CountDown to Foaling

A complete foaling sequence with Photos can be found in the Mar/April 2001 BRAYER magazine, or in the book Definitive Donkey, offered through the Hee Haw Book Service.

The ADMS Staff
It's that time of year, when owners start getting nervous and sleeping in the barn.  Yes, foaling time has arrived.  If you don't have a good overall donkey book like Definitive Donkey or Donkey Business III, you should grab one, but if you have a horse text, that can get you through as well.

Everyone seems to have their own way to calculate foaling dates.  In the mare it is approximately 340-345 days, but jennets take approximately 365 days or 12 months.  Each will have her own personal schedule, and factors can influence these times by as much as 2 weeks on either side of the "due date".  These factors can be age of the jennet, prior foaling history, time of year, sex of the foal, or infection.  If a jennet delivers a big, healthy foal she's had a normal pregnancy.  However, no matter how far into the pregnancy she is, if she begins to look ill or begins to drop flesh rapidly, have your vet make sure she still has a live foal. Late-term foal deaths can cause all kinds of infection in the jennet, and you could possibly lose her as well.

A note about twins  -  you'll hear vets all over tell you they have never heard of a live set of twins.  Well, surprise them!  Twins are a hundred times more common (and more successful) in donkeys and mares with mule foals that in horses.  The survival rate for twins in low in horses, quite high in donkeys.  However, if you suspect twins (jennets who have previously had twins are likely to do so again) or have confirmed twins, be prepared for all the extra work, and possible heartbreak.  ADMS gets reports of more than 10 sets of live, healthy twins each year  -  and we're sure there are more that are not reported.  There have even been 5 recorded cases where a horse mare has given live birth to ONE HORSE and ONE MULE foal at the same time. (She was bred to a one, they though she wasn't in foal, and bred to the other.  Surprise!!!)

ow that you have waited that 12 months (or even 13!) you just have to wait for the foal to actually arrive.  When?  Or the opposite scenario  -  you've bought an in-foal jennet and have no idea how far along she is.  Help!

The signs for impending birth will vary with every single birth.  Don't have your hopes up about catching her in the act  -  it's unlikely.  Then of course, as soon as you read this, you will be like the people who called the ADMS office in uncontrollable excitement  -  not only was their jennet foaling in daylight, but she came up onto their wide porch  -  in the midst of a garage sale  -  and laid down in public view for the birth! 

There are some signs you can look for.  The first is slack muscles over the croup.  If the jennet is very fat or very poor, this will be harder to tell.  Another sign is that the vulva (under her tail) will also seem larger or slack.  If there is a discharge, constant dribbling or a foul smell  -  call the vet!

*Bagging up" is supposed to be a reliable factor in foaling approach  -  but again, don't count on in.  Some mares or jennets may bag 3 weeks before the foal arrives, others not until the little critter actually hits the ground.  If your jennet does bag, you are supposed to know she's about to foal by the waxing on the nipples.  Sorry again.  Some wax about 24 hours before foaling, but some wax early and then the wax drops are lost.  If you DO see wax, don't knock them off and do NOT try to milk the jennet.

The most reliable indication we have found for foaling is "pointy belly".  Within 48 hours the foal will move into the birth canal. Preferably this will be the delivery position of nose and forefeet first.  The baby is mostly legs at birth and has been pretty much curled up inside Mom.  As he gets in position, the legs are stretched out in front of him, and he is quite literally "sitting" inside the womb.  He (or her) little butt will be the lowest part, and it makes a distinct "point" on the mamma's belly.  If you see this angular look, she is almost ready!  Check to see if her muscles are slack on the tailhead.  She may be irritable, so don't upset her.  Don't try to examine her internally either, unless you are under direct vet direction!

Studies show the fetus actually starts the birth process by releasing  hormones, although there is some evidence that the jennet or mare may have some control (such as holding off if the weather is bad, waiting until you are gone on vacation or run to the kitchen or bathroom for a quick break!) remember parts of her are shifting and she may hurt.  If you can move her up to your designated foaling area (a paddock is far better than a big pasture) try and do so, but don't get yourself in a position to be hurt.

Most equines foal in the wee hours of the morning.  If you sit vigil, you will probably find she'll foal at 5 am or so in the morning.  If your jennet has a pal who is bonded at the shoulder, you may want to keep the "auntie" with her if she appears nervous.  This is the way most females foal in the wild. 

Imminent birth:
The jennet will be restless, may get up and down in the pen or stall.  If you are stalling the mom, make sure she has ample room to move and turn around. The vulva will enlarge, and she may begin to look around at her sides. 
She should lay down to deliver the foal, but don't try to make her get up, or lay down if the opposite is true.  As long as she has room past her rear for the foal, leave her alone as much as possible.

You should see a bubble and two hooves.  If you see a butt, tail, or obviously only one leg (indicating the other leg may be back) call the vet!

Both forelegs should emerge, with a nose alongside.  The jennet may stand during part of the labor  -  don't worry.  She will probably lie back down for the final part of labor.  (And it's really okay if the foal "Drops" a ways if she delivers it standing.  A lot of hooved animals do that in the wild. )

If the foal is in the correct position, the legs, head and shoulders will emerge.  The foal may be partially enclosed in the sac.  It will probably rupture as the rest of the foal is delivered, but you may gently pull it away from the face IF the jennet will let you approach.  Watch her for signs of nervousness  -  you don't want her to attack you or the newborn.  If she looks upset, leave her alone unless there is an emergency.

Let mother and foal lie quietly as long as they like.  The jennet or mare should curl back around to sniff and lick the foal within the first few minutes.  If she appears exhausted, or takes no notice of the baby, call the vet.

If you want to imprint the baby, you can move in and begin to assist the mare or jennet with rubbing down the baby.  (She will lick it and rumble or nicker at it).  If she starts getting nervous or aggressive, back off.  You'll have your time later.

The foal, whether mule, donkey or horse, should make an attempt to stand within 20 minutes or so of birth.  Very tiny or lethargic foals need immediate vet attention.  If you don't see baby raising his head, trying to untangle those long spindly legs, or just basically unresponsive, call the vet right away.

The jennet will expel the afterbirth some time after the foal is born.  Spread out the placenta to make sure it is intact (if the vet is coming put it in a bucket or clean trash bag for them to examine).  Partial or completely retained placentas can result in infection and possible loss of breeding use (or even death).  The milk supply can also dry up if the momma has an infection.

The baby will attempt to find the udder soon after trying to stand.  Don't be too concerned if they try the wrong end, the bucket, the wall, your fingers or hip pocket.  Mom will try and help get them situated, and they will catch on fairly quickly.  Those foals who are very weak and don't suckle right away will need vet attention.  The Colostrum or "first milk" is vital, and needs to be nursed by the foal within the first few hours. 

ip the navel with dilute (NOT FULL STRENGTH) iodine.  The cord will probably break off on it's own, a few inches from the body.  You can cut it with sterile scissors if not.  Also, it's okay with most vets to check ahead on procedures, and to let them know in advance they might need to be ready for a foaling call.  Be safe instead of sorry!

What to do in the worst case scenario?  If the jennet dies during the foaling process, you may still have a chance to save the foal.  You will need to keep it warm, and if any other mare or jennet has just foaled, get colostrum into it.  Some feed stores or vets may have a supply of frozen colostrum.  You will also need milk replacer  -  you can buy Foal-Lac milk powder at most feed stores, or you can make an emergency substitute as follows:

3 pints low fat 2% cows milk
1 pint water
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1/4 package Sur-Gel (or 20 cc’s 50% Dextrose).  Always mix fresh each feeding, and discard any unused portion of mixed liquid.

Grab your Definitive Donkey, foaling manual or reprints, talk to your vet, and be sure to have a thermos of hot coffee or tea ready if you do decide to spend that late-night vigil.  Chances are you'll miss the event, but take pictures and rejoice if you manage to catch her at it!

(We hope to add photos in the later weeks as we work on this site!)
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