We are wrapping up foaling season for 2019 here at Double M Performance Horses. It’s the wee hours of Friday, May 24th 2019, my alarm goes of, 11:30 pm, 12:30am, 1:30am……each time I diligently check our foaling camera’s for signs that our final mare is going to bless us with another Sheriff Of Blackburn foal.
My evening check on Boston revealed wax on her teats, an elongated and relaxed vulva, elongated full teats, softened muscles throughout her hindquarters and at her tail head, there was no doubt in my mind that baby was coming very soon, most likely tonight. At 1:30am I see Boston agitated, slightly pacing and can tell her coat is broke out in a light sweat, she’s in stage one labor, baby will be arriving soon. I patiently watch for awhile longer as it is our practice to not disturb them until we start to see feet and then aid only if needed.
If I’m being honest, I had a bad feeling about this delivery for the past couple weeks but I thought I was merely blowing things out of proportion as I frequently compare all our deliveries to the one (and only one to date) we lost 2 years ago (see blog post for We Wrote Our Own Story). Thinking some how if I had done something differently, not missed a sign, etc. I could have changed the outcome. As per usual Boston’s anxiousness led to the natural progression of delivery, I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I saw a healthy amnion and normal presentation of feet. However, contraction after contraction came and went and the nose would present and regress. After 7 or 8 contractions, it was clear mama was in distress and the foal was stuck. I quickly made the decision to pull the foal, grasping around the feet, pulling out and down with constant pressure in unison with her contractions, baby wasn’t budging. The foal’s nose wasn’t clear of the vulva yet and I knew something was wrong. So I pulled harder and mama strained harder and baby started progressing down the birth canal. When baby’s upper neck cleared the vulva, a thick, dark red, fluid filled, membranous tissue started protruding around the foal and my heart sank. My immediate thought was that this mare was prolapsing her uterus or her bladder and we needed to act quickly. The foal delivered the rest of the way and mama stood up almost immediately, broke the umbilicus and started cleaning her baby. I called Oakridge Equine’s emergency line, prepared to bring the mare and foal in and attempt to replace what I thought was her prolapse.
We decided to let mama clean off baby for a few minutes and in that time it became very clear that in her retained placenta, she had a partial red bag delivery. The fluid from the chorioallantois drained causing the thickened, hemorrhaged tissue to reduce and the “velvety appearance” was what remained. I have heard horror stories of the dreaded “red-bag delivery” but have been blessed to never experience it myself. For those that don’t know what a red-bag delivery is, in simple terms it is the premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, which ultimately cuts the circulation and oxygen off to the foal and the majority of foals will suffocate before full delivery.
However, typically when a red-bag delivery occurs, the allantois is not seen (the white sac), you see instead the velvety read microcotelydn’s which is your cue to break the sac and get to work to get that foal out of the mare as quickly as possible. The terryifying part of this delivery was if I had instead chosen to let our mare try to deliver her foal on her own for awhile longer (never knowing it was a red-bag delivery due to normal presentation), we may have lost our filly. Thank you God for helping me choose correctly this time.
We were blessed that our mare passed her placenta after a few minutes (we tie knots in the bottom of our mares to provide constant weighted pressure to assist the mare with passing it; however, that is a topic of debate and others have different opinions on this practice. I suggest you ask your vet and decide for yourself what your best practice is). Our mare foaled a BIG beautiful dun filly, the filly stood up quickly and on her first try and we thought we were in the clear. We would quickly learn that was not the case as she didn’t reach her milestones. She stood up in great time but was slightly “dummied”. She didn’t recognize her mama, was more interested in searching out the walls than nursing, was dull and very shaky. After nearly an hour we were able to get her to nurse one time for a short period, it was clear her suckle response was weaker than what we typically see in our babies. Exhausted we decided to see if we let mama and baby bond, if she would snap out of it and went to the house for an hour to watch on the cameras. Sometimes us “nosy owners” get in the way more than we help and we need to take a step back and let mares work their magic. That’s not always the case, but sometimes it is.
Mama was doing everything 100% correct and wouldn’t let her baby not know she was there, she was licking her, circling her, constantly putting her udder in front of her to nurse should she want to, nickering to her and stimulating her. Over the years we have began to appreciate the highly protective mama’s, they can be more difficult to work with post-delivery sometimes but they sure take dang good care of their babies. Boston has had 4 other foals, is a veteran mama and is a very protective mama, thankfully she tolerates Mitch and I. I knew she would keep working on her baby, so we left her alone for awhile. After an hour baby had “kind-of” nursed one more time and laid down, she was very shaky and weak. She passed her meconium and we continued to monitor her, she got up once more walked around a little and laid back down. I went back out after an hour and half, scratched up and down her back to stimulate her and get her to her feet. She struggled to get up and mama was clearly worried about her. I called our repro vet and told her what happened, she planned to come out later that morning to run an IGG snap test, blood work and to squeeze the foal (I highly suggest googling the Madigan foal squeeze!).
I periodically checked on mama and baby until our vet arrived and she was slowly getting better and better. Showing signs of staying on her feet longer, wobbling less, being brighter and more alert and actually interacting with her mama. When my vet arrived she was pretty bright but since she hadn’t hit her milestones previously, there was still concern for her health and well-being. She pulled blood, ran an IGG snap and bloodwork, took her temp, performed a physical exam, started her on antibiotics and performed the Madigan foal squeeze (which wasn’t easy because she was starting to get a little fight to her, praise the Lord!). After she was squeezed her suckle response was so much better, she continued to progress in the right direction. Her IGG came back at over 800 (another blessing) and her bloodwork looked good, only her neutrophils were slightly elevated, which could have been due to stress. Her temp was slightly elevated (102) so we started her on Metronidazole.
Later that day she developed some diarrhea; however, she was bright, alert, running, bucking, terrorizing mama like nothing ever happened. So we started her on probios, continued her metro and temp checked her 2x daily. We also started her on sweet potatoes, an old race-horse friend of mine (thank you Richard Joneson! I owe you one!) told me about that trick for foal heat scours, but to-date we’ve never had an issue with foal heat scours so I haven’t got to use it until now. We purchased one large sweet potato and cubed it, boiled it until soft, mashed it really well and let it cool thoroughly. I cut the tipped-end of a 12cc syringe off, sanded the edges (so it wasn’t sharp) and slowly gave her 2 doses (24cc am and pm) to help settle her stomach. Again, probably a controversial subject with many opinions but for this filly it worked really well and if nothing else she LOVED the sweet potatoes and it made doctoring her so much easier because she no longer fights us to put her meds or probios in her mouth and after all of her doctoring (ie: oral meds, temp checks, umbilical dips, etc) she still likes us!
Going through stressful situations is never fun; however, we all must take the opportunity to learn from them. I chose to share this story in hopes that it might help another breeder somewhere down the line! Moral of the story, a red-bag delivery doesn’t always present with a red-sac immediately so do your homework, trust your instinct and ask God for a little assistance.