Colostrum Bank

Photo by Jenn Webster.

Photo by Jenn Webster.

The loss of a mare that relates to her foaling experience is heartbreaking, especially when it should be a time of celebration. In such situations, it may also be necessary to locate colostrum within the first 24 hours to provide the orphan foal with the immunity it requires.

In 1997, Albertan Peter Hurst created With support from Alberta breeders, it has become a successful resource for mare owners.

Since 1997, Cyberfoal has been providing a central location to breeders willing to distribute or acquire mares’ colostrum. When time is of importance, this voluntary service contributes to the survival of many newborn foals.

Most pregnant mares produce colostrum and, when collected, filtered and frozen, many foals can benefit.

Collection takes but minutes to perform and can remain frozen for up to two years. How to collect colostrum is explained on the Cyberfoal website.

Each year, Cyberfoal receives more requests for colostrum than becomes available. The requests for foster mares are less frequent. These unprecedented statistics continue each year, because colostrum collection is at the breeders’ discretion.

Find out more about how you can help at Cyberfoal.

Protecting Your Mare From Rhino

Have you ever wondered why it’s so important to vaccinate your mare’s at their 5th, 7th and 9th months of pregnancy? Have you been tempted to skip one sequence of the vaccine – or the whole thing altogether – figuring that “it can’t make that much of a difference?” If you’re of this school of thought, I have one word for you: Rhinopneumonitis.

Rhinopneumonitis is also known as two distinct viruses: Equine Herpes Virus Type 1 (EHV-1) and Equine Herpes Virus Type 4 (EHV-4). Each of these types cause two different diseases, both of which are known as Rhinopneumonitis and both of which cause respiratory tract problems. However, where they differ is in the fact that EHV-1 may also cause abortion in pregnant mares – making the economic and emotional losses of this disease immeasurable. It is a very contagious viral disease that can creep up suddenly and affect large numbers of mares in what is known as an “abortion storm”. Rhinopneumonitis is transmitted by direct contact or airborne respiratory secretions and the initial source of the infection is often unknown.

Pneumabort K - The Rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1) vaccine.

Symptoms of the EHV-1 disease can be tricky. Mares may show signs of respiratory disease 3-4 months prior to the actual abortion taking place. Symptoms include a horse that is feverish, lethargic and has a loss of appetite, plus a possible nasal discharge and cough. At the time of abortion, the mare will often display no other sign of illness. Most often, the abortion takes place in the last 1/3 of pregnancy as the virus attacks the lung tissue of the fetus. The fetus then dies in the uterus and the mare aborts it due to the fact that it is no longer alive. And the saddest thing of all, if the fetus has been exposed to the disease but does not die in utero it can be carried full term – only to be born in a weakened condition and die within 24 hours.


There is no known treatment against Rhinopneumonitis and once a mare has contracted the disease, the result is tragic for the foal. However, Rhinopneumonitis can be prevented and a vaccination protocol of pregnant mares at 5,7 and 9 months of pregnancy is the only way to guard against it. Commonly, the killed vaccine Pneumabort K is given to mares at these specific times in their pregnancies and may offer some cross over protection against the flu variety. Young horses can also suffer from respiratory tract infections as a result of EHV-1 and may secondarily also develop pneumonia. Therefore, weanlings, yearlings and young horses under stress should also be vaccinated – speak to your veterinarian for vaccine and protocol advice for these animals.

Foalert Systems

Last breeding season, I had the chance to tour around with Dr. Bonnie Thwaits, DVM of Tucson, AZ, and learn a few things about preparing for the happiest season of the year (in my opinion) – foaling season! With numerous mares to be responsible for in any given breeding year, Dr. Thwaits utilizes Foalert, a foaling monitoring system that can essentially, allow her to be in two places at once.

On this ride along, I was allowed to photograph the attachment of an actual foaling device into a mare that was expected to deliver within a short period of time. * So on that note, if you have a queasy stomach for sutures and things of this nature, perhaps it’s best for you to stop reading today’s blog now. My Stable Life will return with less graphic veterinary images, I promise!

The Foalert System allows vets and owners a great amount of flexibility by alerting them to a foaling – no more regular foaling barn checks every hour throughout the night – making it also very beneficial in the circumstances of maiden mares or dystocias. It allows vets and owners to sleep until the mare and foal actually need intervention and has been proven to prevent foaling losses, especially in early mares. It provides 24 hour, round the clock supervision of a mare due to foal, making foaling season much less stressful and gives owners peace of mind.

So how does it work? Basically, a transmitter is sutured with 3 simple sutures, by someone who is experienced with such procedures (most often, veterinarians) just outside of the mare’s vulva, approximately 1-2 weeks prior to the expected due date. The physical separation of the vulva lips pulls the actuating magnet from the transmitter. When this occurs, a silent radio signal is sent to the receiver which then sounds an audible alarm and activates any accessories attached to the receiver. Foalerts allow owners or vets to monitor multiple births simultaneously, provided each expectant mother is wearing a transmitter and is within the tested range of the receiver.

Interestingly enough, the Automatic Dialer that can come with the system can be programmed to call up to 4 telephone and/or pager numbers when activated by the receiver. The dialer will call each number and deliver either a voice or numeric message, allowing for the utmost freedom of movement for the attendant as there are no distant restraints via the telephone line.

It’s important to note that the alarm sounds when the vulva lips physically open and the system is designed to be effective in cases of dystocia. This is because the system has also been proven in some cases of a full breach, that the straining of a mare will cause the magnet to become dislodged and activate the transmitter.

7 Signs She’s Ready to Foal

Are you waiting with anticipation, wondering when your mare is going to drop that precious foal you've been dreaming about for the last 11 months (or more?) The estimation of a mare's foaling date is always calculated from the last breeding date and the average gestation length in the horse is 340 days. However, there is never an exact science to figuring out when – exactly – your mare will drop her foal. The range can be 320 to 360 days, and this fact can keep breeders on their toes.

The following are 7 of the best external signs a mare will display prior to foaling, plus the length of time they typically display these signs before the birth happens. Just remember, these signs are extremely variable and of course they all change from mare to mare.

1. Rubbing her tail –  Mares who become uncomfortable in pregnancy may begin to rub their tails. You might interpret this as needing to be dewormed, but if you have your broodmare's deworming up to date – not to worry. Some mares like to deal with the weight of the foal and the physical discomfort of gestation by pressing their butts against the wall or rubbing their tail heads. This can occur 2-3 months prior to foaling, right up to the day of.

2. Distention of the abdomen – the mare's abdomen will often conform to a “pear shape” within 2 to 6 weeks of foaling. You will also see her belly “drop” and seem to have a “shelf-like” appearance.

3.Relaxation of croup muscles – in the mare's hind end, on either side of the tail, you will begin to notice a “spongy-like” feel to the muscles in this area. This typically occurs 7 to 10 days before foaling.

4. Udder development -4 to 6 weeks prior to foaling, the mare's udder will begin to fill up with milk. Many people refer to this as “bagging up.” Her teats will also begin to fill up and become shiny and black – this happens within 4 to 6 days of foaling.

5. Waxing of teats – Colostrum begins to ooze out of both of the mare's teats at 4 to 6 days prior to foaling. Of course, some mares will begin to wax out of one teat and throw you for a loop or there are also some mares who wax for days and days, or will quit waxing altogether for a spell in between. That's why it's best to document some notes about your broodmares every year so you can know what is typical behavior for their pregnancy.

6. Dripping of Milk – This is probably the most reliable sign that your mare will foal soon as it usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours of foaling.

7. Elongation of the Vulva – As the mare gets closer to parturition, her vulva begins to stretch and relax downwards in preparation for the foal to come out of the pelvic canal. Again, this happens usually within 24 to 48 hours.

Happy Foaling Season!!

Breeding Older Mares, PT 1

As discussed yesterday on My Stable Life, there are many things to take into consideration when breeding older mares. How difficult will it be for her to carry a foal to full term this time? Will she need hormone therapy and will the costs of that outweigh other options for breeding her? What is her breeding history? Has she had a foal every year since she was retired to the broodmare band? Etc.

If you have a great mare who you would like to get another foal from but she getting up there in age, the good news is you still have options for breeding. Embryo transfer makes it possible to obtain foals from our great mares, years after their best reproduction days have passed. But regardless of how you choose to proceed, here are some of the reasons breeding your older mare needs extra consideration:


Uterine cysts can sometimes pose a problem for breeding as they are usually seen in conjunction with an increase in the intercellular fluid, the formation of small “lakes” within the tissue and early embryonic death. Sometimes cysts can even be mistaken for a small fetus during rectal ultrasounds/palpation. Older mares with a history of multiple pregnancies and births often develop scar tissue within the uterus. The scar tissue can cause a clogging of channels in the lymphatic drainage system which means there is literally a backup of fluid at these locations. The fluid is then secreted by glands within the uterus with the correct levels being maintained via drainage through the uterine walls. Problems can arise when uterine scar tissue clogs portions of this drainage field, resulting in a cyst or cysts filled with fluid.

Depending on your veterinarian, 2 or 3 cysts may not concern them unless a cyst has become so large that it fills the lumen of one horn or the other. If this happens, embryo migration throughout the uterus could be impeded resulting in lack of maternal recognition of pregnancy.

If the mare has multiple cysts, it may still be worth a breeding attempt as you can never know if the cysts will pose a problem for pregnancy until you try. But use common sense and if she does not catch within a couple of attempts, stop trying to breed her. The presence of multiple small uterine cysts are sometimes associated with mucometra, a condition that is characterized by a spongy, thick uterine wall, a flaccid uterus and the presence of milky-white mucus within the uterine cavity.

If your mare has cysts, it’s important to document them and their location in her reproductive system, in the event you want to continue breeding her in future years. The information is helpful for your reproductive specialist.

Fibrosis is another of the degenerative changes often seen in an older mare’s uterus, and it is mainly due to aging rather than to wear and tear from pregnancies. Fibrosis is defined as an abnormal increase in the amount of fibrous connective tissue in an organ, part or tissue.

Statistically, pregnancy loss is higher in older mares than it is  in younger horses. Some research has shown that the villi in the uterus are less numerous in some older mares as a result of fibrosis. Thus the placental area (for attachment) is greatly reduced. And when this happens, a fetus may not be as well-nourished as it should be. Despite your best efforts, the resulting foal is small and weak and you won’t even know it until it’s born.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about infertility of the older mare, endometritis, repeated foaling and not foaling enough. See ya then!