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The average gestation length for most mares is 335 to 340 days (range 320 to 362 days). Normal signs of impending delivery include gradual udder development 2 to 6 weeks prior to delivery. The mare's teats wax within hours to a few days prior to foaling. Her mammary secretions change from clear and watery to opaque and sticky as delivery approaches.
Contact your veterinarian if your mare demonstrates vaginal discharge and/or premature udder development or begins leaking milk well before her due date. These can be warning signs of placental disease and a compromised pregnancy.
The first few hours of your foal's life are critical. A healthy newborn foal should be able to stand within one hour of delivery and should be nursing within two hours. If your foal is too weak to stand and nurse, contact your veterinarian immediately. Common causes of newborn foal illness include overwhelming bacterial infection (septicemia), prematurity and/or neonatal maladjustment syndrome (neurological dysfunction associated with lack of oxygen before or during delivery). Early veterinary intervention can be lifesaving.
Dip your foal's umbilical stump with dilute chlorhexidine or iodine twice daily for 2-3 days or until the stump is dry. Every foal should pass its first manure, or meconium, within 12-24 hours of delivery. Meconium is pasty or pelleted in consistency and dark brown or black in color. Following meconium passage, the foal's feces should be soft and light tan in color. A prophylactic enema administered shortly after birth helps reduce the risk of meconium impaction.
Your foal should ingest at least 1-2 pints of good quality colostrum within the first 24 hours life to ensure absorption of adequate antibodies. Peak absorption occurs during the first 6-12 hours following birth. The primary antibody in colostrum is IgG. Healthy foals that have nursed and absorbed adequate colostrum have an IgG concentration in their bloodstream of at least 800 mg/dl. Your veterinarian can draw a blood sample from your foal within 12-18 hours of delivery and can quickly and accurately measure the IgG concentration. Newborn foals with IgG concentrations less than 400 mg/dl should receive supplemental colostrum and/or a plasma transfusion to provide vital antibodies that help reduce the risk of serious bacterial and viral infections during the first few months of life. A complete blood count can also be performed on each newborn foal to detect early signs of infection or anemia.
You should observe your newborn foal frequently during the first few weeks of life to detect early signs of disease. Often the first sign of a sick foal is lethargy and decreased nursing vigor accompanied by an overly distended udder on the mare. Young foals are at risk for a variety of respiratory diseases and diarrhea. Monitor your young foal's breathing rate and effort, body temperature, nursing behavior and manure consistency.
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