We have a friend who has made a career of equine reproduction but never wants to be a breeder. “It’s too stressful,” she says. I can’t blame her; it is stressful. For the past week I’ve been monitoring a mare’s udder in advance of an important out-of-town meeting. My stress level has notched up each day as the day of the meeting has approached, hoping that the foaling wouldn’t interfere with going to the meeting, and conversely that the mare wouldn’t use our absence for the meeting as an excuse to foal!
I have had great success using the pH of milk to predict foaling, but this mare has her own pattern. She doesn’t let her milk even drop to be tested until less than 12 hours before foaling. So, for the past week, I’ve religiously checked morning and night, twelve hours apart, but I’ve had no milk to test. One winter storm came and went, which often triggers labor, but still no imminent foaling.
The day of the meeting arrived. I checked the mare when I first got up at 3:30am, and still no milk, so I knew we had twelve hours of freedom. I also knew we were close because she cocked her off leg when I bumped her udder, similar to what she would do if a foal bumped her udder, angling the teats toward a waiting mouth. I told the mare our plans for the day, asking her to wait until we got home that night at least. This mare has often chosen to have our presence at foaling, so I was hopeful she’d heard my plea.
We were gone for sixteen hours, so we were both anxious as we drove up the driveway, eagerly following the beam of the headlights into the foaling shed to see if the mare had company. She didn’t. Before I’d even changed out of my dress clothes, I checked for milk. There it was; less than twelve hours now. And while I was already sleep-deprived from leaving so early for the meeting (and having a puppy who can’t make it through the night yet), I knew the next day was our weekly day of rest, so I summoned enough energy to commence regular checks during the night.
At first check the mare showed no signs of having laid down (no telltale straw on her body), so with so much fatigue, I opted for a two hour check. No telltale straw then either, so I set the alarm for two hours again, having communicated the pattern to the mare by this point. Fortunately my husband’s emergency radio went off, or we would have missed the action. Since this is this mare’s seventh foal, we knew it was very likely that all would be well, and it was: a big, beautiful and healthy black colt.
After witnessing the important milestones of a newborn and mother, we gave ourselves the gift of a long nap. Even the puppy allowed it to be peaceful! Rarely is foal watch as easy as this one was. That this mare chose to wait until we were home, to let us go to our meeting, to foal when we had a rest day during which to recover, made this foal watch less stressful than most. I am so thankful this mare made it easy.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018
My book What an Honor is full of stories like this one. It is available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.