From the Foaling Barn

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Ready and Waiting for the First Foal

There’ s a camp of horse breeders who believe in a radical nonintervensionist foaling protocol– breed the mare in the spring, go out to the pasture one spring morning to find a newly born foal. Just let nature take its course. I am firmly not in this camp–I do not like surprises.

Living in Minnesota, we really can’t depend on the weather to be safe for a new foal–even in early May. Since our first foal of 2012 is due January 14, we’ve spent the weeks since Christmas getting the foaling barn ready. Our broodmares spend nights outside until six weeks before their due dates, when we start bringing them in at sunset (about four o’clock at our latitude). In preparation, I scrub and disinfect each stall, lay in a supply of clean, fresh straw, check out the cameras, and order Foal Alerts for each mare.

I put my mares in groups of three or four, based on their foaling dates. Right now the first group of mares is in the barn at night. The first mare to foal, Smart Sugar Pop, is an old pro, who usually foals close to her due date. The second mare is a recipient mare, big and strong, and pretty spooky. The third mare is young and worries me a bit because her first two foals came two weeks early and were small. Having them in at night, and under cameras allows me to keep close watch on all three.

Last Friday, the vet sewed the Foal Alert transmitter across Poppy’s vulva, and we then performed a test of the system. When the foal’s feet first emerge, the transmitter will be tripped and send a signal to the barn phone which will place four phone calls, to my home and cell phones, to our trainer, and to our barn manager. Of course, usually I’ m watching the mares on television, but having the Foal Alert allows me to sleep and know that I’ll be alerted in the event of a late night birth. So that I don’t have to watch the mares for days, I also start testing the mare’s milk when I’m confident she is getting close. I use the Chemetric kit that allows me to determine the calcium levels in the mare’s milk. When it reaches 200 parts, I can be pretty confident the mare will foal that night.

In spite of all my precautions, I have had a couple of surprises. My oldest mare has managed to foal outside in the middle of the day several times, thankfully on warm May days. But in general, because of all the systems I have in place, I have forestalled several disasters and avoided many potential problems.


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