In the March 2004 issue of Horse & Rider, we offered some tips for preparing for foaling emergencies, and we talked about creating the perfect stall for your horse. Here, we'll talk about preparing a foaling stall for your mare.
Take time now to prepare your mare's foaling stall, and give her at least three weeks to adjust to her new surroundings. An early move-in date also gives her time to develop protective antibodies to any germs in her environment so she can pass these antibodies on to her foal in her colostrums (first milk).
As you set up the foaling stall, think safety. As a new born, your foal will be clumsy and have poor vision. As he gets older and becomes more aware of his surroundings, he'll be curious-and odds are, he'll make a beeline toward any hazard in his stall. Here's how to set up a safe, comfortable environment for your new arrival.
1. Choose wisely.
- Pick a stall that's roomy (preferably 12-by-12 feet or larger), so there's less chance your mare will accidentally step on her foal.
- Provide good ventilation, but block direct drafts that may chill a newborn.
- Leave neighboring stalls empty, or put in only horses that your mare will appreciate as companions to help keep her calm.
2. Remove hazards
- Inspect all boards-from the stall floor to as high as you can reach-for protruding nails, hooks, splinters, etc. Remove nails and the like with a hammer; twist off splinters with a glove hand (or slice through them with a sharp knife), and sand down any rough spots rough enough to abrade an inquiring muzzle.
- Remove all obstacles, including sharp shelves and swinging gates and window shutters, so your foal won't collide with them.
- Train your eye to see traps that might look innocent but could catch tiny hooves-gaps between the stall floor and the bottom of the wall or between upright wall studs and their diagonal braces, spaces between the boards or bars-and fix or cover them.
- Pad any hard floor or baseboard surfaces. (For example, many old barns have concrete floors and/or footings at the base of load-bearing walls). Don't expect loose bedding to do the job. Cover hard surfaces with sturdy floorboards or rubber stall mats.
- Remove any dangling ropes, chains, electrical cords or other materials that your foal could become entangled in.
3. Clean and disinfect.
- Strip the stall of all bedding, remove all buckets and feeders, and sweep the walls to remove cobwebs, dust, hair and other loose organic matter that could harbor bacteria. Dig out any wet spots in the exposed floor, and allow the stall to air-dry before replacing bedding.
- Wash the walls down with detergent and water, rinse well, and allow to air-dry. Then disinfect with 2 1/2 tablespoons of Lysol disinfectant concentrate in one gallon of water. Apply to all exposed surfaces using a clean garden sprayer, a trigger-type spray bottle, or a bucket and a sponge-mop. Allow to air-dry.
- Scrub buckets and feeders with a dollop of liquid detergent in a gallon of water, rinse well, and allow to air-dry.
4. Set up.
- Level the stall floor, filling in holes or uneven spots to give your foal a level surface to walk on, and to prevent urine from pooling.
- Bed with a foal-safe bedding such as clean straw or shredded paper (make sure the latter is certified free of toxic chemicals-see Horse & Rider, "Bedding Alternatives," May 1999). Avoid using wood shavings or sawdust, as these porous materials harbor bacteria that could make your foal sick. Also, avoid using barn lime, which can burn delicate tissues.
- Install water and grain receptacles that are clean and free of sharp edges. Mount them on the wall rather than setting them on the floor where your foal could knock them over or step in them.
5. Provide light.
- For your nighttime foaling vigil, install a 25-watt bulb overhead in aisle outside the stall, so you can watch your mare without harsh glare. If your barn lacks built-in light sockets, use a battery-powered closet light.
- When you need more light, either switch to a 100-watt bulb (make sure the socket can accommodate increased wattage), or use a separate socket, preferably situated over the stall.
- Avoid using clamp-on lights, as they can slip off and fall onto straw, wood or other flammable material, and ignite a fire. And absolutely never use extension cords-they increase the risk of fire and electrocution, especially if your mare or foal steps on one.
Karen Hayes is the author of The Complete Book of Foaling, published by Howell Book House, a division of Simon & Schuster.