Preparing For Breeding And Foaling by Heather Smith Thomas There are a number of things a person can do to help make sure breeding and foaling are successful. The mare needs proper care to conceive, carry and raise a foal. Preparation for breeding The mare should be in good physical condition before she is brednot too thin, nor too fator she may have difficulty conceiving. A mare too fat may have unpredictable heat cycles (sometimes not at all) and a mare too thin may not cycle. A hormone imbalance can be suspected if a mare stays too fat even on reduced rations. She should be on a regular deworming schedule and vaccinations should be kept up to date. There are a number of diseases that can cause abortion in mares; you don't want to lose the fetus because you neglected to vaccinate her. Check with your veterinarian to see which diseases you should include in your vaccination schedule, in your geographic area and your individual situation. Before the mare is bred, have her teeth checked, and also make sure she has no lameness or chronic problem that might cause her discomfort. A leg problem could become worse during late pregnancy due to her increased body weight. The mare should have a breeding soundness examination well ahead of when you plan to breed her. The best mare in the world will still not make a broodmare if she has a physical problem that might interfere with conception or carrying a foal to term. Have a veterinarian examine the mare. Then if she has a problem you'll know about it before you go to the time and expense to have her bredand if it is correctable you will have time to deal with it before she is bred. When examining a mare for breeding soundness, the veterinarian will check uterus and ovaries by rectal palpation, reaching gently into the rectum with a well-lubricated long-sleeved plastic glove. This examination can reveal a great deal about the health of uterus and ovaries. If the ovaries are hard, fibrous or large, the mare may have difficulty with reproduction. Sometimes a mare will have a cyst or tumor in the ovary that may interfere with fertility. While checking the ovaries, the veterinarian will also check the oviducts for adhesions that might interfere with egg passage. The cervix and uterus can also be checked at this examination. Enlargement of the uterus or thickening of its walls may mean the mare had an infection that left scar tissue. A uterus that lacks proper tone (flabby to the touch) is abnormal and reduces the chances of successful pregnancy. A thickened cervix due to injury at a previous foaling, or from infection, can make a mare unsound for breeding. The veterinarian may also do an ultrasound examination, to visualize uterine or ovarian abnormalities. A closer look at the vagina and cervix can be done through a speculum, checking for adhesions that might indicate previous tears and injuries. Color and health of the vaginal tissues can give a clue as to whether the mare has an infection. A cervical culture should be taken during her heat period (at that time the cervix is open and the veterinarian has access to uterine fluids). If bacteria grow from the culture, they can be tested with various antibiotics to determine which ones might be most effective for cleaning up the infection. An examination of uterine cells (under a microscope) from a swab is also helpful; presence of white blood cells may indicate infection. Occasionally a breeding soundness exam discovers an improperly developed genital tract or congenital defect that would prevent reproduction. More common is a maiden mare with imperforate hymen (an obstructing membrane partition), which can be corrected easily by the veterinarian at the time of examination. If not corrected, these membranes would be torn at breeding, which could lead to infection. It is better to eliminate the problem with sterile techniques, allowing the mare at least 2 or 3 weeks to heal before being bred. A breeding soundness exam should also include a look at the mare's udder to see if there are any abnormalities, or scar tissue from previous mastitis. Conformation of the vulva should be checked. A mare with a tipped vulva (sloped inward rather than up and down) will usually develop vaginal infection from constant contamination (feces falling through the opening). A mare with this condition should have the lips of the vulva sutured to prevent infection. The veterinarian will use local anesthetic, trim the edges of the vulva and suture them so they grow together. This simple Caslicks repair can prevent the most common types of infection that cause infertility in older mares. The grown-together vulva lips must be reopened for breeding (then restitched) and for foaling, so the vulva, will not be torn. In some cases, artificial insemination (as can be done with fresh semen, shipped semen or frozen semen) can be accomplished with a high Caslicks in place. This may be the most preferred breeding method for a mare with a problem; there is less chance of introducing infection. If sending the mare somewhere to be bred, she should be sent well ahead of when she's due to come into heat. She'll be more apt to come into heat properly and conceive if she had a chance to get used to the strange place and the stallion. The stallion manager and/or veterinarian at the breeding facility may use hormones to schedule the mare's cycle for breeding, but she will still need to be there ahead of time for this. If she is pregnant and you are sending her to be foaled out and rebred, send here at least two months before she is due to foal. Preparation for foaling While carrying a foal, the mare needs good carekept in good condition but not overfed. Her nutritional requirements increase significantly only during the final trimester of pregnancy. If you increase her feed as soon as she's pregnant, she may be too fat when she foals. She needs a well balanced diet containing necessary nutrients for the growing fetus. She needs clean feed, free from mold and spoilage that might cause abortion. Exercise is also important. She needs good muscle tone. If she was ridden before being bred, continue riding her afterward. She can continue the same level of exercise, even if strenuous, during the first six months of pregnancy while the fetus is small. In late pregnancy however, her agility and stamina will be reduced because of the growing foal and it's best to slow down. She still needs regular exercise, but stick to walking and jogging. Fatigue, strain or overexertion can be a cause of abortion. A good pasture with room to move around can provide needed exercise, and is an ideal environment for pregnant mares and mares with foals. Don't keep a pregnant mare in the same pasture with a group of young horses or geldings; this increases risk of injury to the mare from being kicked, or falling while running. Geldings may tease and fuss with a mare and have been known to make mares abort their foals. If a mare foals at pasture while with other horses, a more dominant mare may steal the foal. Some geldings will try to kill a newborn foal. In the late pregnancy some mares develop swelling around the udder which extends forward along the flanks. Occasionally the area along the mammary vein in the lower abdomen is swollen too, almost as far forward as the girth area. This happens when a large fetus and the weight of its fluids distend the uterus, compressing the mammary veins so there is poor blood return. Inactivity, leading to poor circulation, makes the problem worse. As the mares gets closer to term and heavier with foal, she becomes more clumsy and sluggish and moves around less. It's a vicious cycle; the heavier she gets, the less she exercises, the more swelling she develops and the less she feels like moving. She may have trouble getting up and down. Some mares get so clumsy they rarely lie down during the last weeks or days of pregnancy, because the effort to get up is so great. The inactive mare's legs may stock up due to her sluggish circulation. A mare at pasture will usually move around enough to prevent excessive edema, but a confined mare may not move much at all, and will need to be given regular mild exercise. Give her a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes at least twice a day. This will help relieve the swelling and also keep her muscle tone better for delivering her foal. A mare on good pasture will need little extra care as long as she has good feed and water (and shelter from flies and hot sun or cold storms; depending on time of year). Remove any obstacles or hazards from her pasture or paddock. Don't have her in a pasture with ditches or gullies where she may get into trouble if she lies next to the ditch and rolls into it. Avoid narrow gates and doorways when moving her in and out of pasture or stall. In a stall, remove projecting edges she might run into. Well before her foaling time approaches, decide where she will foal (remember that a mare can foal as much as a month ahead of due date or a month after; due dates for mares are based on averages). If she must foal in confinement (shed, paddock or box stall), it must be thoroughly cleaned. A foaling stall should be at least 14 by 16 feet in sizepreferably largerto reduce her risk of her getting up against the wall during labor. If she will be foaling in cold weather, have a safe corner in the stall where you could set up a heat lamp for the foal if necessary. Take out old bedding, and scrub the stall with disinfectant. Sprinkle the clean floor with lime before putting in new bedding. Use straw for bedding. Shavings or sawdust may be satisfactory while she's pregnant, but not for foaling. It sticks to the foal, and may get into his nostrils when he is being born. Wood products can also harbor Klebsiella bacteria, which can cause uterine infection. Straw bedding is safer. It should be deep enough to be comfortable to the mare but not so deep it would be hard for the foal to get up and around. Remove all obstaclesfeed tubs, buckets, or anything else that might get in her way during labor. If foaling in a stall, wash and dry the mare's udder, belly, buttocks and lower legsany place the foal might nuzzle trying to find the udder. Use warm water and chlorhexadine (Nolvasan). This reduces the contamination the foal will get when trying to nurse. This is especially important if there have been any cases of E. coli or other foalhood diseases on the farm. It also helps to pick up all manure in a foaling stall several times a day so the mare has no chance to get dirty. Washing her just before foaling (when she goes into labor) will reduce risks of diarrhea and septicemia (leading causes of death in newborns). If you think the foal might be at risk (if other foals on the premises have been sick), milk the mare soon after she foals and get a good amount of colostrum into the foal BEFORE he starts nosing around. It's a race between the bacteria and the colostral antibodies to be absorbed through the gut lining. The best place for a healthy mare to foal, especially if she has had foals before, and a history of easy deliveries, is in a level grassy pasture where she can be by herself. It should be a clean, dry place, with safe, smooth fencing. There is less chance for infection than in a stall or corral, and it's a more natural environment for the mare. The disadvantage of pasture foaling is that it's harder to keep close watch on the mare at night, and also inadvisable in bad weather. If the mare has been sutured (Caslicks repair), the vaginal opening will be very small, and must be opened before she foals. It should be opened a few days in advance of anticipated foaling so she will not tear herself if she foals unexpectedly and unobserved. At least a month before she's due to foal, gather supplies you may need, and have them in a clean, convenient place. Some things you might need are a clean bucket, clean container to milk into if needed (an open pan works well, because of divergent flow from the teatsthey don't always shoot straight), tail wraps or nylon stocking to encase the mare's tail, a pint of disinfectant like Nolvasan (to add to wash water to wash her hindquarters) and to disinfect the newborn foal's navel stump (and a jar to dip the navel into), plastic shoulder length obstetrical gloves in case you have to reach inside the mare, clean bath towels in case you have to dry the foal, plastic garbage bag to put the placenta into, foal enema kit, flashlight and new batteries, heat lamp if weather will be cold, obstetrical chains and handles or nylon pull straps and handle in case you have to pull on the foal's legs in a difficult birth, sterile syringes and needles, suction bulb in case you have to suck fluid from his nostrils, obstetrical lubricant, and 10 cc. of oxytocin (refrigerated) to be given if advised by your veterinarian if the mare does not clean. And keep your veterinarian's phone number posted in a handy place if you don't already have it memorized!
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