When is foal is born they lack both physical strength, and a strong immune system. They spend a long time curled up inside mum, nice and warm with everything they need given to them through a tube, and only the smallest movements necessary to grow. Suddenly they are required to stand and suckle on their own in order to get their food.
All the processes to get the foal out of the womb, during birthing and once the foal is out are vitally important; to stand, suckle and move to mums side. Each physical movement is designed to get the foal to safety once outside the womb, and the safest place is under mum’s tummy!
Some foals may find this difficult. They may experience problems like weak flexor tendons, contracted flexor tendons, very weak limbs, or very straight and upright limbs. The flexor tendon runs up behind the hoof, and weakness or shortening in this area can cause the base of the leg to dip without the proper support.
Generally if such problems are corrected early they are fairly easy for the foal to overcome and can be quite common. With a strict turnout regime, a foal with weak limbs will strengthen on their own and correct any weakness or contraction with time.
When a foal is first born, it is important to take note if the mare ‘red bagged’ during foaling. This means the placenta detached from the mare earlier than it should have in a normal foaling, restricting the oxygen supply to the foal during that vital transformation. If the mare has ‘red bagged’ it is advised to give the foal some assisted oxygen after birth. The foal may seem healthy and alert but could potentially go downhill over the space of only 48 hours. If this happens the foal would be deemed a ‘dummy’.
Some signs to look for in a ‘dummy’ foal:
– walking around the box aimlessly bumping into walls and unaware of their surroundings.
– coming ‘off suck’, which means to stop suckling the mother, and becoming very lethargic and weak
As a team trained in breeding horses, we know what to look for just after a foal is born. We need to ensure that the foal is as healthy as can be and that nothing is impeding his race to safety under mum’s tum!
Straight after foaling make sure any mucus is removed from ears, eyes and nose of the foal. This allows them to breath properly without sucking any mucus back up and causing a blockage.
When a foal is born you should always check the colour of its gums, make sure they are nice and pink. This is a very good indication if the foal is healthy.
The heart rate will be quite fast when first born but this should settle to around 60 beats per minute increasing to an average of 120bpm as the foal stands.
Check there is a good response when light is pointed towards the foal’s eyes.
Lastly, look out for another common problem we see in foals; ‘meconium retention’. This is when the foal is unable to pass its first droppings unaided. The foal may become distressed with this and seem very uncomfortable. Signs of colic are usually present and it is likely the foal will stop suckling. In most cases, giving an enema to the foal usually helps pass this.
It is also advised to have a professional check over the foal once the initial assessment and intervention has taken place. A vet should attend to the foal when possible after it has been born.
An important check the vet will do is to see if the foal has any broken ribs from the foaling process. This is very common, especially with big foals, as the birth canal is narrow, the bigger the foal the more pressure during the birth. We mentioned in our previous blog that the natural way for a foal to be born is to be pushed and not pulled. During emergency situations be aware of how much pulling has taken place, this can also lead to broken ribs causing more of a strain on the birth.
The vet will take bloods from the foal to check IgG levels or Immunoglobulin levels, these need to be as high as possible. The IgG levels indicate whether the mares colostrum is good enough and has provided the foal with a substantial amount of antibodies needed to fight a host of outside world bacteria for themselves. If IgG levels are deemed too low, the foal is usually given a plasma transfusion which is done via Intravenous injection and contains antibodies that are transferred straight into the foal’s bloodstream.
The vet will also give the foal a Flu & Tetanus injection to protect them whilst they are building and creating their own strength and resilience!
It is important to be aware of all the potential dangers that can occur during a foaling, get your checklist ready and make sure to follow our guide! If you are unsure, contact us and let us breed your champions!