Mare Foaling: Triplets and Stillborns


And just as I thought calving season was complete, here comes a foaling mare sneaking up behind me. Actually I have had my eye on this one for a while. Mares can be tricky lil things; especially those maiden mares. They like to give birth in the middle of the night, hang tight to their placenta, or maybe keep you waiting for days on end only to plop one out at 5 A.M after several nights of foal watch.

During my time in college at Fayetteville, I was heavily involved in the Equine program. We did all our own breeding and reproduction work and assisted several horse owners in the region. Those were some of the most fun days of my college years. Foal watching was perfect for me, get paid to stay up all night, watch a mare who might foal, and catch up on class work and papers. Then I would catch Waffle House at 6 A.M and sleep a few hours on the couch before heading to class and doing it all again. Ahh, those  were the days. (I left out all of smelling like placentas, occasional uterine infections, and mucking loads of straw from barn stalls)

Checking newborn foal

This is how I a buddy and I got the job caring for some Oldenburg mares; a job which happened to come with house in the middle of no where, far from town. Fun times. So we had a couple of mares come up preggers. Apparently someone didn’t realize a two-year old stud colt was capable of breeding. Well we kept the mares up and one snowy morning we tread out to find a new filly in the barn. No placenta, but we’d figured the mare had eaten it. The mare refused some to nursing, but we got her milked and everything was clean and dandy. Well, the next morning we walk out and there are two fetuses in the barn. First thought, the other mare foaled, but no she was still penned off. The mare had carried a triplet pregnancy full term, and held the stillborn fetuses for 24 hours. No wonder she refused nursing.

One thing you gotta realize is the rarity of multiple births carried full term in mares. They are only built to carry single pregnancies, so usually they run out of room and lose the multiple birth pregnancies. Multiple ovulations occur in only 9% of Quarter Horse mares, but at a higher rate (19%) in Thoroughbred mares. The occurrence of these multiple fetus pregnancies carried full term is very low, and no one I had talked to had herd of triplet pregnancies with even one carried full term. But this mare did. One fetus was the size of early second trimester while the other was the size of ~300-day. The live filly was normal and is still kickin.

As for the mare at our place this week, she lost her foal. Looked like it was stillborn and she had not shed her placenta. But I got it out and she seems to be doing alright. Not everything in ranch life is rainbows and roses. We have to take the bad with the good. Figure out what we can do different, and do better next time.

Have any interesting stories of foaling season? I threw in a few placenta pictures for those of you who cringe at the sight of the smelly part of ranch life!

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6 Comments

  1. You said the mare that foaled this week looked like the foal was stillborn.
    Apparently you were not present for the birth.

    I’ve heard that one way to tell if a dead calf (suppose it would apply to foals) was born alive and died or stillborn was if rigor mortis was present. Apparently they have to have taken a breath of air for rigor mortis to happen. Otherwise, if they’ve never had a breath of air, there will be no rigor mortis. Interesting?

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  2. This is really interesting! and perfect timing I was just asking Chris about multiples in horses this weekend – can’t remember what brought the subject – but this was the answer we were looking for!

    Like

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