Some foaling ‘life hacks’

Source: By Tanis MacDonald Walker, DVM

Tanis-McDonald-copy-207x300Foaling season is right around the corner. Here are a couple of my favorite “foaling life hacks” that may make your foaling season go just a little bit smoother.

The 60 cc Syringe

The 60cc syringe is a valuable addition to your foaling kit. It has a multitude of uses, and not just for the syringe itself but also the casing around the outside.

The obvious use of the syringe is to use it to syringe colostrum to a new foal who has not nursed from his Mom yet. Care should be taken not to syringe colostrum too quickly as the foal might aspirate it, in particular to a weak or dummy foal who may not have a strong suckle reflex. However, I have seen foals that will literally suck on the syringe so hard that the plunger moves on its own!

You can also fashion a manual “milk pump” from a 60 cc syringe that you can use to milk your mare. First, remove the plunger from the syringe barrel. Take a hacksaw or sharp knife and carefully cut across the barrel at the tip end of the syringe. This will leave a very rough edge at that end of the syringe. Take the plunger and insert it back through the rough cut end, so that the rubber plunger ends up at the end that is smooth and has the finger grips.

This is your milk pump! To use, manually use your fingers to milk some milk from the nipple, and rub it around the nipple so it is wet and you can get a good seal.

Now – and watch your head if your mare kicks – place the smooth end of your syringe pump up snug around the nipple and push firmly against the mare’s udder. Draw back firmly on the plunger, and milk should be drawn easily into the syringe barrel.

Kisses-meets-her-filly-10-min-old-E1Be careful not to draw down too far, or you will lose all your precious milk. You can then dump it carefully into a clean container. Collected colostrum and milk can either be used right away, refrigerated for 24 hours, or can be frozen for future use up to one year.

The syringe casing from the 60cc syringe is the perfect size and shape for dipping umbilical stumps with a lot less mess. The most commonly used product these days is diluted chlorhexidine, or Nolvasan solution. It is important to make sure that you use solution and NOT scrub, which contains soap that may be very irritating to the foal’s skin and umbilicus.

Some people still use diluted iodine, which is also acceptable. Fill the syringe case about two-thirds full with your choice of umbilical stump disinfectant and place the end of the umbilical stump into the mouth of the syringe case, and push firmly upward against the foal’s belly to form a good seal, and shake the syringe case back and forth for 10 to 15 seconds if you can.

This makes sure that the disinfectant completely coats the umbilical stump, and gets into all the cracks and crevices. The used disinfectant solution should be immediately discarded, and the syringe case should be rinsed out well before being used again.

The Bath Towel

Again, the obvious use for bath towels are for cleaning and drying off newborn foals. However, one of my favorite foaling life hacks is using a wet bath towel for assisting the mare in passing the placenta gently and intact. It really is helpful in those mares that have torn off a good part of the amniotic sac when they stand up after foaling. A wet towel tied to the umbilical cord adds a gentle tension to the placenta which helps it to detach, as it mimics the weight of the amniotic sac dragging on the placenta.

Take a regular sized bath towel (not a bath sheet size) and soak it with water. Wring it out somewhat, but it still should be pretty heavy. Bunch the towel together along its length, and tie a piece of baling twine very tightly around the middle of the towel. Tie the other ends of the baling twine as tight as you can around the umbilical cord where it is coming out through the vulvar lips. Try to tie the towel up as high as you possibly can.

Remember that the umbilical cord and placenta are not functional at this point, so you cannot hurt it by tying the baling twine tightly around the cord. Gently allow the towel to fall down between the mare’s hind legs and swing. I find the wet towel does not seem to bother the mares, as it is soft and wet just like placenta would feel on their legs. As the placenta detaches from the uterus, the towel will fall further down toward the ground. If you need to retie it, or tie it up further, you can do this as well to continue to assist the placenta. Soon, the placenta (and towel) should be passed and should be inspected, or saved for your vet to inspect, to make sure it appears whole and intact.


Tanis MacDonald Walker, DVM graduated from the Atlantic Veterinary College on Prince Edward Island and currently practices both small animal emergency and equine medicine in Delaware. You can email her at or visit her at You can also write to her in care of InStride Edition.



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