Waiting on a mare to give birth is exhausting for many owners. Despite pH milk predictors, smart halters, or camera systems, it isn’t always possible to pinpoint when a foal is due to arrive. If you are confident in a loose time frame, most owners will try and be present to monitor or call the vet if needed. But what time of day do horses give birth? Is there a specific time to prepare for to decrease the risk of missing the entire birthing event?
Foaling Signs- What Time of Day Do Horses Give Birth?
As mares get closer to foaling, they will exhibit several signs birth is near. Although we may never be fully mentally prepared, this does allow time to gather supplies and keep in contact with our veterinarians. One of the hallmark physical changes in the development of an udder, which can appear as far as one-month out from foaling. Milk drips will progressively turn white and “milkier” as foaling nears, and ultimately thick yellow colostrum will be present a few hours to days before birth. Other symptoms include an elongated vulva accompanied by sunken sides as the pelvic area relaxes. “Restlessness” or “nesting” behaviors may also be seen as foaling time approaches.
There are three stages in the foaling process. For detailed information on each stage, click here. The first stage includes restless behavior and is the longest stage. It can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as six hours! Once the water breaks, this stage of parturition is done. The second stage is the actual birthing of the fetus or foal. The third and final stage is the expulsion of the afterbirth.
Pre-foaling milk can be tested for electrolytes, sodium, and potassium. In the final week before birth, milk will greatly increase in calcium concentration, sodium decreases, and potassium takes a sharp uptick. Once potassium levels are greater than sodium, this is indicative of close birth!
The milk test kits usually utilize a simple test strip to check the pH level. Typically, a pH above 7 is normal prior to foaling, and a pH of 7.0 or below indicates the mare is getting closer. When pH levels drop below 6.7, foaling is normally just a few hours or a single day away!
Read more about My Mare Foaled: How Soon Can You Get Back In The Saddle?
Behavior Monitoring to Know What Time of Day Horses Give Birth
Monitoring behavioral changes, although difficult, is still one of the most effective ways to determine when foaling is imminent. However, mares will likely try and wait out a time where they feel there are adequate privacy and safety… away from the human eye, of course! Some owners utilize smart halters to alert when a horse is down or has changed in their vitals, while some opt for video cameras. Still, if given the option, many mares will hide as far away as pasture space will allow just before foaling! This is an instinctive behavior designed to create a predator-free safe space for birthing.
If you are fortunate enough to monitor and catch your mare in the first of the two foaling stages, it is important to provide a quiet environment and keep your distance unless assistance is required. A mare should be left undisturbed unless there are specific reasons provided by your veterinarian. This will help the birthing process and eliminate additional stress on your mare and new foal.
What Time of Day Do Horses Give Birth?
Mares typically foal very late at night through the very early hours of the morning. The Cooperative Horse Extension found 80% of foals were born between midnight and 6:00 am. These are not ideal hours for human assistance/monitoring, but for horses, these quiet hours provide the most privacy. This does not mean a mare can’t or won’t give birth mid-day! Many owners report heavily monitoring their mares for 48 hours when birth appears to be near, with no foal. When put in turnout or pasture away from the human eye, the mare delivers!
Although birthing is a natural process and typically has a safe outcome, it is still ideal to be on-call in case there is a problem that requires immediate assistance or veterinary guidance. Horse sure like to challenge this idea, making foaling a time-consuming waiting process.
Foaling can be stressful for a variety of reasons, even seasoned breeders. Having the correct tools at your disposal and understanding the signs of labor is important to the safety and well-being of your mare and her new foal. If you have a pregnant mare and wish to learn more about the length of equine pregnancy, check out this article.
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