It is well to know the signs of approaching parturition, as if the mare and her produce are valuable, it may be desirable to have an attendant with her, in case she requires assistance.
Such an occurrence is not very frequent in the equine species - not nearly so often as in the bovine - yet with highly-bred and artificially-kept mares, and particularly with those of the draught breeds, as well as those which have had several foals, which causes the belly to be more pendulous, difficult birth and a fatal termination are not very uncommon.
Towards the end of pregnancy the belly drops, the hindquarters and the flanks sink inwards, the movements of the young creature are seen to be more active, the external organs of generation become rather swollen, and the mare is dull and sluggish. The udder also becomes enlarged, and it begins to secrete a fluid. This is an important sign, and if it is desired to ascertain when parturition is likely to take place, a good index will be afforded by the nature of the change that occurs in the secretion - a change which can be demonstrated by milking the mare. At first, what may be called the milk is a dark-coloured, thick, and sticky fluid, but about a day before foaling it becomes white, and has the ordinary appearance of milk. This indication is particularly valuable when it is determined to have the mare attended to during the birth of the foal.
Parturition in the mare is usually a prompt act, and is accomplished without assistance, if the full time of pregnancy has been reached, and if there is no deformity or obstacle in the mare herself, nor yet in the young creature. The most frequent cause of difficult foaling is usually due to the latter being in a wrong position. Usually the head and fore-feet come first - the former being uppermost and between the latter, and the enveloping membranes are intact, generally, until the body has been partially or wholly expelled.
The mare becomes uneasy, and moves about. Labour pains or contractions set in suddenly and almost violently, the abdominal muscles being those visibly involved. Soon the head, feet, and shoulders appear externally, then the body," and finally a powerful expulsive effort extrudes the hind-quarters: this portion of the act being accelerated by the traction caused by the weight of the fore parts of the foal, which hang down against the mare's hocks - these forming a kind of launching stocks or break in descent for the safe deposition of the newborn creature on the ground, as the mare is generally in a standing position when birth takes place.
Should the expulsive efforts be violent and continuous for a longer time than usual, which is sometimes the case with the first foal, or if the mare is very fat, the circumstance demands attention, and provided the attendant is sufficiently skilful and careful, a manual examination may be made in order to ascertain the position of the foetus - whether it has entered the passage, and if so, whether it is in the attitude most favourable for exit. If it is not yet in the passage, a little more time should be given for it to get there; or if it is there and is in malposition, then it will be necessary to adjust it and otherwise assist the mare in delivery.
But all this requires so much experience and skill, that but few men, beyond those specially trained to obstetrical work among animals, and gifted with strength, patience, tact, and rare manipulatory dexterity, can do anything beneficial in difficult parturition in the mare. If, however, the attendant cannot call in skilled aid, and has to rely on his own judgment, he must remember that great harm is often done by what Reynolds correctly designates "premature and unnecessary meddling." He should make re-examinations from time to time, and if increased room is but tardily provided, he must take care, by securing the parts presented, that the foetal position does not become changed from a natural to a mal-presentation, through the continued and violent throes of the mare. Dilatation of the passage may be assisted by gentle and well-applied traction upon those portions of the foetus that are naturally presented.
But the causes of difficult labour, and the means to be adopted to overcome obstructions to delivery, with the treatment of the patient after parturition, are so numerous, and belong so intrinsically to the science of veterinary surgery, that they have no place here. Whenever serious obstacles to delivery exist, the aid of an experienced veterinary obstetrician should be promptly sought, and no violent tractile efforts made until his arrival; but if the membranes are ruptured, as they probably will be before it is considered necessary to obtain skilled aid, it is wise to secure with cords the head or legs of the foal when easily practicable.*
To deliver a large powerful mare, frantic with distress and pain, is indeed a labour of Hercules for the most experienced.
When parturition is delayed through weakness of the mare, assistance is required in the form of stimulants - such as brandy in gruel, with properly-timed pulling of the foetus when the parturient spasm comes on.
Under ordinary circumstances, nothing more than cleanliness, good foods and comfort, are required for the mare; if, however, there is exhaustion present, gruel to which two or three ounces of brandy are added may be administered once or oftener, as the case may demand. When the mare, through weakness or any other cause, foals lying down, and does not get up at once when the young animal is expelled, so as to tear through the umbilical cord (navel-string) - which is the natural way of preventing haemorrhage - it will be necessary to tie it firmly with a piece of tape or cord in two places two or three inches apart, severing it between these places.
* See Fleming's "Veterinary Obstetrics" for full information on this subject.
The enveloping membranes of the foetus (or "after-birth") come away a short time after delivery, as a rule; if they do not, they may be allowed to remain for a day or two. After that time, if they are not expelled they should be removed manually, and if they have begun to putrefy, the passage and the uterus ought to be cleaned out by injections of warm water, followed by an injection of a dilute solution of Condy's fluid, to prevent blood-poisoning.