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The birth of a foal is an event that we always look forward to. We have foaled out close to 200 mares here on our farm and no two births are the same. We learn something new from each birth.  I am not a veterinarian and in no way am I intending to give any type of medical advice.  I am simply sharing with you the things that I watch for  to help me determine when one of our mares is close to foaling.

The first thing that I can say is that regardless of what steps that a person takes, Mother Nature still has the upper hand on determining the actual onset of foaling. We can, however, help ourselves out in a number of ways to get a better idea when foaling is near.


How we determine when a mare is close to foaling

All of our mares are hand bred so we know the date of each mare's last breeding.  We use 340 days from her last breeding to calculate a due date.

No amount of testing can take the place of knowing your mare and doing a hands on check of her several times a day. Mares, like humans, are individuals, and each will react to the approach of foaling in her own way. Mares tend to behave similarly from year to year, so keeping track of prior behavior and length of gestation also helps us make predictions.

We use two types of tests to help us  determine the mare's readiness to foal. One is a measurement of the quantity of calcium present in the mare's milk and the other is the pH of the milk. When used together these two tests have been very helpful as indicators  as to when a mare will foal.  Both tests require only a few drops of milk from the mare.

Milk Strips

We have been using milk test strips for years as part of our pre-foaling routine. As the mare gets closer to birth, the quantity of calcium in her milk increases. The milk strips measure the calcium level in the mares milk and gives us an idea how a mare is progressing.

PH Strips

We use narrow range PH strips to measure the Ph levels in the mares milk. Generally a mare's milk will test above pH 7 for a period of time before foaling and as she nears foaling the pH level will drop. When the milk is pH 6.3 or below she is getting close to foaling. Most of our mares foal within a matter of hours to a day when the pH level goes to 6.2 or below.

Signs we look for when checking our mares:

Mare's udder filling with milk (often referred to as “bagging up”) and may start to leak.

Teats waxing or sealing over.

Muscles beside tail head softening.

The abdomen becoming increasingly pendulous ( often said to be forming a V)

Reddening of vaginal mucosa

Signs the mare is in the first stage of labor



The mare usually paces about the stall more than normal.  She may repeatedly look back at her flanks. She may walk circles in her stall.

PAWING/NEST BUILDING - She may spend time pawing at her bedding with one of her front legs. Mares will frequently stop their restless pacing and paw the stall bedding then begin pacing again.

FREQUENT, LOOSE BOWEL MOVEMENTS - Most mares have a number of bowel movements in the hours just prior to foaling. Generally these are rather loose and more the consistency of "cow pies". The mares also urinate frequently

LYING DOWN AND STANDING UP - Usually as the actual active phase of labor gets closer, the mares will lay down for short periods of time (seconds to a minute) then get up. She will move about a little and usually lay down again. She may lay flat out, on her side or may keep her head up. She may also roll.

YAWNING OR FLEHMEN DISPLAY - Many mares will repeatedly yawn or curl their upper lip in the flehmen display in the hours just preceding foaling.


Active labor

ACTIVE CONTRACTIONS BEGIN - The mare may actually lie down and begin the rhythmic contractions of labor. These are very characteristic in which the mare lies on her side. Her feet are extended and become rigid in a regular pattern of strong contractions.  Under "textbook" circumstances the mare may lie down and make a number of contractions, get up and pace the stall few times, lie down and have another series of contractions, then get to her feet again. This can occur several times in routine foalings. The culmination of this series of behaviors is that the "water breaks". Very shortly after the water breaks a clear, whitish bubble should appear which is the amniotic sack that is encasing the foal.  Two feet followed closely by a muzzle will be visible very soon and if all goes well the foal will be born in a matter of minutes. . 

To see a new foal enter the world  is one of life’s most exciting pleasures.  I hope you are able to be present as our foals take their  first breaths and we hear their first nickers.


Foal Development In Utero