Spring is here and in the large animal veterinary world, that means babies. It is an exciting time of year that also brings some challenges. While the majority of births go very well without assistance, there are times when veterinary help is required.
Our equine patients are by far the most delicate. Average gestation is about 340 days, but healthy foals have been born as young as 320 days and right up until 365 days. First-time moms (maiden mares) will often show signs of impending labor more dramatically than experienced mares. They get up and down in the stall, become restless and will stare at their sides. Once active contractions begin, the majority of mares will foal in 20 minutes. Many owners miss the actual birth; it can happen between the time an owner goes inside for a snack and comes back out. The average foal weighs about 125 lbs, will stand in one hour following birth and nurses within two hours.
If a mare is having difficulty giving birth, it can quickly become a life-threatening emergency. Depending on the circumstance, we will often recommend immediate referral to a surgical hospital where a C-section can be performed. Sadly, often the foal is deceased, but the mare’s life can be saved before infection sets in.
In contrast to horses, our cloven-footed animals (cows, sheep, goats) are a little less dramatic about the process. Average gestation in a cow is about 283 days. Their birthing process can be a little slower. If a cow demonstrates a problem giving birth, both farmers and veterinarians can work together to deliver the calf by changing its position in the uterus. If it is decided the calf cannot be delivered naturally, a C-section can be performed on the farm. These are done awake and standing with local anesthesia on the cow’s flank. Cows generally recover very well and the prognosis for a healthy calf is good if performed in a timely manner.
Sheep and goats generally are pregnant for about 150 days. They frequently deliver naturally but with a propensity for multiples, assistance can be required. Manipulation within the uterus can be a little more challenging depending on the size of mom (and the size of the farmer’s or veterinarian’s hands). Like cows, C-sections can be successfully performed on the farm with just local anesthesia. Undoubtedly, goat babies are probably the most entertaining of the species we see.
For the most part, healthy animals only require a safe, clean place to give birth with careful monitoring. Should a problem arise, prompt attention is always warranted. We hope all our local farms, with all our animal mommas, can enjoy a happy and healthy spring.