From the Foaling Barn


Foal Heat Breeding

I'm considering breeding two of my younger mares on their foal heats this year. As I see it, there are two reasons to breed on the foal heat. First, with a mare who foals in mid to late May, you generally have only one or two chances to get her back in foal. Breeding on the foal heat gives you one more. But more importantly, unless you breed on a foal heat every two or three years, you are inevitably going to end up with an open mare every four to six years.
Even if you successfully catch your mare every year on the 30 day heat (which is highly unlikely), your mare will not ovulate until 35 days, which means every year your mare moves up. Eventually, her thirty-day heat will fall in June.

About eight years ago, I took the week-long Equine Reproduction course at Colorada State University. The staff who taught the class were very positive about foal heat breeding. Dr. McCue, in particular, thought it was important in any breeding program. He recommended ultrasounding your mare at nine days. If she has not ovulated yet, then proceed as you would with any breeding. Ovulations after nine days, have almost the same pregnancy chance as a 30-day heat ovulation. For a mare who ovulates before nine days, Dr. McCue recommends administering Prostanglandin which will short cycle your mare.

There are some caveats about foal heat breeding however. It is not recommended for older mares, or mares who suffered any sort of trauma at foaling, or who failed to deliver their placentas in a timely manner. Most older mares usually have some problems, poor confirmation, uterine cysts, chronic inflamation, etc, that make it difficult for these mares to rid themselves of the detritus of the recent birth. Foaling trauma and retained placentas also compromise the mare's uterus, making it unlikely that foal heat breeding will be successful.

With an easy breeder, foal heat breeding works great. My mare Smart Sugar Pop, was bred successfully on the foal heat for three straight years. Her string of foal heat breedings was broken when she had a retained placent which she eventually expelled, but not until four hours after foaling. We checked her for ovluation at nine days. She was not in heat so we checked her three days late, and still nothing. Finally, when she showed no sign or a foal heat at eighteen days, we drew a small volume lavage, cultured it and found that she was infected.

I have three mares having May foals this year. One is Jodie, the seventeen year-old mare who is leaking milk and bleeding from a vaginal varicose vein--not a good choice for a foal heat breeding. The next one due is BH who is 23 years-old--enough said. But the last one, Icy, due May 28, is a five year-old maiden mare. If all goes well with the foaling, she should be a good candidate for a foal heat breeding.

I'll report on the result.


Icy (Ice Cold Dunnit) in Foal To Magnum Chic Dream

Gestational length

One of my mares had a pregnancy that lasted 372 days, or about five weeks longer than a normal pregnancy. The resulting foal was average in size, if not a little smaller than normal. Most equine pregnancies are considered full-term at 335 to 342 days. Occasionally, a viable foal may be born as early as 305 days. Although not common, my 372 day foal was not considered to be unusual or endangered by the prolonged gestation. There is some conjecture that these long pregnancies may be the result of fetal arrested development early in the pregnancy.

While this hypothesis has yet to be proven, what is certain about equine gestation is that it is notoriously variable. For example, foals born early in the year are usually 5 to 10 days later than foals born late in the spring. However, if mares are put under lights sixteen hours a day, then the winter affect is mitigated by 5 to 10 days. Maternal nutrition and health can also determine pregnancy length. Male foals tend to be born later than females.

I keep detailed records of each of my mares, so over the years, I can usually detect a pattern in gestational length for each one. The 372 days over-due mare was three weeks late with her second foal. Each pregnancy has gotten shorter until last April, she foaled on her due date. I have an older mare who is consistently 10 to 14 days early. But then, there are a couple of mares in my band who are consistently inconsistent.

Right now, I’m waiting for a foal that was due five days ago. While the mare started bagging up five weeks ago, she doesn’t look as though she is close to foaling. Her udder is not turgid and there has been no sign of waxing. Last year she foaled nine days late. Her records show that her fillies have arrived several days early while all of her colts have been late. Also, in the past she has streamed milk for two days before foaling. So given all I know about her, I’m pretty confident that she won’t foal for at least three or four days. At the least, I ought to have a good night’s sleep tonight.

Trouble Shooting in the Breeding Barn

This year, two of our first three mares to foal experienced retained placentas–a placenta is considered retained if the mare does not expel it within three hours after birth. I always wait until the mare passes the placenta so that I can retrieve it for the foal check the next day. The vet will examine it to make sure no pieces remain in the mare’s uterus. Also, a retained placenta usually means a crampy mare who will pace and often roll, interfering with the foal’s effort to nurse.

After three hours of waiting and seeing no progress, I gave the first mare, Bunny, oxytocin to help stimulate uterine contractions. After the second shot she finally passed the placenta, over four hour after the birth. During the foal check the next day, the vet suggested that I monitor Bunny’s temperature for the next few days and put her on sulfa. Two days after the birth she spiked a fever. The vet cultured her and infused her with antibiotics for three days. The second mare, Ginger, again made no progress even with oxytocin. The vet made a late night call and manually removed the placenta. Because of our earlier experience with Bunny, we treated Ginger more aggressively right from the beginning.

When it came time to breed the mares, we let Bunny, who had the more virulent infection, go through her 30 day heat and bred her successfully on the next cycle. We bred Ginger on her 30 day heat and checked her infoal at fourteen days. This was the first year we have treated retained placenta so aggressively, and with such good results.

So I began to wonder about past years and if there was a relationship between retained placentas and breeding failures. I keep meticulous and detailed records of births and breeding. When I looked back at my 2010 breeding book, I found that the two mares who retained their placentas for more than three hours were the two mares who ended up open last year. Subsequent years proved to have similar results. My vet explained that a retained placenta becomes a breeding ground for bacteria in the uterus. Sometimes, as with Bunny the mare shows obvious signs of distress, but more often than not the mare may have a low grade infection that does not present with symptoms except a failed attempt to breed.

I’ve been breeding mares for almost ten years now, and I take every chance I can to learn about the science of breeding. But, invariably, I learn the most from observing my own mares, and keeping good records from year to year. Then I incorporate what I learn into my breeding practices. I have in the past attended a birth, made sure the foal was up and nursing well and then gone back to bed without waiting out the mare if it was late and she wasn’t making any progress on expelling her placenta. But after my experience with Bunny and Ginger this year, I realize how important thoughtful observation is to the success of my breeding program.

Breeding Barn Update

Breeding season is approaching fast. I just sent Shin N in the Finals (Shiney) and Inwhizable Chic (Chicky) down to Travis Hochstatter’s South Farm in Whitesboro, Tx. Travis will manage the breeding of these two mares. I’m not quite sure who I’m breeding them to yet. Shiney will definitely be going to Gunner, but I’d also like to pull an embryo on her too. Here at the farm, two other open mares will be coming in under lights on the 15th of November. Then the first of December my earliest foaling mares (January 20 and 24), The Bun Is Dun ( Bunny) and Smart Little Jewel will come in to the barn at night.


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