Have you decided to fill the role of Equine Nursery Attendant? If you're waiting for your mare to foal then you're probably filled with both anticipation. But before the exciting moment arrives-and it often does so unannounced-follow these 5 steps to help ensure that the foaling process is a smooth delivery.

  1. Establish a solid working relationship with a local equine veterinarian. He or she will advise you on standard care for expectant broodmares, including vaccines. By vaccinating a mare shortly before she foals, you will be enriching her colostrum (the first milk) with valuable anti-bodies that will help ward off illness in the newborn foal. Plus, your vet is the best source for advice concerning both mare and foal. Instead of gathering up conflicting anecdotes from well-meaning barn buddies and neighbors, rely on your vet's expertise.

  2. At least a month before your mare's due date, inspect the area where she will foal. If your mare will foal outside, look for any object, such as a loose board or broken fence wire that could injure a newborn that's wobbling around on unsteady legs. Other horses may become excited over a new foal, and your mare may become viciously protective of her baby, so double-check the security of every fence panel. If your mare will be foaling inside, which generally allows for better observation, select an over-sized stall. That will allow her space to lie down during the final stage of labor without being crammed against a wall. Ultimately, whether your mare will foal indoors or out, keep the area as meticulous as possible. A clean, safe environment will help ward off potential infections and injuries.

  3. Prepare a foaling kit. It should include items like Nolvasan (a strong anti-bacterial solution) that you'll apply to the navel stump; clean towels for rubbing down the foal or mare on a cold night; a flashlight (unless your stable has sufficient overhead lighting); latex gloves, and a (human) baby-sized enema, just in case you have to help the foal pass its first stool, called meconium. Also have a large plastic bag and a tub nearby. That's where you'll stash the afterbirth and placenta so your vet can inspect it for anything abnormal. Also allow your vet to inspect the contents of your foaling kit and make any suggestions. Surely the most important addition will be a cell phone with your vet's number on speed dial.

  4. Keep an illuminated watch or clock handy. Pair it with a checklist so you can jot down what time the final stage of foaling began, when the foal stood up, etc. Your vet can give you a general timeline for each of these events. Any major departures from this time table should elicit a call to your vet for advice.

  5. Plenty of foals arrive safely without any human intervention. But things can go wrong during the foaling process or shortly thereafter. Without someone in attendance, tragedy can ensue. That's why most major farms and ranches have special staff on-site during foaling season. If you're going to function as the nursery attendant, you can expect to loose some sleep until the foal arrives. Try teaming up with a pal who'd like to share in the experience, and switch off during the night. You can also install a closed-circuit video camera in the foaling stall. At least then you can remain indoors and not disturb the mare until she definitely demonstrates that it's time for the foal's arrival.