The Horse: AAEP 2003: Foal Care From Birth to 30 Days

An oldie but goodie published in The Horse in January, 2004.  Still a very useful article about trouble signs to watch for in a newborn foal.

The Horse: AAEP 2003: Foal Care From Birth to 30 Days

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So, you want breed your mare? Step 1:

First things first:  take an unemotional look at your reason for becoming a horse breeder. 

Horse breeding can be very exciting and rewarding.  Honestly, watching the babies cavort in the pasture, observing the miracle of birth (I never get tired of it!), participating in handling and teaching the babies and watching over them as they grow up are some of the highlights of my life.  Horse breeding is an activity that will require you to acquire considerable knowledge in order to do it well.  In addition, you will spend a considerable amount of time and money to produce offspring.  Aside from your risk, breeding is also a risky business for your mare.  You owe it to yourself and your mare to be well prepared if you’re going to embark on a breeding adventure.  Read on to decide whether you’re up for the challenge!

Rule #1:  The veterinarian is your friend.  Particularly when you find a veterinarian who either specializes in reproduction or has a lot of experience with reproduction in his/her practice.  Choose your repro vet carefully, as your mare’s life and the life of her foal could depend on it.  Many vets do not get much exposure to reproductive courses in vet school, and unless they choose to intern or do post-graduate work in a clinical setting that includes repro work, you simply can’t assume that every vet has repro experience.  Reproductive work is extremely demanding on a vet in terms of quality of life — scheduling a life around closely-timed breedings and foalings (which usually occur in the middle of the night) is tough.  Therefore, not too many vets choose equine reproduction as a career path.  So, talk to your vet about breeding before you proceed.  Some vets will say “no thanks” and refer you to a qualified repro vet.  There’s nothing wrong with having your regular vet and a repro vet, as long as they agree to work together.  If your vet agrees to do your repro work, make certain he/she commits to being on call for you 24/7 when necessary, and make certain of his/her qualifications in equine reproduction.  Her/his experience should be relevant and recent, and she/he should have a solid relationship with the nearest equine hospital and at least one other reproductive vet.  If you have some special requirements that demand a reproduction specialist, you may even have a third vet involved — a theriogenologist

Some things to think about when considering whether to breed your mare:

  • What qualities does this mare possess that make you believe she will produce a desirable offspring?  At this stage, it’s really important that you be honest and realistic with yourself.
  • Is the mare sound and completely healthy?  Does the mare suffer from any chronic conditions that might affect her ability to bear and rear a foal?  Examples might include severe injury/lameness, any number of equine viruses, past history of losing a foal, hemorraging, etc.  Does the mare have any genetic defects that have affected her usefulness, could be passed on to the foal, or could affect her ability to carry a foal to term and nurse it for at least four months?  If so, you should very seriously consider whether breeding is a good idea.  If you’re not sure, consult with a veterinarian whose opinion you trust.  I’ve run a couple of mares past my vet and have decided against breeding based on his recommendations. 
  • Have you assessed her conformation?  What are her conformational strong and weak points?  Do you know how to do a conformation assessment on your mare (don’t worry, lots of people don’t)?  If not, here’s your first opportunity to learn something essential to the success of your breeding program!  Learning about conformation qualities might seem a little like learning to rate wines.  Some of the terminology may seem fairly esoteric.  However, what it’s really all about is your horse’s anatomy, and whether her anatomy lends itself to the type of work you want her to do.  Different conformation characteristics are desirable for different disciplines — what may be very desirable in a driving horse, may be very undesirable for a dressage horse.  Some conformation “flaws” are undesirable for just about any equine sport, so you’ll need to know whether your mare has any of those — another reason to think hard about suitability for breeding.
  • is she registered with a breed registry?  If not, is she eligible to be entered in any breed registries as a broodmare? 
  • What is her temperament like?  Is she easy to handle?  Keep in mind that your mare is going to be teaching your foal how to behave.  So, if she’s a pill, prepare for pill squared! 

The likelihood of your mare’s characteristics (both good and bad) being passed from the mare to the foal is a hotly debated topic in the breeding world.  To some extent it depends on the prepotency of the stallion.  For sure, at least some of the mare’s good points and some of her bad points will show up in the foal.  A rule of thumb that I use, for which I freely admit I have no scientific evidence, is that 60% of my mare’s characteristics will pass on to the foal.  One thing is for certain:  the health of the foal will be largely dependent upon the health of the mare, as it will be spending 11 months in her womb, and the mare has a significant impact on the foal’s initial training about how to get along in the world.

  • What do you plan to do with the foal?  If you plan to sell it, how and where do you plan to market it? 
  • If you can’t sell the foal, what will you do with it? 
  • Do you have a budget for your breeding project?  Assume that the cost of the pregnancy and getting a live foal through it’s first year of life will cost a *minimum* of four times the stud fee.  If you’re thinking of breeding for your own enjoyment, making a profit might not be important to you.  However, if you’re planning to sell your foal, be aware that making a profit as a horse breeder is extremely difficult. 

More on each of these areas coming up in future posts!  Stay tuned.

Q: What’s a theriogenologist?

A:  A veterinarian who is a reproductive specialist. 

While many veterinarians are qualified to do reproductive work, a board-certified theriogenologist is usually called in when special expertise is required.  Examples include:  fertility problems, insemination with frozen semen, special insemination techniques (deep horn insemination, for example), embryo transfer, etc. 

While your regular veterinarian can probably refer you to a theriogenologist, The Society for Theriogenology can help you locate one here:

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