Breeding and raising a foal is a most satisfying activity, but it is a complex business that should not be entered into without careful consideration of all the problems and expenses involved.
These expenses include the stud fee, veterinary expenses, extra feeding and special feeding, special facility for foaling, and for the mare and foal after birth. Unless the facilities, a considerable amount of ready cash and much time are available, it is not advisable to enter the horse breeding business. Indeed, this is a hobby for most, rather than a business. The horse that attracts the highest price at the yearling sales gets the headlines: the many others that remain unsold or make a net loss remain unmentioned.
- THE STALLION
CHOOSING A STALLION
The choice of a stallion will be determined by the breed of horse and the kind of progeny you hope to get. The laws of heritability seem straight forward enough when they are worked out in a text book but Mother Nature has a way of making these into the wildest kind of lottery when she chooses.
The stallion should be well-known and reliable, a stallion that succeeds in making the mares served, pregnant. A popular choice is an Arab stallion if the mare is Basuto – the cross should increase size, speed and size of jump. A Basuto type mare may be put to a Thoroughbred stallion. This cross should throw a bigger pony or horse. When choosing the stallion, look him over carefully, observing how he moves, and assessing his temperament.
As a general rule, stamina comes from the mare and speed comes from the stallion. The best jumping blood come through French lines. Talent is a bonus, but temperament is hereditary, coming equally from both sides. Horses bred for the track are usually line-bred, from and by stock that has had exceptional turf records.
The stallion must be free of conformation faults and unsoundness. He should be as near perfect as possible since he is required to improve the mare’s shortcomings. Naturally, the genitals should be of normal appearance and functional, the testicles being equal and one lying to the side. A rig, a horse with only one testicle visible, is of no use as a stallion.
MANAGEMENT OF THE STALLION
The stallion requires a loose box, a paddock and an area in which he will service visiting mares. This area should be well-fenced and have extra-strong gates. The stallion needs a handler, one that he is accustomed to.
Normal stable management becomes more important with the stallion. Bedding and the whole living area should be kept scrupulously clean to prevent such ailments as thrush. The stallion will get a high-protein diet, probably crushed oats, and boiled linseed will give a most agreeable shine to the coat.
Daily exercise is essential. A thoroughbred stallion will not be ridden but will be given two hours lunging a day. Smaller stallions may well be ridden each day and all stallions should have access to a paddock for natural exercise. The posts should be about a horse’s length apart to deter adventurous animals from jumping out.
The stallion must be restrained while he is covering the mare. Covering tackle consists of a bridle with a straight, metal mouthpiece and a strong chain about 45cm long. The chain is buckled to leather or webbing lead is run through the near side of the bit, through the jaw which is held tightly closed.
The healthy, relaxed mare is ideal for mating purposes. Pregnancy is difficult to achieve with over-fat mares or with very fit mares. Mares in poor condition are likely to have impaired reproductive systems. A mare that is well, but not competition fit should find it easier to take than run-down or highly-strung mares.
A mare should not be bred from before she is three, so that she will bear her first young at 4 years old. Similarly, a mare of more than twenty should not be required to carry and bear the foal. The mare, when going to stud, should be free of worms and unshod.
Mares come into season every 18 – 21 days. The duration of the time in season should be noted, for the information will be of interest to the stud. The mare should be covered on alternate days of the latter half of her season; this is because the stallion sperm will live for about 48 hours. An isolated service during the days before the heat begins will consequently be a wasted one hence the studs need to know how long they can expect the heat to last.
The stallion and mare are introduced to each other from either side of the teasing rails, gates or boards. The mare’s reaction should be observed. Mares that have never been in foal may well become nervous and strike out with the front feet. Should she appear ready for mating by standing still, she may be led immediately to the covering area. The mare is usually twitched and may be hobbled if she shows an inclination to kick. Her tail should be bandaged.
It is usually necessary to fit the mare with a protective neck guard to prevent injury should the stallion try to bite her. The mare should be held still by her handler during mating which usually takes 1 – 2 minutes. When mating has been completed, the twitch may be removed and the mare led away. If she comes into season again within three weeks, she will have failed to become pregnant, and must be covered again. Should this second attempt fail, the mare must be examined to establish whether there is not some hormonal deficiency. At six weeks the mare may be tested for pregnancy.
ARRANGEMENTS WITH THE STUD
There are three arrangements with the stud that are possible. The first is to bring the mare to the stud on the appropriate day of her season, leaving her with the stallion for the day and taking her home in the evening. This implies having a great deal of confidence in her ability to take on the day she is with the stallion. She will have to be checked in three weeks to see that she is not in season again. This method has the great advantage of being economical.
The second arrangement is that the mare is brought to the stud some two or three days before the season is due. She is left at the stud, being served by the stallion during her first season, and kept there, so that if a second season occurs she may be covered again without further trouble. This is likely to result in pregnancy, but is obviously a great deal more expensive than the first method.
The third method seems more natural, and is used where there is only one horse at stud. In this case, the stallions and mares run out together in a paddock and the mares are covered as they come into season. There are dangers with this method since mares may fight. The paddock must be secure and free from harmful objects.
- MANAGEMENT OF THE MARE IN FOAL
When the mare returns from stud, she must be watched to see that she does not come into season again. This might occur after 6 weeks. She should be given suitable companions – other mares in foal, mares of calm temperament or even a donkey. She should not be paddocked with geldings or youngsters.
Special care will not be needed the first weeks of pregnancy, namely 2 – 3 months. She may be ridden normally for the first 7 months. She should not, of course, be allowed to get over-tired, over-heated, or ridden so that she is subjected to sudden turns, stops and starts. She should be warmed regularly, and the tetanus injection should be brought up to date since this protects the foal as well as the mare.
From the fifth month onwards, the diet should include 15% protein. Concentrate feeding should commence in small quantities and be gradually increased. Hay should be given and must be part of the best quality available. Minerals become more important and may be provided in the form of lick or as a supplement mixed with the food.
Special cubes for in-foal mares can be bought, and these have all the supplementary diet required. If, however, the cubes are not available, or seem too expensive, a ration can be devised including milk powder, linseed, oats and fresh foods like carrots and lucerne. Fibrous roughage or bulk should comprise between a half and two thirds of the mare’s total intake. These are needed to enable her to absorb proteins and other essential constituents.
STAGES OF PREGNANCY
- At 14 days: The fertilized egg is about 2mm.
- At 4 weeks: Recognisable foetus with legs, head and body – about 13mm.
- At 8 weeks: Foetus is about 5 cm hoofs appear as soft blobs.
- At 13 weeks: Stomach now defined – 15cm.
- At 22 weeks: Tactile hairs on lips – about 33cm.
- At 24 weeks: Eyelashes, neck and tail hair – 68cm.
- At 48 weeks: Fully developed – 1,7m.
A brood mare’s stable should be as large and comfortable as possible. When she has her foal, it should be in a place with which she is thoroughly familiar and quite at home. A suitable size would be 4m x 7m. After the seventh month, she should go out each day to exercise while grazing. The gestation period of a mare is 11 months and a few days. Fillies tend to be earlier than colts by about two days: fillies arriving, on average after 332 days, and colts, after 334 days.
In the case of a maiden mare (a mare who has not foaled before) it is wise to begin handling the udder after the tenth month. This will ensure that she is not frightened when the youngsters begin to look for milk once it is born. The udder will begin to fill as the foaling time approaches.
Pony mares can usually be left out in the field to foal as they tend to foal easily. They will clean the youngster, dry it, and have sufficient instinct to care for it as would be the case in the wild. The more highly-bred animals need more supervision.
Thoroughbred mares should always foal in the stable, watched over by attendants. If it is the mare’s first foal, it will help to stay with her throughout the delivery in case she needs help, either from you or from a vet.
Stage 1 is marked by contractions of the uterus as the foal is positioned within the womb for birth. The mare feels slight colic-like pains and shows signs of this by seeming restless, flicking her tail and looking at her flank. She may even break into a sweat. During this stage, the birth canal is relaxed and it widens as the foal begins to move toward the neck of the womb. At the beginning of labour, the foal is in an upside-down position, but the contractions rotate the foal into the normal position. This stage may last anything up to five hours.
Stage 2 is the actual delivery. Between stage 1 and stage 2, the water bag ruptures and a urine-like fluid flows from the vulva. The second stage is heralded by the arrival of the inner sac, containing the foal. The mare now begins to strain, with very strong contractions, coming in quick succession. The foaling process becomes almost explosive; the mare lying on her side as the bluish-white inner water bag appears, covering the first foot.
The mare at this stage takes a breather between bouts of contractions. A second foot appears, the feet coming so that the elbows and shoulders pass through the pelvis in succession, thus creating the minimum width when the widest part of the foal, the shoulders, pass the mare’s pelvis. At this stage the head is born, lying on the fore limbs, and the shoulders, having passed the pelvis, slip through quite easily. At this stage, it is common for the mare to take a rest with the foal’s hind quarters still within her.
The whole process takes less than 20 minutes. The foal is still attached to the mare by the umbilicus. The inner water bag is usually ruptured during the birth struggles, and the foal takes its first gasps of air. If the birth has taken longer than 45 minutes, complications should be suspected and help from a vet or someone knowledgeable should be sought. While the cord is still attached, blood is flowing from the mare into the foal. Quite naturally, the birth is completed when the cord breaks and the foal begins to rise. It is important, therefore, to refrain from trying to hasten this process.
Stage 3 of labour is the expulsion of the afterbirth – the placenta and attendant membranes. It is wise to inspect the afterbirth carefully, to ensure that none has been left within the mother to cause infection later. The afterbirth is then destroyed.
One important thing to do, if you are present at the birth, is to check that the nostrils of the foal are not blocked by part of the bag or other matter. The foal usually starts to move within half an hour and the mother will start to wash it and move it towards the udder. There it begins to suckle colostrum which contains essential vitamin-enriched substances that protect against certain diseases as well as stimulating the bowels so that normal digestion is begun. Once the foal has begun to suck, and the afterbirth has been disposed of, it must be established that the foal has produced its first droppings.
These consist of what is called foetal dung or foetal wax. It is the waste material that was in the bowel, a sticky substance that must be passed if it is not to solidify and cause an obstruction in the bowel. This would prove fatal; therefore the vet must be called if there has been no movement after some hours.
A liver-like fragment called milt will be found in the foal’s mouth, a substance that is supposed to stop water from entering the foal’s mouth during birth. The foal’s feet will be seen to have a flakey fringe of horn, soft and spongy, to stop the hard hoofs from piercing the bag before and during birth. These flakes soon harden and the feet become perfect. Once the birth is completed, the vet should be called to check over the mare and foal. The mare should be washed down with warm, soapy water to remove stains.
PROBLEMS DURING AND IMMEDIATELY AFTER FOALING
If the presentation of the foal is other than that described above, for example, two fully extended forefeet with no head lying on them, or one leg only, or hind legs instead of fore legs, do not try to manipulate the foal yourself. Prepare plenty of hot water, disinfectant and soap, and call the vet: it is reckless as well as cruel to wait to see whether the problem sorts itself out.
If the umbilicus does not separate naturally, it may be necessary to cut it, but this should be done by the vet. It can be done by tying a piece of sterilised cord round it tightly, about 5cm from the foal’s belly and again about 2cm from the belly, and cutting it with a sharp knife or scissors. The raw end should be treated with sulphanilamide.
A foal that has distressed breathing should be shaken with its head downwards. If it is not breathing, massage it strongly and even try mouth to mouth resuscitation. Another problem that may arise is prolapse. This is a condition caused when the mare overstrains herself and the whole womb appears, hanging almost as far as the hocks. The veterinarian should be called immediately to replace it and stich it. Sometimes a foal has difficulty in starting to suckle. This may be because the foal is too weak and cannot stand for long enough. In this case, the colostrum must be taken from the mare and fed to the foal through a sterilised bottle. After 2 or 3 feeds, the foal should be strong enough to manage on its own.
The foal may be encouraged to feed by having it stand beside the mare and squeezing drops of milk on to its nose and mouth. Another reason for the foal’s reluctance to feed may be that the mare herself refuses to stand still long enough for the foal to grip the teat. She should be restrained by holding her against the wall, lifting one leg, or even by applying a twitch to keep her still. A mare that is difficult to handle and is foaling for the first time should be kept in the stable while foaling since she might be difficult to catch to let the foal have its first all-important feed of colostrum.
- POST NATAL PROBLEMS OF THE MARE AND FOAL
Inflammation of the vagina
The vagina can be severely bruised during foaling which may cause the vulva to swell and appear dark-red in colour. The vet must be called to put the horse on a course of antibiotics. If neglected, this condition will cause the mare to develop a high temperature, and a foul-smelling discharge.
Inflammation of the womb
This is usually caused by retention of some of the afterbirth or by a large foal distending the uterus or from an infection associated with assisting the birth artificially. The symptoms, as the infection
develops, the mare becoming stiff in her movements, there is a loss of appetite, and a foul-smelling discharge will become apparent. Milk will also dry up. The veterinarian must be called to remove the cause of the condition and remove any remaining discharge. Failure to leave the mare absolutely clean will result in her death.
This is another name for inflammation of the udder. It may occur while the foal is sucking or during weaning, it is sometimes caused by the mare lying on cold, wet floors. It may be caused by obstructions in or injuries to the teats. There may be an overabundance of milk caused by the foal not taking all that is available.
The symptoms are that the udder is swollen and hard. When milk is drawn from it, it is clotted and blood-stained. The vet must be called and the milk must be withdrawn until the condition has improved and milk is flowing properly again.
PROBLEMS WITH THE FOAL
This has been dealt with above under foetal wax. If the foal does not pass these first dropping within 8 hours of birth, the veterinarian should be called. Neglect of this condition will cause death. The faeces are known as meconium, and should be passed shortly after the foal first suckles the colostrum which contains a laxative known as cholesterol.
This may occur during the first fourty-eight hours after birth and may be caused by an excess of cholesterol being present in the milk. The treatment is to take the foal away from the mare and bottle feed it on cow’s milk with a little sugar added, every 4 hours, for 24 hours.
Another type of diarrhoea that is more serious is known as white scour. This is caused by a microbe in the digestive tract which is very infectious. It occurs some three or four days after birth when the foal may pass a white liquid with a foul smell. The foal becomes ill very quickly and needs a veterinarian’s attention without dely. The foal must be kept clean, the stable disinfected and all soiled bedding burnt. The sucking foal may also suffer a slight diarrhoea when the mare comes into season, or if her diet is modified, but this is not serious.
Joint ill or navel ill
This is caused when bacteria enter the navel just after birth. The bacteria travel through the blood stream to the joints, which become swollen and painful, and hot to the touch. The symptoms are that the foal becomes lame and stiff, and the navel becomes swollen and painful. There is a rise in temperature and the foal stops feeding. If left untreated, the condition will weaken the foal until it is unable to rise and it is likely to die. The veterinarian should be called as soon as the first symptoms appear – either slight lameness or swelling of the navel. The disease may be avoided by strict hygiene during foaling and dressing the navel with an antibiotic or a sulpha drug.
There are many other sicknesses that may affect the foal. These would include paratyphoid or sleepy foal sickness. They require the immediate attention of the veterinarian. Should the foal show signs of sickening – for example, loss of appetite, listlessness etc. – the vet should be called.
It sometimes happens that the mare dies during or just after foaling. In this case a foster mother should be sought. If there is not one available, the foal will need to be bottle reared.
If there does happen to be a suitable foster mother, one that has lost her foal at birth, the orphan may be smeared with her afterbirth and introduced to her. Some mares will accept the foal without any fuss. Others will not tolerate a stranger, so the mare and foal must be watched very carefully until it is certain that the mare has accepted the new comer without reservations. Some mares who are good milk producers may accept and rear two foals, their own and an orphan.
This is an arduous business. The foal needs to be fed every two hours at first and even at two to three weeks, is looking for a feed every four hours. The utensils must be kept scrupulously clean. A long-necked wine bottle is a suitable container. The teat should be considerably enlarged. If the foal has had no colostrum, the first feed should be considerably larger. If the foal has had no colostrum, the first feed should be of glucose and water to clear the system of meconium, and the foal should be given a course of antibiotics.
Another recipe for artificial colostrum consists of 1 hen’s egg, 1 dessert spoon of castor oil, 1 tea spoon of glucose mixed with equal parts of cow’s milk and boiled water. The quantity needed depends upon the foal’s appetite. After the first couple of days, the diet can be gradually adjusted to one of cow’s milk with glucose. In some countries, a special milk powder for foals is produced. The amount the foal should be taking when it is on a four-hour feed is about 300 ml (a half a pint). The milk should be luke-warm when it is fed since milk that is too hot or too cold may cause diarrhoea.
The foals should be groomed daily with a soft brush. After each feed, the mouth, eyes, nose and hind parts should be wiped over with a warm sponge – the grooming that the mother would do while the youngster was feeding. An orphan foal should have some kind of companionship such as a lamb or another foal. At four or five months, the foal should be taking enough solids to not need more than two milk feeds per day.
- MANAGEMENT OF THE MARE AND FOAL
The mare requires special feeding to maintain a steady flow of milk for the foal. Both mare and foal require access to the best grazing available. Should the grazing not be good, the diet should be supplemented with high protein foods like hay, carrots, lucerne etc. and fresh water must be available all the time. This diet should keep the mare producing milk. Both mare and foal need exercise in the paddock for as long as possible each day after about the second or third day from birth.
The paddock should be strongly fenced with pole and rail. It should offer good grazing and contain some kind of shelter. It should be close to where the manager’s normal daily activities are carried out so that observation may be as constant as possible. For the first day or so, the foal will only drink milk from the mare. At a later stage, high protein concentrates should be offered, and foal pellets or calf pellets, after the first couple of weeks. Foals tend not to eat hay, for their digestive system cannot cope with it when they are very young.
There are four stages in the development of the foal’s digestive system:
- First phase: milk diet only;
- Second phase: milk and concentrates;
- Third phase: milk, concentrates and hay; and
- Fourth phase: concentrates and hay.
By about the seventh month the foal should have reached the fourth phase of development of the digestive system. Hay should be available to the foal from birth because it encourages the development of the microbial system that breaks down hay for digestion. For this reason, the hay offered should be Rhodes Grass or an equivalent, since the foal cannot break down the fibers of rough, veld hay.
Foals are also unable to digest sucrose until they are roughly 7 months old. It is consequently of no use to feed a foal molasses. The foal will be ready to wean at about 6 month, especially if the mare is in foal again.
When weaning is attempted, the foal should be eating concentrates and hay eagerly and be virtually independent of the mother’s milk. If possible, the foal’s companion – another foal, a donkey or a pony – should be available during the weaning period. When the weaning process begins, the mare is taken away from the foal, leaving it with its companion in the stable. It is important that neither the mare nor the foal can hear each other. The foal should be given plenty of small feeds and a great deal of attention. The mare also needs attention. Her udder should be checked to ensure that it is not becoming hard and uncomfortable – a condition that could lead to mastitis.
The mare’s diet should be reduced in quantity and quality to promote the drying off process. It is advisable to give her nothing but hay in her stable, and her grazing should not be in a paddock containing much lush grass. Drying-off should be complete within ten days. After this time, the diet may be increased again, especially if the mare is in foal again. The foal will need to be handled constantly as a preparation for training.