Birthing behaviour in horses

  • Mares generally foal rapidly. After the initial stage before she lies down and is preparing a birth site, the delivery stage follows and is usually over in about 15 minutes.
  • So if there are delays in this procedure, which usually means problems, get veterinary attention urgently.
  • There are more difficult births in thoroughbreds than other horse breeds/types.
  • The foal is usually delivered with the mare resting and the membranes are burst when the foal hits the ground.
  • The mare should get up immediately and lick and chew the membranes, lessening the chances of the foal smothering. But an exhausted mare may not do this and the foal can be smothered.
  • The mare should pass the afterbirth in an hour. It’s important to check this to avoid uterine infections.
  • Bonding is done by the mare licking the foal and it can spend several hours at this. This licking helps blood circulation and warming of the foal.
  • Young mares (first time mothers) may strike the foal with their front feet. This may be a reaction to get it to stand and be ready to move off, to avoid predators being attracted by the birth site and afterbirth.
  • About 80% of mares foal at night, peaking around midnight.
  • A foal is usually on its feet in about 15 minutes.
  • The foal’s approach to the udder is important. It uses its long neck to avoid kicks and seeks out a warm area of bare skin where there should be a teat.
  • Good mares will stand and encourage teat seeking by nuzzling the foal’s genital area.
  • Poor mares will keep moving and looking at the foal, which prevents it getting round to her rear end for a suck. It’s vital that the foal has colostrum in the 6-8 few hours.
  • A foal should suck within 30 mins of birth. It then sucks at frequent intervals of 50-75 times in 24 hours in the early weeks of life.
  • Suckling lasts from 15 seconds to 2 minutes as foal stands with legs apart and tail raised. It keeps well tucked in touching the mare’s side.
  • After the mare and foal move away from the birth site, the foal keeps in physical contact bumping the mare as they go along.
  • Bonding is rapid at birth (within 2 hours) but foals can be fostered on to mares for up to 3-4 days. But the success of this depends on the nature of the mare.

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