In our last blog entry, we talked about the physical and behavioral changes in broodmares that precede foaling. These outward signs are indications of the internal contractions guiding the foal toward the birth canal. With his forelegs extended out in front of him, head rested between, and hind legs trailing behind, the foal begins to leave the uterus. The contractions trigger the rupture of the allantochorion, and a rush of fluid indicates that the foal is on the way! Foaling is typically complete within 20 minutes of the waters breaking.
The Broodmare Farm Manager and a Veterinarian are present during all the births at Stonestreet Farm. Once the waters have broken, one of the team members will examine the vagina to ensure that the foal is presented as described above. If two front hooves, one slightly in front of the other, and a muzzle are not present it is known as mal-presentation, or dystocia, and the team will work to correct the position of the foal.
Assuming normal presentation is confirmed, progress is monitored with little human interference. Attempting to assist a mare by pulling on the foal may damage the cervix if the cervix is not fully relaxed. Cervical damage makes it more difficult for the mare to become pregnant in the future. If a mare experiences too much human intervention, there is a risk she will expect assistance during future foalings.
The team will begin to see the amniotic sac, which still contains the foal. The mare will lie down, and her contractions guide the foal out and down toward her hocks.
Once the chest is fully out of the mare, the amniotic sac is broken, and the foal will take his first breath. The contractions help clear the lungs of amniotic fluid, but it is important that the foal not breathe while his chest is still in the birth canal; the strength of the contractions can break ribs and the foaling team will intervene to prevent this if necessary. The rest of the foal follows easily at this point. The hard work is over, and the mare will rest.
The umbilical cord still joins the mare and foal. A weak spot an inch from the foal’s stomach will break naturally with minimal movement by either horse. The stump is treated with a diluted iodine solution and an astringent to prevent infection. If the mare gets up while it is still attached, which is fairly common with inexperienced maidens, a team member will pinch the cord at the weak spot to avoid tension too close to the stomach wall and prevent a hernia.
The portion of placenta that is outside of the mare is knotted into itself. This prevents the mare from stepping on it and prematurely pulling the portion that remains internal. The placenta will fall out by itself within an hour or so. Anything other than a velvety texture and red color can indicate a problem, and a vet should be consulted. The placenta is checked to make sure it’s complete – any retained placental tags will release toxins as they degenerate and must be removed by a veterinarian.
In a future post, we will watch as the foal accomplishes some major feats in the hours following birth!