Sounding the Alarm

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Foaling season is an exhausting time for everyone. It’s hard on the mares, and it’s certainly hard on those who take care of them. While foaling is normally a smooth, successful process, you don’t want to miss it because something might go wrong. If your staff is limited, or if you’re on your own, the idea of staying up all night on foal watch may be good, but impossible if you are expected to function during the day. Fortunately, a variety of technologies can help to watch your mares if you aren’t able to be there yourself.

Here’s a look at your options.

BIRTH ALARMS

There are a variety of alarm types, but they all have the same goal: alert breeders of an impending birth. Michelle Morgan, who breeds mainly Arabians and Thoroughbreds at her Mandolynn Hill Farm in Aubrey, Texas, uses a birth alarm because it makes it easier on her staff. “If your staff are exhausted the next day or all through breeding season, you aren’t going to be very productive,” she says. Loren Nichols, who also breeds Thoroughbreds and Arabians at Trackside Farm in Williston, Florida, is going into his eleventh season using the technology. It has served him extremely well over the years; he said he has never had any problems with it. A few of the choices:

Foal Alert. The Foal Alert system has a transmitter sutured just outside the vulva one to two weeks prior to the projected foaling date. Typically, a veterinarian does this simple, quick procedure. When the vulva lips separate, the magnet is pulled from the transmitter. Once this happens, a signal is sent to the receiver, which both sounds an alarm and calls a phone or pager. It is best to place the receiver as close to the birthing area as possible, but there are new systems available that work 1,100 to 1,200 feet away. A phone line close to the receiver allows it to deliver a voice or numeric message to a telephone or pager.

Morgan recommends checking the transmitter every day to ensure the mare hasn’t accidentally separated it by rubbing her tail.

GSM Birth Alert. The GSM Birth Alert System consists of an electronic device affixed to a leather surcingle which goes around the mare’s withers. There is a stainless steel plate and anti-cast hoop at the top. When the mare lies down completely and begins to have contractions, the system will call a mobile or house phone. There is no need for a special receiver, just a phone.

Birth Alarm. Similar to the GSM Birth Alert is the Birth Alarm, but it consists of a transmitter and receiver. The transmitter is attached to a leather anti-roll girth. The receiver goes in whatever room you’d like—perhaps the bedroom. While 90 percent of late gestation mares do not rest completely on their sides, a few mares do, so the Birth Alarm comes with a special setting that allows it to detect and report the onset of foaling in all cases. Basically, on this setting if the mare lies on her side for three minutes, the system is neutralized. If the mare gets up but then lies back down, the count starts again. If the mare lies flat on her side and has a contraction, normally she will come out of the totally lateral position to prepare for another one. At this point, the alarm would go off and less than three minutes has gone by, which still gives you plenty of time to attend to the mare. Nichols suggests that the surcingle type of system might work well for those who do not want the expense of suturing their mares.

EquiFone and Breeder Alert. These types of alerts also consist of a transmitter and receiver. The transmitter is placed in a small pouch and attached to the rings on the sides of the mare’s halter. It hangs under the head just in front of the throat latch. In this location, it will not get wet from the horse drinking or get hung up on buckets. There is a built-in delay of 8 to 10 seconds so it does not sound if the mare just lies down and gets back up. When the mare lies completely flat, the transmitter sends a signal to the receiver, phone or pager.

TELEVISIONS AND CAMERAS

A closed-circuit television allows you to watch a mare from your office or home (if it’s on the property). A camera is installed in the foaling stall or shed, with a connecting wire to a television monitor. You will need some degree of low lighting to be able to see everything properly.

There are also wireless cameras that can transmit a live feed to a television and/or computer. You can go black and white or color. While most require some amount of light, there are infrared versions available that work in complete darkness. If you have multiple horses to watch, the monitor will switch from stall to stall every few seconds. There are also systems available that can transmit to multiple computers, so a variety of people can watch at any time. If you have clients who are boarding mares, they can even watch their mare foal from their location.

Nichols does caution that it can be difficult to stay awake when watching mares snooze on a television monitor in the middle of the night. A combination of monitoring and alerting systems might be a good choice.

TAKE-HOME MESSAGE

Many people with large operations adhere to the tradition of having a foaling person on staff all night. This is still an outstanding practice, but not feasible for everyone. Cameras and birth alarms can help keep a watchful eye on your expectant mares.