My First Foal Delivery, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Doc, this is Sid, Stan’s brother,” Sid said into the phone. “I have to go to work, but I have a mare down in the middle of the field, just over the little creek. She has a foal stuck. I don’t know how long she has been at it, I just noticed her as I was leaving the house. I would sure be grateful if you could get out here and take care of her. My place is on Wiley Creek, the first driveway past Whiskey Butte. I don’t think you will have any problems with her since she is down. She is a gentle old gal. I will stop by your office when I get off this afternoon.”

I hated these 5:00 AM phone calls. I didn’t know Sid, but if he was Stan’s brother, he was probably okay.

“Okay, Sid, I will get out there shortly, so it doesn’t disrupt my day,” I said. “Some times, when a stranger comes, a down animal will get up and run. I am not going to chase her around a pasture if that happens.”

“That’s okay, Doc, I understand, just do what you can,” Sid said.

“Sometimes, when a mare is having some birthing problems, it is a major undertaking to get the foal out,” I said. “That could run up a large bill.”

“This is an old mare, I don’t want to have to sell the farm for her,” Sid said. “If it is going to be a big bill, you call Stan, and he can come out and shoot her.”

With that, I rolled out of bed and dressed quickly. I was hoping I could do this quick and get home for a shower before I had to be in the office. 

This is going to be the first time I have seen a mare in labor. I have been in practice for nearly 4 years. I had seen movies in school, but birthing difficulty (Dystocia) in the mare is rare. I had heard my share of war stories about disasters in the delivery of a foal. The mare’s contraction is so powerful there are stories of veterinarians breaking their arm when the mare contracted.

One night at a local veterinary meeting, I talked with one of the horse vets. I asked him what he did with a mare in difficulty.

“I call one of you cow doctors,” he said. “You guys are the ones who do a lot of delivery work.”

That gave me more confidence for this morning. I knew it would come one day. I just thought it would be for an audience. This morning will be like getting a hole in one when you are playing golf by yourself.

Sid’s place was not far from our house, one creek to the east. I knew the place, but I had not been on it before.

When I pulled up the driveway, I could see the mare out in the middle of the field.  Not even a fence post close to her.  And the ground was too wet for the truck, if she gets up, the call is over. She was a large, black mare. Probably a Percheron, just what I needed. This foal will be a big one.

I loaded everything I could think I might need in the bucket, added some water and picked up my calf jack, a Frank’s Fetal Extractor, and headed out to the mare. This was like doing a plumbing job, I will be two hundred yards from the truck, and there will be something I forgot.

Sid was correct about the mare. She raised her head to glance at me and then laid it back down. My guess was she had been pushing for some time and was exhausted.

I wrapped her tail with some VetWrap and scrubbed her rear end well. I could see a nose, and both hooves poking out of the vulva. The hooves were massive. This was a large foal.

I attached nylon OB straps on each hoof. My thinking was this guy had an elbow lock. The elbows get bunched up against the pelvic brim and prevent the mare from pushing the foal out. It is usually readily corrected. I pulled on one hoof and could feel the elbow pop up over the pelvic brim, and the leg was over a foot ahead of the other foot. I pulled the second hoof, and then we were ready to go. I hooked up the calf jack and started pulling the guy out of there. 

The head came out with no problem. I don’t know how long momma had been pushing on this guy. He was alive but not by much. A couple of more jacks on the handle and I was at the end of the bar. I don’t think I had ever been at the end of the bar when pulling a calf. And this foal has just popped his elbows out of the vulva. 

I moved the OB straps up to his elbows and started jacking again. This guy just kept coming. I was at the end of the bar again, and his hips were not through the pelvis yet. I was lucky that I had brought my long strap. I placed it around his chest and started again. Finally, his hips popped through the pelvis. 

I set the calf jack aside and pulled him the rest of the way out. What a foal, long, and as black as his mother. He was just as tired as his mother. He shook his head as I was trying to clear mucus from his nose. I would pick a calf up by their heels and swing them. There was no way I could do that with this foal. Not only was he too heavy for me to lift, but I would have to be on a stepladder to get his nose off the ground.

After treating his navel with iodine and giving him an E-Se injection, I turned my attention to the mare. I gave a soft tug on the fetal membranes, and they slipped out with no problem. They were intact, and there was no other trauma to the vulva and vagina. I gave her a dose of Oxytocin to get the uterus contracting and a dose of long-acting Penicillin. Then I removed the tail wrap.

She rolled herself up on her sternum and then jumped up. I think she was very relieved. This foal must have been a real weight to carry around. She immediately turns her attention to the foal. If I had a little help, I would try to get some milk out of her to give a mouthful to the foal. There was no way I was going to try that with a free-standing mare. 

I gathered my stuff up and headed for the shower, thinking this foal delivery stuff wasn’t so bad, after all.

At noon, I drove back to Sid’s place. The foal was up and chasing Mom around the pasture.

Photo credits to Jan Laugesen on Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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