Last Updated on January 6, 2023
The changes that occur in a mare udder before foaling are key indicators of when the birth is imminent, but sometimes they are so subtle they can easily be missed! Let’s find out everything you need to know about how to check a mare udder before foaling, including the key signs to look out for.
When To Check A Mare Udder Before Foaling
When a mare is in the final stages of her pregnancy, changes will start to occur within the udder. Normally the udder of a mare is very barely visible – you will only see two small teats high up in between the hind legs. Above these are the udders, also called mammary glands.
When a mare has a foal, the udders produce milk which the foal suckles. This is the sole food source for the foal during the first few months of life and the mare must be able to provide a constant supply of milk. This does not happen overnight, so udder development starts to occur before the foal is born.
This means that checking a mare udder before foaling can help you to guesstimate when the foal is going to be born. Here are some of the key mare foaling signs and udder changes to look out for:
Around a month before the foal is born, the udders will start to swell and become enlarged. They do not produce milk at this point, but the tissues are becoming ready for full milk production after birth.
Initially, you may notice that the udders become enlarged overnight and reduce in size during the day. As birth becomes imminent this change in size is not so apparent, and the udders are consistently enlarged at all hours of the day.
Around three days before the foal is born, you will notice that the teats become enlarged and start to protrude further from the body. At this stage, the udders will be consistently full and the teats are becoming enlarged in response to the buildup of milk inside the mammary glands.
A mare waxing up is one of the key signs that the birth of the foal may occur imminently. This term is used to refer to a buildup of a waxy secretion on the teats, that form a wax-like droplet on the end of the teats. This shows that the mare’s udders are starting to fill with colostrum, the immune-boosting first milk for the foal.
Some but not all mares will also leak milk from the others before foaling. This is not ideal if the leakage is prolonged as some or all of the vital colostrum may be lost. If the mare is running milk for more than a few hours, you may need to speak to your veterinarian about milking mare to preserve the colostrum.
How Can You Tell A Mare Is Going To Give Birth?
As well as changes seen in a mare udder before foaling, there are other signs to look out for that may indicate the birth is imminent. Two to three weeks before the birth, the pelvic muscles will start to relax, enabling the birth canal to open and allow the foal to enter the outside world. You may notice changes in the shape of your horse’s pelvis and soften of the muscles around the tail head.
During the final stage of pregnancy, the mare’s abdomen will be very distended and you may be able to see the foal moving inside. This indicates the foal is getting into the correct position inside the mare’s belly before foaling, and the mare may show signs of discomfort when this occurs. You may also notice that the vulva of the mare is more relaxed and appears longer.
Many horse owners observe behavioral changes in their mares as they become closer to foaling. She may be irritable and restless, and they often take themselves away from other horses in the herd. If she is given a free choice of where to foal, she may seek out a quiet spot in which to do this.
In the very early parts of the first stage of labor, mares will often walk continuously. She may also look at her abdomen, kick at her belly and swish her tail. These are often confused with colic symptoms but are a normal part of horse labor.
It is also common for horses to sweat profusely when they are giving birth. Initially, your mare just may feel slightly warmer than usual, but then will develop wet sweaty areas across the neck, flank, and body as the birth progresses.
If you have never assisted a horse to give birth before, it is important to seek expert help when you see these signs that the foal is about to be born. Most horses managed to give birth unaided, but if things go wrong, prompt intervention is vital to preserving the life of both the mare and the foal. Many horse owners send their mares to specialist stud farms to give birth where expert help is on hand at all times of the day and night.
So, as we have learned, there are several changes you will see in a mare udder before foaling. Around a month before foaling, the udder will become enlarged as it starts to prepare for feeding the foal. A few days before foaling, the teats will become enlarged and as the birth becomes imminent a waxy secretion may occur. Milk running from the teats is normally a sign that the mare is going to give birth very soon, but can also result in the loss of vital colostrum.
We would love to hear your thoughts on how to check a mare udder before foaling! Are you worried that you may miss the signs that your mare is about to give birth? Or perhaps you’ve got some questions about the best way to get a foal to start suckling when it is born? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE