You've invested more in the stud fee than most Americans spent on the car they're currently driving. You've provided top-notch care, with regular vet visits and a quality nutrition program. Whether it's your own time and effort or you're paying hired help, a whole lot of hours have been spent in catering to your mare through her pregnancy. And you've had the easy job; she's the one who has had to carry this foal for the past 340 days, in good weather and bad - and probably on top of having had other foals almost every year since she "retired" to the breeding shed.
The broodmare barn and foaling stalls should be clean and safe and convenient. So when it comes time to design, rebuild, or refurbish the mare's accommodations, don't skimp. She deserves better. Here are 8 rules to keep in mind for designing the best possible foaling stall:
Bigger isn't always better, but smaller is always worse. She needs room to roll around. 20 x 20 is ideal. 12 x 18 is a minimum for Thoroughbreds. On a small farm when you can't dedicate so much room in the barn to a foaling stall year-round, design two stalls with a removable partition that gives you the flexibility to make one big stall when needed. Most existing side-by-side stalls can be retrofitted to work. Sledge hammer, anyone?
- For your convenience, consider the stall's proximity to clean water (hot water a big plus).
- A mare in foal can weigh 1,300+ pounds and sometimes likes to throw that weight around. She's nesting, and wants to make sure she's secure. Design strong walls and make use of secure latches and hardware that will withstand her leaning and pushing and thrashing.
- Speaking of leaning and pushing and thrashing, all walls should be free from obstructions. Feed bins and hay racks and tie rings and -- aack! -- exposed nails or sharp metal/wood edges are unsafe for the mare and especially for the newborn foal.
- The stall must be bedded to provide comfort to the mare, but also to be safe for her new arrival. For most breeders, this means straw, not shavings. Thick bedding is required, and the stall must be kept clean.
- A single bulb is not enough. Lighting should be unobtrusive but adequate. If you're going to keep barren mares "under lights" to bring them into season early, design the stalls to include timed switches and to eliminate dark corners where she can escape the light.
- Another small luxury for the foaling attendant is remote observation. This can be as simple as a couple of well-placed mirrors or a camera wired up to a monitor in your tack room, or a more complex internet feed that you can monitor anywhere you can open your laptop computer. Having a set-up like this also avoids disturbing the mare and gives her a much-needed feeling of privacy.
- The first few days are too early to turn out a mare and newborn foal with the rest of the herd, but it's no good to keep them cooped up in the stall. A small turn-out area is ideal, whether attached to the stall or within a short lead. The warm sunshine and fresh air will be great for the foal and will be a relief to the mare.
These tips, of course, are in addition to the standards of stable and stall design: well-ventilated and draft-free accommodations with amenities including tack/feed storage and a wash area, located away from hay/bedding storage, and with utilities and wiring well protected from equine occupants.
Those are my tips; if you have advice to share, your comments are appreciated.