The months have passed quickly, it seems like before I could catch my breath spring was upon us. When Devon was bred last spring, the foaling seemed so far off that I felt no real sense of urgency. A few years ago I took a breeding course at Ohio State University. I still had my notebooks and I reviewed them a few times but that's about it. For the most part she didn't even look pregnant, it all still felt a bit surreal.
We were approaching 30 days away from her "due date" of April 22nd and it was time for her final vet check. My regular vet did not offer equine reproductive services and our local equine veterinary practice left me feeling less than warm and fuzzy, so we decided to make a last minute change and go with a different veterinarian.
As soon as I met Dr. Bowman I knew we had made the right choice. He is a rare combination of extremely knowledgeable and down to earth without the slightest hint of an ego. It was obvious that he is passionate about his work. He even seemed to enjoy the questions and explanations that many others find tedious. Devon's exam went well and only took a few minutes. Her weight was right on target and she looked to be progressing nicely,and still being 30 days out it was still too soon to predict much else. To sum it up he basically said that "Maiden mares are a bit more complicated. They can come early, or they can come late, you just have watch and wait." He also said he barely bats an eye until they hit 12 months. Apparently it's not unusual for maidens to go past their due dates. I was a bit surprised about the 12 month comment but I wasn't worried...yet...
Now is the time when most maiden "moms" of maiden mares begin to get cold feet...but not me...I was cool as a cucumber...One of the other maiden moms involved in this project was feeling less secure... She wanted to be sure we were ready for everything. She was reading, researching, and taking notes, lots and lots of notes. It's not that I wasn't concerned, I suppose it's just my personality and my personal disdain for anxiety. I hate to be anxious about anything; it is truly my least favorite emotion. I figured I still had a few weeks to reread my notes and she was worrying enough for the both of us. Besides, statistically speaking, the numbers were on our side.
I assured my partner that everything was going to be just fine. I was having the camera installed that week and we would be able to monitor Devon closely throughout the last few weeks. That's when she handed me the book. Not just any book... The book that strikes fear into the hearts of first time foaling attendants everywhere: Blessed are the broodmares... I remember reading portions of this book in my summer course. Although then the word dystocia meant about as much to me as the words ovary or uterus. It was just information being stored away in the back of my mind, there was nothing frightening about it. But when i was flipping through the pages once again I began to feel worry creeping in. What if we are part of that 5 percent? What if something horrible happens? What have I done to this poor mare?
To make matters worse, an experienced breeder who lives nearby(who ended up being a godsend) stopped by to check on Devon and found some fescue in our fescue free hay! This was impossible! I paid extra for this hay! I took Devon off of grass even before the recommended 90 day period just to be certain this would not be an issue. Luckily, it just so happened that our breeder friend was a fescue expert. After losing a foal years ago to due to a late diagnoses of septicemia caused partly by fescue toxicosis, she educated herself and other breeders on the effects and prevention of this devastating and preventable problem. If you are in Virginia and have an old established pasture, you probably have fescue. Tall Fescue is a hardy grass that is easily established, tolerates close grazing, stands up to heavy horse traffic, and survives drought conditions that wither other grasses. It is known as the most important cool season grass in the United States. Unless you are an expert, fescue is not that easy to identify. It looks VERY similar to bluegrass.
Here are the two grasses side by side. They are even more difficult to to detect when cured in hay. Tall fescue is pictured on the left and bluegrass on the right. In fact, most vets can't identify it either. Unfortunately, it only takes a little endophyte-infested fescue to cause major problems.
These problems may include :
- prolonged gestation
- premature separation of the chorion
- thickened placenta
- retained placenta
- aglactia (suppression of lactation, i.e. no milk)
Luckily with the experienced friends help we were able to find it in time to have the vet start Devon on Domperidone, the most effective weapon against fescue toxicosis to date. Domperidone has proven to be successful in reversing the harmful effects that occur when pregnant mares ingest infested fescue hay or grass. When started early enough the drug was felt to be effective in the prevention of fescue toxicosis in 95.2% of mares treated. In one study done at Clemson University data on placental retention was submitted for 1,322 mares. Approximately 93% of the mares (1,236) treated with domperidone did not have retained placentas.
We were 10 days away from the due date when we started Devonessa on Domperidone. At this time she had virtually no bag. This could be cause for concern, or maybe not... Being a maiden mare it is not uncommon to have little udder development prior to foaling. I read several accounts of maiden mare owners who had mares foal with no bag and no milk until immediately prior to or even after foaling. There was really no way to be sure and knowing that there was some fescue in the hay it wasn't a risk worth taking. Domperidone costs around fifty dollars per tube which typically lasts about 5 days. Devon started with a 10 day supply and ended up continuing the treatment through the foaling date and a few days after. It was a small price to pay for preventing serious complications.
At this point we were only days away from the due date and I had the camera up and running on mare stare. I was more anxious than anyone now. I was reading everything I could get my hands on and watching Devon like a hawk. Would she foal early? Would the Domperidone work? Was I ready to handle a dystocia if it were to happen?
I sat outside Devon's stall with my head hanging over the door, she rested her head on my shoulder and I felt her warm breath on my neck. I reached up and slowly stroked her neck. I couldn't let anything happen to her, I couldn't betray her trust. This was the beginning of many sleepless nights watching and waiting, hoping and praying that everything would go as planned. But I had to be ready for anything...
To be continued...