You've waited through your mare's eleven months of pregnancy, and now you're on foal watch. Milk leakage from the udder is a good sign that delivery is imminent. As her due date draws near, watch the mare's mammary glands carefully for changes. Once milk starts leaking, mares are usually in the early stages of labor.
About 10.5 months into her pregnancy, the mare's udder swells as the mammary glands enlarge. Four to six days before foaling, her teats start moving outward, making them more accessible for the baby. When the mare's teats start dripping a thick, yellow waxlike substance -- a process known as waxing up -- she should foal within the next day or two. When actual milk leakage occurs, she should give birth within the next few hours.
The Importance of Colostrum
It's critical that the newborn foal receive colostrum, the first milk rich in antibodies that helps protect the foal's immature immune system. Colostrum is available from the mother for only the first 12 hours after birth. After that, the milk produced no longer contains sufficient antibodies for protection. If the mare leaks a good deal of milk before delivery, it's possible she's leaking enough colostrum that there won't be enough left for the newborn. If that's the case, notify your vet; she should be able to supply you and the foal with frozen colostrum.
You can attempt to harvest the leaking colostrum if excessive leakage is evident before birth. Milk the mare until leaking stops, placing the colostrum in a sterile container. Filter the colostrum through a coffee filter and freeze it. After the foal is born, thaw the colostrum using warm water. Do not put it in the microwave for thawing. The Tucson Equine Veterinarian website recommends administering colostrum with a clean plastic bottle with a nipple for goats, sold at farm supply stores. You might have to enlarge the hole in the nipple for a foal.
Other Delivery Signs
Other early signs of labor include restlessness, including repeatedly getting up and lying down. Like other indications of labor, these symptoms resemble those of colic. If the mare late in pregnancy is turned out with other horses, she'll separate herself from the herd. She might frequently swish her tail and urinate excessively. Most mares give birth late at night or in the early morning hours and often don't want anyone watching. For that reason, you might want to install a "foal cam" in the stall so you can watch the proceedings from a distance and arrive when the birth is in progress, available in case the mare needs assistance.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.