaling stable. Four days before the birth the foal will move position so it is ready to pass through the foaling canal.
The sign to move your mare into the foaling stable will occur when her teats become waxy. This usually happens 1 to 2 days before she is ready to give birth. It is easier to foal in a stable so you can make sure they are both safe, and can watch from a distance. Many owners install a foaling camera in the stable which they can watch from a place nearby. Mares do not like to be disturbed, and will generally give birth at night when predators used to be away from the herd. Place rubber matting on your stable floor with plenty of straw before the mare is brought in. Bandage up her tail so it is easier for her to give birth when the time arrives.
When she is ready to give birth she will start to snort, sweat and look distressed. You will also see her sides convulsing. When she is ready she will lie down to give birth. If this is an experienced mare you may want to keep watching from afar. With novice or nervous mares you will need to enter the box to see how the birth progresses. The first thing you should see is a white membrane containing the foals front feet with its nose pressed on them. The birth should also take roughly 20 minutes. If either of these things doesn’t occur you will need to call the vet immediately.
When the foal is delivered you will need to check the mare’s membrane is complete. It should be laid out on the floor to make sure it is pink and no pieces are missing. If they are you will need to get the vet to check nothing is left inside the mare. It can sometimes take time for the membrane to deliver, but you should never rip it out as it can cause a haemorrhage. Tie it up with twine until the mare passes it completely.
Your foal should be standing and nursing by two hours. You will also need to check the bedding for the foal’s first manure, which should be black and sticky. Sometimes colts find this hard to pass so will require an enema. Once the mare and foal have bonded, you can leave them alone for the night. For the first few days it is advised to keep them in a large box, but they can be moved to a larger paddock with other mares and foals after this. The more exercise and socialisation a foal gets, the better they will develop. These months will help them learn how to move their legs.
While the mare is lactating she will need more energy and protein. As well as high quality forage and supplements, you should feed her grain and/or protein. This will help them continue to lactate for three months, as well as keep her body condition.
The mare and foal should be allowed to graze in a large paddock for most of the day. You can teach the foal to be lead alongside the mare, always remembering to groom the mare and make sure she is coping well.
Before weaning you will need to start to reduce the mare’s protein feeds to help stop her lactating. Most mares will be happy to be weaned as their foal will become like a gangly teenager. Some can pine, so it is wise to put them in small paddocks with mares or geldings they have a strong bond with. The foal can be hidden or put in a nearby paddock.
The mare’s udders should be checked regularly to ensure they do not get hot and swollen. If they get mastitis it will produce a fever and they will stop eating.