Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 3: Moving again, preparing for foaling and udder watching

Story by Kelly Hill

Tilly now and then
Left: Tilly in her new field, free from daffodils! Right: Tilly some 8 years ago

Moving the pregnant mare

Looking at Tilly surrounded by poisonous plants in her maternity field was making me more nervous by the minute. We had spent a lot of time (2 months) doing the field up and making it as foal friendly as possible in any spare time we could find. Fields in our area aren’t easy to come by as we are on the outskirts of London and not exactly spoilt for choice.

Read part 2: Counting costs, watching Tilly grow and a drama with daffodils

It was an old orchard, so there were sycamore trees as well as the daffodils. They are a flipping nightmare as their seeds and seedlings can carry toxins that cause Atypical Myopathy. The field also had a yew hedge, apple and oak trees, all of which I didn’t know about, as we arrived in November when the trees were bare. Daffodils covered the majority of the field and I didn’t want to risk the horses consuming any of them, especially as they chose to mainly graze amongst them (of course they did!). Putting my paranoia aside, the horses probably wouldn’t have touched them, but a foal probably would. They consume anything and everything, just like a naughty little puppy, and I wasn’t prepared to take the risk with my horses or the foal. My commute to the field was also a problem sometimes as I had to coordinate with London traffic.

I suppose I should have thought about logistics beforehand, but I never think about these things until after. I just do it and then worry about it! I needed to move Tilly quickly as she was fast approaching her due date and I was advised by the lovely people on ‘The Foaling Hub’ Facebook page that, from previous experience, it would be better to move her sooner rather than later. Thankfully, there was a field available for rent just 20 minutes drive from my house and we moved Tilly together with her little Welsh Section A companion pony for what we hoped would be the final time.

Tilly new field

She’s happy and settled there now and I have the current field until August time, so I will see how things go. I will either move Tilly and the foal one last time before weaning or separate them slightly early if the foal is no longer dependant on Mum and take Tilly home. I plan to look for a grass livery option for youngsters once the foal is ready. People ask if I would rather Tilly had a colt or a filly. I think a filly would be easier, but I would prefer a gelding long term. A filly would be easier at the start because some people are funny about putting colts in their fields. I also wouldn’t have to worry about chopping the colt’s bollocks later on. Sometimes they only drop one testicle and you either have to wait for the other to drop before castrating — which means turnout options can be limited — or they can retain one which makes them a “rig”. This is when they have stallion-like tendencies but visually appear to be a gelding.

Tilly udder 3
Some of the hundreds photos of her changing milk bar that I take daily…

Getting ready for the birth

There’s a saying that “the foal picks the day and the mare picks the hour”. Knowing when mares will go into labour isn’t straightforward, so most people keep hem stabled with CCTV installed to monitor their behaviour. I’ve chosen to let Tilly foal outside with the option of a field shelter if she wishes, although I wish I could have CCTV on a drone constantly above her field .

We have no wi-fi here for any technology that I could use. What I have got, though, is a scope with night vision. I borrowed it from a friend who uses it for deer stalking at night. It means that rather than disturbing her, I can put the scope on and just look (see similar one here).

Tilly and Rosie

I’ve got my foaling kit ready. Among plenty of important things, it includes a little bottle in case Tilly rejects the foal and a tiny leather headcollar. I also bought a foaling prediction kit to test the PH levels in Tilly’s milk when foaling is due. A certain level (6.2 is the lucky number) will tell you that the mare is imminent.

Apparently, maiden mares are not very cooperative. Some won’t even bag up much before foaling and you can just come one morning and they’ve popped the bubba out! I’m hoping that Tilly will give enough indication nearer the time that I don’t have to spend too many sleepless nights camping out .

Tilly belly and KellyIf she follows the rules, which she has so far, mares start to develop an udder 4-6 weeks before their due date. Some mares leak milk before birth, which allows you to test the PH levels, although it’s not wise to force strip a mare of any milk. You should only test if they are leaking. A very good sign you are close is when they start to wax up (when wax like beads of colostrum appear at the end of mare’s teats). This tends to happen 24-48 hours before they go into labour, although this is not the case for all mares.

Other signs include the hind-end muscles relaxing and slackening off and the vulva
becoming elongated and opening a centimetre or two. Nearer the time, I’m going to watch as many foaling videos as I can so I know what to look out for and when to call the vet. I want to know how long to wait before I start worrying about something. I have my usual vet on standby. I’ll ring him first and if he can’t come there is a practice on my doorstep so it should be fine to get someone here quick.

I want to be present myself too! I’d probably be tempted to assist and help pull it out, you should have seen my dog having puppies, I practically gave birth for her! I’d be relieved if I came and the foal was just there, but I’d be gutted I’d missed it. How often do you get to see horses giving birth?
To be continued….Part 4: When Tilly gives birth! Due date in a couple of weeks! 

Behind the scenes tilly storyStory put together by Wiola Grabowska

Edited by Mairi Mackay

Photo: Listening to Kelly recalling all the events leading up to the current day – less than a month to due date…

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