Most of the time all goes well, but the diseases that foals can contract are many and they can be severe, we learned from the lecture given by veterinarian Berit Boshuizen of Animal Clinic Wolvega during the KFPS College Tour on Thursday the 11th of March. She provided tips and advice for breeders to help them prevent health problems in the early stages of a foal’s life.
A healthy life for foals begins even before the birth itself, Boshuizen explained. ‘Pay attention to the hygiene in your mare’s stable and provide sufficient bedding’, she advised the obvious. ‘Make sure to stable the mare in the box where she has to give birth about six weeks prior to foaling. That way the beestings can develop the right antibodies against bacteria in the foal’s environment.’ Her feed must contain enough energy, but also enough vitamins and minerals like selenium. ‘That can be a bit of a problem on sandy soils’, Boshuizen points out. According to the veterinarian, vaccinations are another focal point in the run-up to foaling. ‘Always vaccinate the mare against Influenza six weeks before the birth is due and also follow the vaccination scheme for Rhino’, she emphasised. She also suggested to prepare a foal kit containing all sorts of paraphernalia for birthing, from umbilical clamp to an enema and umbilical disinfectant.’
Check and doublecheck
For breeders the birth is primarily a process of monitoring and knowing when to call in help. Thirty minutes to four hours after the mare started becoming restless, lying down, getting up again – so when labour has effectively started – the allantois must be visible, Boshuizen explains. ‘Prepare by bandaging up the mare’s tail and cleaning and drying the mare’s back end.’ In the second birthing phase the foal sac should appear five to twenty minutes after the allantois. ‘If you can see two feet and the nose then the foal is in the correct position.’
The foal will be born within twenty to thirty minutes. ‘Give the mare and foal some time to remain lying down, this can last up to fifteen to twenty minutes,’ she describes. ‘The umbilical cord ruptures as soon as the mare gets to her feet. After that you have to disinfect the foal’s umbilicus.’
The third phase is expelling the afterbirth, which takes about thirty minutes to two hours. ‘Too fast is not good either,’ she points out. ‘That means the placenta (afterbirth) had already come loose before the foal was born. Then there is a chance the foal has suffered oxygen deficiency during birth. In that case you have to monitor the foal very closely.’ Any deviation from this birthing process is reason to alert the veterinarian. ‘The foal can be in a wrong position’, says Boshuizen, who also mentioned the red bag birth. ‘That’s when the amniotic sac is red. This is the placenta which is expelled even before the foal. Quickly open it and deliver the foal because it is not getting enough oxygen.’ That requires speedy action, there’s no time to wait for the veterinarian.’
Beestings are vitally important
During her ninety-minute presentation the veterinarian paid a lot of attention to the importance of a good intake of beestings. ‘Foals are born without antibodies so the beestings is a matter of life and death!’ As a guideline the foal has to drink its first beestings within two hours after birth. ‘The most efficient absorption of antibodies takes place up to eight hours after the birth, after that the gut wall blocks the absorption.’ Every two hours the foal should drink about 500 ml of beestings. ‘Preferably two litres in the first eight hours. Every hour they suckle about six to seven times, so keep an eye on that too.’
Having a supply of beestings in the freezer is a good idea too. ‘That will keep for up to a year.’ The quality of the beestings can be measured with a refractometer and needs a Brix value of at minimum 22. ‘That is a measure for the amount of antibodies. The better the beestings the better protection against diseases a foal gets in its young life.’
Still more monitoring
Those first hours and days it’s a matter of monitoring the mare and especially the foal. Has the foal passed the meconium the way it should? Has the umbilicus dried nicely? Does the foal’s temperature stay between 37.5 and 38.7 degrees? Is it passing the urine through the right opening? Does the foal lie down with the legs nicely stretched out? Yes? Then above all, do not forget to enjoy this wonderful new life.