Published Feb. 16, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
Late winter and all throughout spring is a wonderful time in the equine industry as expected babies start being born. Owners anxiously watch and await the arrival of these precious investments which brings about the term ‘’foal watch”. Personally the term foal watch brings back memories of my first two years in vet school. In AAEP (American Associates of Equine Practitioners) students are assigned after-hour extracurricular activities of watching and treating baby foals. This involved graveyard shifts of observing mares and assisting with delivery if needed. Back then I was young, single and not affected one bit with endless long nights of foal watch. However, add twelve years, a wife, 2 kids, a full time job and today I can say I view foal watch a little differently!
My wife and I are expecting. NO…not actually my wife, but my wife’s mare. NOT wife, but HORSE! Let’s be clear on that and don’t tell my wife I’m publishing this statement! Over the past two weeks, I have woken up every hour throughout the night to check on our mare, who is now past due. Needless to say I have not been getting much sleep recently, along with my wife since I’ve made her wake up every hour as well (which I am sure she just loves). I cannot wait until our mare has her baby. Yes, I am excited about the foal, but I'm more looking forward to the birth since I really need some sleep! Not to mention but my wife’s been a little grumpy with her lack of sleep. Sorry honey, but it’s true! I still love you though. This will not be the only foal watch we will have this year. I have other mares coming to the clinic for foal watch starting next month. Someone get me coffee, STAT!
A few of my wise horse men stop by the clinic and share their old timer’s theories on mares and foaling some of which I have never heard of before. I’m not ashamed to admit they intrigued me so I had to research this information to see if it was credible. While looking this information up, I learned a lot of new and interesting 'stuff'. I use the term stuff since some is proven fact and others still a myth. So ‘stuff’ sums it up pretty well. Isn’t it amazing how each day is a learning experience? I truly believe the day I stop learning is the day I may as well hang up my gloves. But I’m getting off subject. Let’s resume…
There are a few methods of monitoring mares which are due to foal. Most popular method is the old fashion way of just staying up and watching them. Many camp out in the barn awaiting their arrivals. Another method is using collar-type transmitters which sound an alarm when the mare lies down on her side. This results in many false alarms since a mare can stand up and lay down multiple times a day the closer to delivery they are. A more expensive method is using a surveillance system to watch them via camera. Here's where my old timer's myths come in. Did you know you can also check the calcium concentration in their milk to yield results estimating impending delivery? Also monitoring their body temperature twice a day and check for change is another not well known method. Research on these last two methods reveals an insane amount of time involved conducting these tests and still an unknown delivery date. Moral of the story...only God and the mare will know when labor begins.
This brings up the million dollar question…to monitor or not to monitor a foaling mare? I do not know if there is a right or wrong answer. I do believe there is a big difference in mares foaling in a large pasture to a mare foaling out in a stall or a paddock. I know there are many mares which foal in large pastures with no problems what so ever. Mares in pasture (since always on the move) tend to be better in shape. However, mares kept in stalls can be monitored more easily and readily accessible should any problem arise. I think whatever method of foal watch is just a personal opinion. Many breeders have success either way. With the cost of breeding a mare and the after care of the foal, I recommend to keep a close eye on her and be nearby should she have any problem regardless of foaling location. Here's where my motto comes in. 'Better to be safe than sorry!' If this requires around the clock observation, then put on the coffee!
If you have a mare due to foal this year or maybe thinking about breeding your horse, give me a call at Garza County Animal Hospital, (806) 495-3726. We provide various breeding services such as artificial insemination, mare care, and yes...foal watch.