Old matrons which have passed through the ordeal again and again, and are familiar with the duties of their office, seldom call for interference. With young mares, however, fresh to the business, certain special precautions require to be observed. In the first place, the teats should be examined as to their permeability. In some instances there is no opening for the escape of milk, and the foal pines, and is sometimes reduced to the verge of starvation before the defect is discovered.
So long as the excitement resulting from foaling continues, strangers should not be allowed access to the stables, and the man in attendance should be one who is best known to the mare, and who has been in the habit of feeding and tending her.
When the excitement of parturition has passed away, and the foal has gained its legs, it will soon commence to seek for the teat, and it may be sometimes desirable to direct it to the gland. This, however, should not be attempted too soon, for the natural instinct of the little creature will sooner or later guide it to the source of its food-supply.
Young mares are liable to injure their foals by treading upon them before they " get their legs ", but this is frequently brought about by the over-anxiety and untimely interference of the attendant. Strong foals quickly rise to their feet, and require but little interference. Weakly foals, on the other hand, or those prematurely born, make many ineffectual attempts to rise, and in doing so are liable to fall in the way of the dam and suffer injury. It is in these cases that special watchfulness and care are required. Here the attendant should allow the foal plenty of time, and wait until it is able of itself to rise. It may then be supported and assisted to the teat.
For the first twenty-four hours after foaling, the mare's diet should be carefully selected and adjusted as to quantity. At first, warm oatmeal or linseed gruel is the most suitable; and if parturition has been troublesome and prolonged, and there is evidence of exhaustion and weakness, a pint of good ale should be mixed with it and repeated in two or three hours, or failing that, 4 to 6 oz. of whisky may be substituted. A little scalded bran and crushed oats may follow, and later a liberal quantity of nourishing diet, of which green stuff should form a large proportion.
After the mare has cleansed and drained, the soiled straw should be removed from the foaling-box and the floor well swept and disinfected. For several days a certain small quantity of discharge will flow from the genital passage and soil the tail, and maybe the udder and teats, and in a putrid condition this may find its way into the stomach of the foal, and occasion diarrhoea of an obstinate or even of a rapidly fatal character.
Many of those attacks of this disease of obscure origin, and which are attributed to all sorts of possible and impossible causes, arise out of the ingestion of decomposing filth, taken in the act of suckling. Not only may this poisonous stuff besmear the udder, but it may also be transferred to it by the filth-laden tail, or be gathered from the sodden litter on which the mare may lie.
To avoid danger to the foal from this cause, the udder should be sponged from time to time during the first few days after parturition, and the tail of the dam should also be thoroughly washed and cleansed. These precautions are especially necessary in those cases where foaling has been difficult and has called for assistance, and the discharge has been considerable.
For the first two days after foaling, both marc and offspring should be protected from cold and wet, and especially from exposure to easterly and north-easterly winds. As, however, they will soon require to be turned out to grass, overheating of the stable requires to be strictly guarded against by free but carefully regulated ventilation.
Neglect of these precautions sometimes conduces to serious, if not fatal, pneumonia.
To keep a foaling-box too cold is pardonable, to overheat it is culpable. As soon as the weather permits, both mare and foal should go to grass. In turning them out for the first time, that part of the day should be selected when the sun is out, the wind in a favourable quarter and not too brisk, and when the ground is fairly dry. After confinement, foals in their gallops and gambols often become overheated, and in a state of fatigue throw themselves down on the wet, cold ground, or stand about in a biting-wind, causing serious, if not fatal, consequences.
In the early spring the weather is prone to rapid and extreme changes, and bright warm sunlight is often followed by piercing winds and driving rains; and with these adverse forces to contend with, the careful studsman will arrange his first turn-out within easy reach of shelter and protection. This will not be needed long, for foals soon adapt themselves to an outdoor life.
Even when a turn-out is not desirable, foals should be provided with plenty of room to move about, and have in addition forced exercise under shelter of a shed. A little movement helps to straighten up a foal and put him fairly on his legs.
When the turn-out comes, it will require to be considered as to how far grass should be supplemented with manger food. This will, of course, depend a good deal upon the state of the weather, the nature of the soil, and the stage of growth of the herbage. Cold weather, with a shortage of grass, will call for a liberal daily ration of dry food.
Young mares which enter upon their maternal duties at three years old, and old ones whose yield of milk is insufficient, should always receive a couple of feeds of crushed oats daily for two or three weeks after being turned out, or until the grass comes to its best.
In both these circumstances the foals should be encouraged to eat manger food with the dam, so that any lack of milk-supply occurring as the season advances may be met by a further addition to the corn ration. Without this precaution the foals of young growing mares, and those of old ones whose vitality has been lowered by age and hard work, seldom make good growth and develop size and constitution.
Mares with foals at foot should have good range of pasture, and in addition an occasional change is most desirable.