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Campus Farm Welcomes First Foal of the Year

February 25, 2014

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On a frigid February night, as a snowstorm descended upon the College Park campus, students gathered inside the horse barn on the University of Maryland Campus Farm to witness the birth of a thoroughbred foal. They watched in wonder as the healthy baby colt, the first foal born on campus this year, arrived just before 11 p.m. on February 12. Students appropriately nicknamed the colt “Pax,” the name given to the snowstorm occurring the night of his birth.

The Best Sister and her little foal stay warm and comfortable in the Campus Farm. Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

Pax’s mother, The Best Sister (known as “Bess” in the stable), came to campus about two weeks before her due date. Led by equine reproduction instructor Dr. Charlie Apter, students monitored her udder’s milk production to determine when the mare was ready to foal. When Bess seemed ready, students went on “foal watch” and watched her closely for signs of labor. 

In the past, students have spent the night in the farm’s tack room, but this year, frigid temperatures and the impending storm kept students inside the animal science building to monitor Bess’ progress through a webcam. The mare gave birth on the second night of foal watch in what Apter described as a "textbook" foaling.

“At 10 p.m. Wednesday, Bess appeared restless, pawed at her bedding, looked frequently at her belly and laid down once. At that point we were rushing to don our warm clothes and hurried down to the barn,” said Hannah Gorrie, a senior animal science major in UMD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When we got there, there were already two front feet and a nose protruding.”

Students said that before they left the barn, Pax was running circles around his mother, before eventually tiring himself out and lying down for a nap.

“Many of the students, including myself, had never witnessed a birth before, so it was a very unique and educational experience,” Gorrie said. “We have all worked very hard to care for our pregnant mares, and it is very rewarding to witness the end result: a healthy, bouncing baby.” 

Foaling returned to the university’s Campus Farm last year, when two foals were born on campus for the first time in three decades. Before the mid-80s, the Campus Farm had more acreage and the practice was somewhat common.

Dr. Amy Burk, associate professor and extension horse specialist in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, said that bringing the foal births back to campus has given the equine studies program, department and College a lot of visibility in the community.

“When you’re trying to teach what it’s like to raise animals, sell them, and care for them, it really helps to have your own breeding herd,” Burk said. “It’s also uplifting because every year you have the excitement of new life.”

Equine reproduction students plan to go back on foal watch in early April, when a second thoroughbred foal is due."I gave the students the option to only come to one foaling, which would have split the class into two groups, or the option for everyone to come to both foalings," Apter said. "The students unanimously voted to attend both births, an indication of the level of interest in this whole process."

This foal will be the offspring of Fresian Fire and Daylight Lassie – a sibling to the colt born on the Campus Farm last spring nicknamed “Rebel” by students and eventually given the racing name “Diamondback Fire” by the UMD community.

“I am really excited for the second foal because this was such a great experience,” senior criminology and criminal justice major Corey Willett said. “Now that I have been through it once, I sort of know what to expect, and hopefully the second birth will go as smoothly as Bess’ did.”