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Foaling Facts/ Statistics

Whilst on foal watch the other evening, I was consulting the book record I keep on each mare in foal and started to compile some simple statistics which I thought I would share. This is based on our foaling experiences to date and may or may not reflect the experience of others. I think shetlands can be a law unto themselves and whilst the data can be useful as a guide, of course being as vigilant as is humanly possible close to foaling time is all anyone can do.


Because our mares mostly run at grass with our stallion, we can not be 100% sure how long each mares gestation period is as they can come back in season without obvious signs.  We keep a date record of when we see them looking in season or seeing them actually being served [but of course they can be sneaky]. The shortest time a mare [Foxy] has gone is 308 days, or just over 10 months. The average seems to be 11 months ie about one week less than the official 340 days gestation for a horse. Anything less than 320 days is considered premature so 308 is quite early but the foal was absolutely fine and Foxglove has tended to foal earlier than other mares.

Bagging Up Period

We have observed differences between mares and how early they develop a milk bag. The earliest a mare has started to get a bag was over 2 months before foaling. Poppy kept us on pins all summer, to the extent I missed a wedding in Sicily on 1st August – she foaled that morning!

The shortest time was 2 weeks prior to foaling but the average is that the milk bag begins to develop 4 weeks prior to foaling. Only once has one of our mares had no significant bag as at foaling but friends have reported this has occurred for them so it’s a lesson not to rely on bag development.

Times of Birth

70% of our mares have foaled during the hours of darkness, leaving 30% of foals born during the day. It’s interesting to note we haven’t had any foalings between the hours of 4.30am and 12 noon but again friends have. 44% of mares have had night foalings only whereas the rest have had both day and night foalings. One mare has had her foals within 15 minutes each time – 3.15am seems her favourite time!


We’ve had 58% fillies and 42% colts so slightly better on the fillies but not far from 50/50. I’ve read some interesting facts about an acidic uterine ph favouring fillies though how you can achieve this is something else. Some studs report filly success by breeding early, on the basis female sperms live longer, male sperms swim faster but die sooner, hence if the mare is covered before ovulation, the males sperms can have died, leaving the females to fertilise the egg. To achieve any success with this theory you would need to know ovulation date and serve in hand or use AI. If you google it, some studs claim success with this but who knows, Foxy has had all fillies so far, Poppy all colts so both defy the odds.

Milk Testing

We’ve been using this for the last couple of years with good success to date. By testing a few drops of the mares milk, you can predict the likelihood of foaling. When a mare’s result reaches 95% , she is likely to foal within 12 hours. From having the 40% reading to actual foaling we’ve found has averaged 7 days, the shortest being 4 days but again each mare can be different so we use this as a guide with other observations.

Foaling Time of Year

67% of foals have been born in April/ May as is probably to be expected. The earliest foal was born on 27th February, the latest 1st August although since then we made the sensible decision to take the stallion out earlier to shorten the foaling period and keep our sanity!