The Piabreed Project has been underway since the end of 2019, but most data was collected during the 2020 foaling season. Official Piabreed Project Partner, the Swiss Institute of Equine Medicine (ISME), conducted the foaling prediction aspect of the initial study at Marbach Stud in Southern Germany.
The Avenches-based veterinary doctoral candidate at the helm of that research is Antonia Müller. We talked to Antonia about the process of gathering data, which she is doing again this foaling season, and this is what she had to say.
Interview with Antonia Müller
1. What is your daily routine for this project?
For the breeding project on the mares before birth, we only do the measurements at night. I start the measurements in the evening and stop them in the morning because during the day the horses are in the pasture. As they usually don’t give birth during the daytime, we expect they give birth at night. I start [measurements] around 5pm when the horses come in from the pasture, but as I don’t want to interrupt their normal routines, I sometimes start earlier or later.
When they come in from the field I groom the mares because most of the time they’re quite dirty. Then I put the Piavet Belt on and place the Measuring Device. I originally started the measurements via my laptop, but when the app became available I started the measurements via the app. I was quite happy to do this because it makes my work so much easier.
2. Under what circumstances do you run measurements?
My aim is to start the data collection 1–2 weeks before delivery. That way we would have a lot of nights to compare and we might see changes in the data. But, it is not that easy to determine the exact time of delivery. For some mares, I started collecting data only a few days before foaling—they were so quick. And other mares took longer. I had one mare who was measured for 21 days before foaling.
Another thing that came up is that some horses were brought into the foaling unit very late. We have these foaling units with special stalls and mares are moved there usually weeks before foaling occurs. But the staff moved some horses quite late. It might be due to the fact that it is taking place during peak season so there are fewer stalls available. So, sometimes horses were moved into the foaling boxes only a couple days before giving birth.
When horses are all together, there is a higher risk or problems for the mare and foal. So most breeders move mares into foaling stalls well before giving birth because it makes surveillance much easier. It’s also about the environment because when they are in the stall, the immune system can adapt to the new environment and can produce specific antibodies.
When the foal is born it gets these antibodies with the first milk, the colostrum. The foal is then directly protected by the mare’s antibodies for the beginning. You try to put the mare in the foaling stall approximately one week to 10 days before she is foaling.
3. How long do you do measurements?
I usually run measurements from 5pm to 7–8am, about 13–14 hours. This way they are being measured about the same time everyday.
4. Do you look at the data in real-time?
I look at the data before the mare is giving birth. For instance, when she starts to show signs, like walking or circling in the stall or sweating. I watch the data in real time to make sure it’s measuring right. I also look at the measurement overnight to check on the mare and make sure everything is running correctly.
5. While the data is being collected, how do you compare the data to what you’re seeing?
The idea is to look at the data in comparison to visual signs to help determine the prediction of foaling. But also, I make a lot of notes regarding activity, sweating, colic signs, anorexia…predication signs of birth. I also take the rectal temperature and note things like waxing drops and udder enlargement.
At Fährhof they had night guards who were looking at the mares and watching for signs like milk drops. And at Marbach they have a birth alarm—a sensor that sits inside the vulva. The alarm is triggered when the foals legs are starting to move through the birth canal. It will be very interesting to see the data at the end of the study and find out what it can tell us.
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