From the Foaling Barn


The Older Mare: Redux

Darrell Hanson commented on my last blog post, wondering if it makes economic sense to spend the extra time and money it takes to breed older mares. He raises an issue that I grapple with often. I took a long time to put together my broodmare band. I tried to get representatives of the great reining lines. I also tried to buy mares that had earnings or offspring earnings. I think I have a good bunch of mares. However, they aren't all created equal. With a few of my mares I would consider pulling an embryo, most I would not. And for some I'll go to much greater lengths to get a foal, i.e.,if they've been especially good producers.

Right now, I am trying to decide whether to keep trying on one of my oldest mares, 23 year-old Pappita Sunrise, who was the very first mare I bought. She is a daughter of the great Hollywood Jac, and out of the great mare Paps Glo, two legends in reining history. One of Pappita's foals, Whale of a Whiz, has earnings in excess of $90,000 and was the alternate on the US Gold Medal team at last year's WEG championship. Several years ago, Pappy had colic surgery and developed a hernia which made it unwise for her to carry her own foals. At first, I had good luck pulling embryos from her, but last year I struck out. On our first try this year,we did not get an embryo. Since then, I've been reading up on problems of older mares, and I'm really ambivalent about trying to breed her again. Pappita looks fantastic for her age. She's in good weight, well-muscled and completely sound. But what pushes me toward trying one more time, is Pappy's two-year old filly, who looks to be one of the most promising prospects we've ever produced. I'm still thinking about it and talking to my vet. I'll have to decide in the next few weeks one way or another.

But, back to Darrell's original question. I do think that good regular maintenance saves breeding expenses in the long run and helps keep older mares breeding sound. Last year of my fourteen mares, 10 took on the first breeding, three on the second and one took three breedings (coincidentally, this was my youngest mare). For mares younger than 15, the chance of a successful pregnancy resulting from a single breeding is 60%. For older mares, the percentages may fall to 40%. I say "may" because, once again, all mares are not created equal.
Some young mares may be tricky to breed, while some like BH are baby-making machines.

I, also, think it saves on expenses to keep really good records, so that you know what each mare requires without having to cast about blindly for the answer to a breeding problem. For example,I can look back several years at my records and see that we've been successful breeding a given mare when we do a post-breeding lavage. I'm willing to spend $100 on a lavage or a Casslick to ensure the money I've put into the breeding will produce a foal.

I consider an open mare to be the greatest expense of all.

Juiced in Hollywood (Smart LIke JuiceX Pappita Sunrise)



The Older Broodmare

Ice Cold Dunnit and BH Song and Dance

The last two Chatsberry mares to foal this year happen to be my youngest and oldest mares. They are both duns and if you didn't know better, you'd think they were mother and daughter, or grandmother and granddaughter. I've recently written about the problems of maiden mares, and right after I wrote that post, one of my two maiden mares demonstrated one of the problems admirably, by refusing to feed her foal. So I think you can understand, why I'm a bit worried about writing about my old girl. Like almost all serious horse people, I'm superstitious. But in the interest of education, I'll give it a try.

BH Song and Dance is twenty-three years old and is due to deliver her sixteenth foal April 13, although since I've owned her, she has been three to twelve days early each year. BH, by Be Aech Enterprise and out of Melody Jac (Hollywood Jac), is one of only a handful of mares to have won the NRHA Open Derby. Her LTE is $29,000 and her offspring earnings are in excess of $110,000. But if you saw her, you'd never believe these statistics. BH is a small, fine-boned mare, and ever since I've known her she as been significantly navicular. She shuffles along in the pasture, and she definitely looks her age. Last year, she had a foal in mid-May. We bred her once to Gunner with shipped semen and got her in foal.

BH is an exceptional broodmare, but I have a number of older mares, and while it is challenging to keep them going, with good maintenance practices and a little medical detective work, I've been able to get most of my mares in foal every year. A mare's peak fertility is reached at ages six or seven, and fertility begins to decline significantly after age fifteen.

Keeping a regular maintenance schedule, is crucial to keeping older mares in good breeding condition. All of my mares are seen by our excellent farrier, Dave Jacobson, every eight weeks. Navicular mares like BH especially need frequent trimmings. I also have three mares that require special shoeing to stay sound. Dr. Brian keeps dental records on the mares and we usually float their teeth every two year. However, I keep special watch on the old girls, because I don't want them to drop weight because of dental problems. Speaking of weight, I probably like my mares just a bit heavier than Dr. Brian likes, but with our extreme cold, I like a bit of extra padding on my girls. I feed free choice hay (a grass/alfalfa mix), Assurance Alfalfa Balancer, and oats. I adjust the latter two depending on where the mares are in their gestation, upping amounts substantially for the last two months of pregnancy and the first three of lactation.

Even when you do everything right, breeding issues become more numerous as mares age, including, cervical tears, uterine scarring and cysts, urine pooling, inflamation and difficulty clearing fluids after breeding, etc. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate many of these issues, including post-breeding lavage, Casslicks, hormone therapy. And if all else fails, there is always embryo transfer. A good vet like our Dr. Brian will be up-to-date on all the latest breeding technology. I also learn a lot from the internet--it's amazing what you can find on-line.

One of the best ways to make sure an older mare gets in foal, is to try to make sure she stays in foal every year. The more years an older mare goes without having a foal the more difficult it becomes to get her in foal. Mares are meant to have foals, and their reproductive tracts are healthier when they are being used as nature meant them to be. My little, navicular mare BH miraculously seems to become much sounder right before she foals and during the months she has a foal at her side.

Shiney Update: Shoeing the Laminitic Horse

Our mare Shiney foundered two months ago after treatment for a retained placenta. She's recovered from the acute phase now, but recently she has seemed to be increasingly sore on her left front. Last week, we took her into the arena, took off her Soft Ride Boots, and let her walk barefoot in the sand. It was apparent that on her left foot she was stepping first on her toe and then rolling to the outside of her hoof. When we turned her, expecially to the right, she was obviously in pain.

The next day, our vet, Dr. Brian Dahms, looked at her feet and determined that as her hoof has grown out, the inside of her left hoof, which suffered the greatest insult to the lamina, has not grown at the same rate as the outside hoof. Consequently, she was developing a significant imbalance. In addition, when she was forced to put pressure on the inside of the hoof, she experienced pain. The right foot appeared to be growing normally and was pain free. Brian suggested that we bring Shiney into the clinic to meet with farrier Blair Underwood, who does all the therapeuatic shoeing for the clinic.

On Tuesday, we hauled Shiney and her foal to the clinic and met with Brian and Blair, who suggested we use an EDS shoe (pictured) which would provide Shiney with a balanced foundation and support for her frogs. But most important, with the EDS shoe we could float the inside, short side of her hoof so that it would not touch the ground (the pad). The EDS shoe has a thick, rigid silicon pad attached to the actual shoe. Blair filed away about a fourth of an inch from the pad where it would have touched her inside hoof wall. He then put putty in the center of her hoof and molded it to the frog. When the shoe was in place, Shiney's weight would be supported on the frog and outside of the hoof with a gap between the pad and the inside hoof wall.

We will have to keep the gap free of dirt so that we can keep the inside hoof wall floating. Also, we will need to have the shoes reset every four to six weeks. Blair estimates that she will need to wear the shoes for about six months. The new shoes seemed to give Shiney instant pain relief. She is walking normally now.

I'll keep you updated as Shiney progresses.

Update: Chicky

I thought you might like to see how well Chicky and her foal have progressed in the last two days. This morning, we put them out alone in a small pasture so that they could get to know each other a little better before we introduce them to other mares and foals. Chicky really likes her little guy, so much so that she didn't want to be caught this evening when it was time to come in.



It's Always Something

It was gorgeous day today, and I was so happy we had solved the problem of our high strung new mother and her hesitant foal. When I entered the foaling barn, this morning. I greeted all the mares and foals, grabbed the grain cart and began feeding. When I got to Jodie's stall I noticed something red in the bedding. On close inspection, I realized it was blood, and that there was another spot of blood on the other side of the stall, and then I saw Jodie's tail. It was streaked and matted with blood, and congealed blood was smeared across her butt. This was not what I wanted to see in a mare who was ten days from her due date. I finished feeding and then called my vet, Dr. Brian Dahms. He wanted to know if Jodie was off her feed or otherwise acting oddly (she wasn't) and whether I could tell if she was still bleeding (again, she wasn't). He said he'd be at the farm by mid morning to ultrasound Jodie to check the foal, and told me not to worry because the vast majority of late term bleeding was caused by rupture of vaginal varicose veins.
Because Jodie seemed perfectly fine, I went ahead and put her out in a small paddock where I could keep an eye on her.

When Brian arrived, we put Jodie in the stocks and Brian checked her vulva. He had opened her Casslick the week before and he checked to see if that had been the source of the bleeding. Then he ultrasounded her, first checking the foal, who was active and seemed fine. He then looked at the placenta to make sure there was no sign of placentitis, infection of the placenta. Again, it appeared normal. Next, he did a speculum exam of her vagina, where he found that she did, indeed, have a number of varicose veins, and when he withdrew the speculum there was a small amount of blood on the end. He assured me that this was quite common in late term mares and should not be a problem.

Although Jodie had no fever, Brian thought we should put her on sulfa until she foals. After our experience with Shiney and her reaction to Sulfa, Brian also thought we should give Jodie probiotics to make sure her gut stays healthy.

Remember, Jodie is the mare who has been dripping milk for the last two weeks. So after Brian left, I checked Jodie's milk to see if she might possibly be close to foaling. The calcium level was at 60 parts per ml, which, when I checked my records on her, was exactly where she was last year at two weeks from foaling.

I'm not too worried about either problem. We know she may drip out all her colostrum, so we have secured replacement colostrum. We know she has some bleeding vaginal varicose veins, and we are giving her sulfa to forestall infection. I think we're taking appropriate precautions, but you never know.

I'll update you when she foals.

This is Jodie. She's by Jodies Doc Tari out of Jacs Savage Princess (Hollywood Jac).

Maiden Mare Update: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Well, as you can probably guess, things didn't go swimmingly with our first maiden mare foaling.

The Good: Chicky foaled at 3:30 AM, April 22 without incidence, a healthy bay colt. She really liked her little guy. As soon as she recovered from the shock of the birth, she went right over to him and began to nicker and lick him. He stood up in a timely manner and seemed to know where to find the milk spigot. Chicky didn't seem to mind at all when I entered the stall to remove the placenta. Okay, that's all of the good news for now.

The Bad: Chicky was a little crampy and wobbly after the foaling. In his efforts to get up, the foal had worked himself into the center of the stall. Chicky walked over to him with her head down nickering, but just as she got to him, she must have experienced a cramp, and fell to her knees, right on top of the foal. He shrieked, and my husband I ran into the stall. Chicky righted herself and we examined the foal, who seemed to be unhurt. But we were worried that he might have a broken rib or worse.

The Ugly: After the foal stood for the first time and got his bearings, he began to search for Chicky's udder, but everytime he would approach her flank, she would scoot to the other side of the stall. We did not want to interfere too soon, hoping that on their own, mother and foal would eventually figure things out. But after an hour and half of watching her walk away from the foal, we finally decided to step in to hold Chicky in order to let the foal have a chance to find her teat. However, in spite of not wanting to feed her foal, Chicky had grown excessively attached to him in the past two hours. And so when we entered the stall to clip the lead rope on her halter, she was a little unhinged, and we decided to beat a retreat and call the vet and some reinforcements.

By the time the on-call vet got to the farm it was 7:30, four hours after the foaling. The minute the vet walked into the stall, she decided reluctantly we were going to have to give Chicky a sedative. Once Chicky was calm, the vet examined her udder and gave her a shot of oxytocin to help her to let down her milk and ease some of her discomfort. We then tried to get the foal in place so he could grab one of the teats. That's when we realized another problem. Although Chicky had a large, engorged udder, she had very small teats, a fairly common problem with maiden mares. The foal, who was quite tall, just could not seem to find the teats and latch on. It was now five hours from foaling and we were desperate to get some colostrum into the foal. On to Plan B, milking the mare and bottle feeding the foal.

Before foaling, Chicky had not waxed or leaked milk. Like some maidens, her milk only came in with the foaling: consequently, the first milk we were able to get from her, was thick and yellow and did not flow all that easily. It was hard work getting a third of a cup. We had a little assembly line set up, someone held Chicky while someone else knelt and milked her. Then when they had about a third of a cup, someone else poured it into a bottle and handed it off to the person who would hold the bottle for the foal while someone else held him.

Finally, after the foal had gotten several cups of milk, and we were satisfied he had enough colostrum, we turned him loose and let him try nursing on his own. At first we held the bottle underneath the udder and fed him so that he would figure out where to go. Eventually, with a little help he began to find the teats on his own. At first it was hit or miss, but pretty soon he latched on and began nursing vigorously.

Chicky by now had come out from under the drugs and seemed quite relieved to have the foal nursing, although we still had her tied. Finally, we let her go and everyone left the stall and we went up to the house to watch how things were going on our foal cam feed. Unfortunately, things didn't go very well. So we all trooped back down to the barn and once again put Chicky on a lead rope to hold her in place so the foal could feed. When the foal finished and laid down, we'd let Chicky off the rope and she would stand guard over him. After several hours of this, the vet returned and performed the foal check. We had done good work--his SNAP test was well over 800. Also, she found no damage from Chicky's fall.

Finally, we decided to let the foal and Chicky have time to themselves to try to work things out. The foal by now was stronger and more coordinated, and so when Chicky bounded across the stall, he followed right behind. After a few circuits of the stall, Chicky finally gave in, stopped and invited the foal to nurse.

The next morning, Chicky looked like an old pro feeding her foal. She is a very loving and attentive mother and the foal is thriving. All is well.

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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