From the Foaling Barn

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The Maiden Mare

Maiden mares make me uneasy, even though I've never had any real problems with any of the ones I've foaled out. I think my uneasiness comes from my human experience of birth. Human babies are completely helpless and remain so for several years. And human mothers have virtually no natural instincts for mothering. We need books, and labor coaches, and nursing experts,and all manner of advice from others. It's hard to imagine that a dumb (relatively speaking) creature like a mare can know exactly what to do when she gives birth for the first time.

Right now, I'm waiting for one of my two maiden mares to foal. Chicky is 10 days overdue, and if I were to go by her udder development and the quality of milk I've been able to collect from her, I'd say she still isn't close to foaling. But I say that with a caveat--maiden mares are notoriously hard to predict. I had one maiden who was a full five weeks late, and I've had maidens who were a week early. Also, maidens often do not follow the textbook description of prefoaling changes in udder development--many do not wax or let down their milk til after foaling. This can be a problem for someone like me who absolutely and positively wants to be there when she foals.

I try to be present when each of my mares foal, but it's especially important with maiden mares. While it is not common in quarter horses, mares do occasionally reject their foals, especially when the foal tries to nurse. I know  mare owners who had no experience in breeding.  When their mare exhibited aggressive behavior toward the foal, they did not react quickly enough.  The mare kicked the foal, breaking its

leg so badly the owners had to put it down.  If the mare becomes aggressive toward the foal, biting or kicking, the foal and mother should be separated immediately. The mare needs to be restrained (tied, hobbled if necessary), so that the foal can nurse and receive the colostrum it needs. Usually, once the foal has nursed several times, the mare settles down and does her job. Sometimes, the mare will need to be restrained for longer periods.

Even if the mare is not rejecting the foal, new mothers can have difficulties with the whole nursing process. We had one mare who would turn to look at the foal every time it approached to nurse, with the result that the foal would toddle right past the mother and never get close to her udder. Waiting for the foal to nurse is frustrating even with mares who are old hands, but with new mothers, I think our instinct is to jump in and try to help the foal and mother too quickly. It becomes a judgement call then as to when you stand aside to let mother and foal work things out and when you must step in to protect the foal or help the mother.

A first time mother, especially, needs the time and space to bond with her foal. Too many people watching, entering the stall, making noise can cause the mare to become worried or excited. Many of the maidens I've dealt with have been overly protective of their foals, so much so that the foal check-up was an ordeal.

I'll continue to watch Chicky closely for changes in her udder or her behavior. For the last week, I've put her in the stocks and rubbed her flank and her udder to get her used to being touched. So far, she's been pretty mellow about it all. I watch her at night on a foal cam that feeds to our televisions at the house. Also, she has a foal alert sewn across her vulva, which will alert us when her water breaks. Still, even with all these precautions, I won't rest easy til we have an healthy, nursing foal.

I'll update you when she does foals.

Losing Colostrum: The Threat To The Foal

 

Last year, after ten years of breeding we had our first foal with subpar results on the IgG SNAP test. The SNAP test measures the passive transfer of immunogobulins, or antibodies, between mother and foal. Without this transfer, the foal would have little ability to fight off infection during the first 3 to 6 weeks of life, which is the time it takes the foal to develop its own antibodies. The transfer of antibodies occurs at the time of the foal's first nursings when it receives colostrum from its mother. The colostrum is a kind of super-milk containing not only antibodies to various diseases, but also rich essential nutrients, including vitamins, sugars and proteins. The foal needs to receive IgG within the first 12 or so hours after birth because after that time, the foal's intestines can so longer absorb the IgG in the colostrum. There are two primary ways the antibody transfer can fail, either the foal does not nurse early enough, or the mare drips milk days or even weeks before foaling and loses the colostrum.

In the case of our foal, Mo (Jacs Electric Spark X Jodies Jac Tari), his mother was the culprit. She began to drip milk almost three weeks before she foaled. Once a mare begins to wax, I usually test the milk for calcium levels to try to pinpoint the exact time of foaling. My records show that I tested Jodie's milk for the first time 15 days before she foaled thinking, of course, that in spite of being two weeks from her due date, she was close to foaling. Over the course of the next two weeks, I watched in dismay as she continued to drip away the precious colostrum. The last few days before she actually foaled, she streamed milk.

So when the vet drew Mo's blood during his first check-up and did the SNAP test, we weren't surprised that it was well under the optimal score of 800mg/dl. At this point, we had no other options but to give the foal a plasma transfusion in order to transfer the needed antibodies. We retested Mo's blood and found little improvement, so the vet administered a second bag of plasma, and advised us to keep Mo and Jodie away from the other mares and foals for a few weeks. Eventually, they rejoined the others, and Mo has thrived since then and is a strong, healthy yearling now.

His mother, Jodie, is due to foal this year on May 3. Last weekend, I checked her bag and found that once again she was dripping milk. After talking to our vet, I decided to secure frozen colostrum before Jodie foals. Once the foal is born and able to sit up on its sternum, I will give it the warmed colostrum from a bottle.

There are big breeding farms who keep a large bank of frozen colostrum taken from mares who have just foaled. They then routinely give all new born foals bottles of the previously collected colostrum. They can then dispense with the SNAP test. While I think it prudent to keep a small amount of frozen colostrum on hand for emergencies, I don't think I want to be so interventionist with my own mares and foals.

I'll update this information when Jodie foals in a few weeks.


Soft Ride Equine Boots for Laminitic Horses

When our mare Shin N In The Finals, began to founder (laminitis) after foaling and retaining the placenta, we were very lucky that she was already at Stillwater Vet Clinic under 24 hour monitoring. Her medical treatment began almost immediately. I saw Shiney about six hours after the initial signs of laminitis began. She was glassy-eyed with pain and reluctant to stand. When she did stand, it was excruciating to watch. I was amazed that the laminitis could progress so quickly, and I was fearful of what the outcome would be. Early the next morning, the vet clinic called to say that the acute phase seemed to be ebbing at bit. They wanted to know if by any chance, I had Soft Ride Boots that they could put on Shiney to ease her pain and support her frog while she stood. Fortunately, I had bought a pair of small boots for a navicular mare that we had shipped to Texas for breeding several years ago. I rushed down to the clinic with the boots. They fit perfectly and they offered almost immediate relief. Shiney has been wearing the boots almost continuously for a month now. At first we confined her to a stall, but as she has progressed in her recovery, we have turned her and her foal out in a run that opens off her stall. She still had a bit of soreness in her left foot that was apparent when we ask her to turn. Last week we ordered a new pair of Soft Rides, fitted exactly to her feet, along with orthotic inserts designed specifically for laminitic horses. She is moving even more comfortably now. If you didn't know the story you would barely notice any problems. I don't know how long she will need to wear the boots. It will probably be trial and error as to when we can take her off of them, and eventually she may need corrective shoeing. I do think the boots have hastened her recovery.


When Disaster Strikes: Retained Placenta Revisited

My seven year-old broodmare, Shin N In The Finals (Shiney), foaled February 16. She had a easy labor and delivery: the foal was healthy and strong. However, three hours after the birth Shiney had made no progress in delivering her placenta. I gave her two Oxytocin shots to help her contract her uterus and expel the placenta, but still there was no sign of the placenta after four hours. Finally, I phoned the on-call vet, and she met us at the barn within the hour. She very carefully removed the placenta manually and asked us to start Shiney on sulfa in the morning. The next morning, Saturday, Dr. Brian Dahms, our regular vet flushed Shiney's uterus. He suggested we take her and the foal into the arena to let them move around. On Sunday morning, Brian flushed her again and noted that she had a slight temperature. On Sunday night, my husband noticed Shiney was sweating and rejecting her grain. We took her temperature: she had a fever of over 104. We called Brian and he had us give her Banamine orally. Her temp came down to 101. But the next morning when Brian again came to flush her, she had spiked a fever of 105.4, and her urine appeared to have blood in it. We immediately loaded Shiney and the foal into our two-horse and rushed them to the vet clinic, where they would remain for the next ten days.

For five days we had nothing but bad news. Shiney quit eating and drinking, and her milk dried up. Although the vets pumped her full of liquids, she remained dehydrated and her kidneys began to show signs of stress. On Tuesday, she developed severe colitis: on Wednesday she began to founder. The vet techs were offering the foal bottles of milk replacer every two hours.

Finally, on Friday Shiney began to stabilize. We had put her in Air Ride Boots, which fortunately we had on hand. This alleviated some of the pain in her feet and allowed her to stand comfortably. Her bloodwork began to improve, and she started nibbling at her hay. She improved very gradually over the next five days, turning the corner when we brought hay from home and she began eating enough to form normal manure.

Six weeks later, the foal is nursing again and is completely off replacement milk. Shiney looks great. She still has residual pain in her left foot. We bought her new Soft Ride Boots with orthotics designed for laminitic horses.We have decided not to let her carry her own foal this year and will instead pull embryos, but we are cautiously optimistic about her breeding future.

Even though we were conscious of the risk to our mare, and we aggressively treated her for the retained placenta, we were unable to avoid a near catastrophe. I console myself with the thought that had we not been so vigilant Shiney would surely have died.  In the future, I plan to take the temperature of all my mares for the first three or four days after foaling. In addition, I will be extra watchful of mares who do not pass their placentas within three hours.


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