Is There a Season for Foaling?

QUESTION: What I'd really like to know is if there is a season for foaling. Like maybe spring or something? Is it different in Northern states than in the more southerly climates. With cattle, they tend to breed the cows so that they calve a certain time each year -- a slightly different time depending on the area. Also, how long is a mare's gestation period? (Note: author is working on a Western set in the 1880's.)

ANSWER: Yes, there is a foaling season, and it usually is about the same as calving season. This isn't by accident, especially in the Northern states. Babies born in the dead of winter usually don't make it unless they have good care and a warm place (which wouldn't have been prevalent in the 1800s--they were expected to be outside). To reduce the costs required for babies now, the calves are also born in early to late spring. This also reduces the mortality rate.

Our horse farm was in Minnesota. We had an indoor, heated section of our main barn, but this is where we kept the stallions and show horses that we planned to take south (Arizona) and show. The babies were always born indoors, but not in the heated part, or their mothers would lose their winter coats. An exception would be if it was below zero at night. If we expected the mare to foal that night, we'd move her into the heated part just until the baby was born and dried off.

Our foals were planned to be born between end of January and April/May. The earlier the better for show horses, as all horses have the same official birthday if you are showing (January 1). So, a foal born in May actually turns a year in January, and will be much smaller than a foal born in January, and this is a disadvantage if you are showing weanlings and yearlings.

A mare's gestation is 11 months. We didn't breed young stock until they were at least two years old (on the real birthday, not on January 1). So a mare born in June would be at least 2 and a half before being bred the first time. Mares with foals are "bred back" either on the 10 day foal heat (10 days after the baby's born) or on the 30 day foal heat (30 days after baby's born). If you miss these cycles, then the mare will come into heat generally about every 30 days. Mares are in heat three to five days.

Foals were weaned (taken away from the mare) at between four and six months of age. The mother will eventually wean the baby herself, but it gets hard on the mother to have the baby nurse so long (she'll lose weight and her coat will usually be "dim").

One more tidbit that may interest you...before the mare has a foal, she'll "sink in" right above her tail on both sides...her hips. It's the muscles loosening up to make way for baby. Also, she'll "wax up," get waxy deposits on her teats. Once a mare waxes up, the baby is usually there within 24 hours.

Why Are They Called Foals?

The Latin root word is FOLA, which is akin to PULLUS, which means young of an animal.

 

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