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MILK AND THE FOALING MARE
There are several new babies on the ground already. About one of every three has experienced problems with the mother’s milk, or the lack thereof. Taking a few precautions before foaling will help us avoid the scrambling that takes place when we realize there is no milk.
The most comforting sight, other than seeing a newborn foal nurse, is to see the mare’s udder fill before foaling. The mare foaling for the first time should start making an udder at least three weeks before her expected due date. She needs a little more preparation time because this is the first time her udder has been called into action. It takes some time for the secreting tissue to develop, begin production, and produce the colostrum needed by the newborn. Once she successfully nurses a foal, the next time will be much easier. The experienced mare can fill her udder the night she foals, but we like to see activity there one to two weeks in advance of the due date.
It does not hurt the mare for us to examine her udder when it is handled with the respect it deserves. Massaging a little baby oil between the teats will clean the area of the normal accumulation that occurs. At the same time you will be able to detect any thickening or filling that is taking place. In the ideal horse world the udder will fill two weeks ahead of foaling. The udder will be firm but the teats will almost be touching at their tips. The day before foaling, the udder becomes tight and the teats will point straight down. The few drops of colostrum that squeeze out of the engorged teats will dry to become what we call wax. This “waxing” signals us foaling is twelve hours away, in most cases.
The foal will be up within thirty minutes of foaling, and the first thing on its mind is nursing. Within three or four nursings, all the colostrum will be gone and the udder will fill with milk. The most important thing we can do after we have treated the foal at birth, is to be sure it is getting milk from the udder. Twelve hours after the foal is born, we should milk both sides of the udder. The liquid we see should be white milk. It is important that we ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES. By twelve hours after foaling there should only be milk in the udder. If the secretion is thick and honey colored, the mare is not producing milk! That secretion is not colostrum. All the colostrum is gone after only a few nursings. The foal may be nursing vigorously, and usually is because it is hungry, but it is not receiving milk.
Now is the time to become excited. The foal who goes even twelve hours without milk will become constipated, and needless to say, stressed. A stressed foal is at great risk of becoming sick with the systemic infection we call joint or navel ill. The foal that goes 24 hours without milk will almost certainly become ill. To deprive the foal of milk any longer than 24 hours becomes life threatening as few are standing after 48 hours and most have died before 72 hours. Pretty grim statistics but the little stinkers are born with very little reserve, and without nourishment will fail quickly. We often hear of the foal that died at three days of age. Whatever may appear to be wrong at the time, the most likely cause is a lack of milk in the mare. This can be deceptive because right up until the last, the foal will be nursing away. More on handling this situation next week.
I know by now you are in a state of major depression. Fortunately there is something that can be done about the mare that appears to be short of milk. Most of the time this agalactia (or “no milk”) is due to the endotoxin in our most common grass, fescue. It is often reported to us the mare will form an udder within one or two days of receiving the selenium-vitamin E supplementation , if she is given the shot late (within two weeks of foaling).
If the mare has shown no sign of udder development within three weeks of foaling and this is her first foal, or within two weeks for the repeat mare, please call us. There is an oral medicine that is given daily. It is recommended this medicine be administered for a duration of ten to fourteen days. It will almost always stimulate some milk production within three days, and fill the udder before treatment is completed.
If it is too late for all of the above information to be of any help, and your mare has just foaled without milk, the oral medicine will help you as well. Start the mare on the medicine immediately and continue it for three days. In most cases the mare will produce milk, thank goodness!
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