From the Foaling Barn


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.

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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