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Countdown to Foaling: Preparing Your Mare

by Michelle Holtmeyer
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In this article we will explain you everything about the topic “Countdown to foaling” and how you should prepare your mare.

I’ve decided to breed from my mare – when does she need to see the vet?

The first thing to note is whether the mare is ovulating regularly, so keep a record of the times she is in season. Once it’s established that your mare is ovulating regularly, it’s time to call the vet out to have a general health check. This will cover not just uterine health, but everything else as well.

During the examination, the vet will look for the signs of a healthy, properly functioning uterus and ovaries. They will check to see if there’s any discharge or other problems. They will want to ascertain whether the mare’s fertility cycle is regular, whether she is currently in season or when the next one is due.

If she is currently in season, a swab test can be taken right away. An ultrasound will reveal whether the uterus and ovaries are functioning properly, and whether there are signs of healthy egg production and secretion in the uterus. It will also reveal the presence of any cysts.

The appearance of a yellow body on the ovary indicates the presence of progesterone, the pregnancy hormone. This is essential for healthy fertilisation and a successful pregnancy.

What is a swab sample? Why is it necessary?

A swab test will reveal the health of the mare’s uterus. It’s sometimes known as a cervical swab, or bacteriological examination, as it indicates if there are any bacteria present. This simple test can prevent various diseases from spreading in the horse breeding population. If there are infections such as E. coli or streptocci, or evidence of sexually transmitted diseases, the mare should not be covered by the stallion. The swab test will also reveal the presence of fungal infections. If the swab test is negative, it’s fine to proceed with mating.

When is the optimum time for a swab test?

Generally, at the start of the mare’s season the cervix is open and this is the best time to take the swab. However, there may be reasons to take more swabs throughout the mare’s cycle. Mares who have previously had difficulty conceiving, for instance, and sometimes those who are in season but not going to be put in foal this year. Barren mares, that is those who have been inseminated the previous year but did not subsequently fall in foal, may also require additional tests, as may older maiden mares, that is those that have not yet been bred.

Younger mares, that is 3 and 4 year olds who have never had a foal, and mares with foals at foot usually do not need to be swabbed. However, every stud has its own rules regarding swabbing prior to covering by a stallion, so abide by the regulations of the stud.

Ensuring your mare conceives and carries her foal successfully

The production of the yellow body on the ovary, indicating the presence of progesterone, is an essential part of a healthy pregnancy. However, some mares do have problems producing this pregnancy hormone. Until around the hundredth day of pregnancy, the progesterone is formed by the luteal body. Thereafter, the hormone is formed in the placenta. If the mare is prone to losing her foal in the first hundred days, hormonal therapy is available to help her carry the foal to its full term.

The first 40 days of pregnancy are most critical. It’s during this period that the embryo has to embed and grow in the womb. The heartbeat can be picked up on ultrasound by the 26th day and by day 30, most organs have developed.

When do I have to have my mare inseminated?

The timing of insemination depends very much on how the mare is being inseminated. This could be by a natural covering by the stallion, or by artificial insemination with fresh semen, or with frozen semen. Frozen semen is not the best quality semen and mares may require further pregnancy and other testing when this method is used.

With fresh semen, it is best to inseminate as near as possible to the time of ovulation. This may need to be repeated after two days to ensure the sperm is definitely present during ovulation.

If using artificial insemination, the semen is usually implanted once or twice over a period of up to 6 to 8 hours either side of ovulation.

What monitoring tools are available as foaling approaches?

The good old-fashioned way is simply to sleep in a neighbouring stable. Expect to be worn out after a few days of the mare’s pre-natal “will-she, won’t-she tonight” behaviour though! Abdominal girths that trigger an alarm if the mare appears to be lying down for longer are available. Used in conjunction with a camera in the barn, these can also alert you when the mare is having contractions, but not, of course, if she decides to foal standing up! Sweat monitors can be useful, but only in mares that do sweat noticeably when foaling.

Halters with a sensor can also provide an alert when the mare lies down for longer or is in a foaling position. There is always a risk when a horse wears a halter in the stable though, especially when foaling; plus they can easily be lost in the bedding.

For the ultimate control over your mare’s foaling, some veterinary practices offer an electronic control system in the form of a micro-transmitter that is stitched to the mare’s labia. This procedure should be performed by a qualified vet. As the birth channel opens for foaling, the magnet that triggers the programmable alarm is disconnected to alert key staff that the foal is on the way. It’s very popular with professional studs.

Do you have any other question? Just leave your question in the comments.

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