Farmer Delphine: Not Afraid to Stay in the Game

"Delphine? Hey, Delphine?"

Warm and with sluggishly heavy limbs, she slowly swims back up to consciousness. Gradually awareness trickles through her body. Why would her uncle wake her in the middle of the night...?

Instantly alert, she sits up. "Is it Fanette?"

"Yup. You were right about her waxing yesterday."

Throwing off the duvet and scrambling out of bed, Delphine fumbles for her jeans and a light jacket, not bothering with socks before jamming her feet into her boots. "How far along?"

"Just getting started."

Moving quietly through the darkened house and out the kitchen door, she follows her uncle along the well trodden path to the barn. The air is crisp and makes the inside of her nose crackle when she inhales. Stars blaze overhead, piercing brilliantly through the black velvet of the night sky. A barred owl hoots and from somewhere far away comes the drowsy mumbling of a sheep, but otherwise the only sound is the scrunch of gravel underfoot. Somewhat to her surprise, she has no trouble keeping up with her uncle's pace; she is still getting used to the new length of her limbs, thanks to yet another growth spurt this summer.

Carefully her uncle slides open the barn door just wide enough for them to pass through, closing it softly behind them. From the foaling stall in the far corner, Delphine can hear the sounds of the Shire cross pacing restlessly. "Easy, girl," says her uncle in his deep rumbling voice, loud enough for the mare to hear so she won't startle at their approach. Together they peer through the open half of the stall door, letting their eyes adjust to the dim light from the shielded overhead bulb.

The big bay mare's tail is switching. Her ears flicker toward them, acknowledging their presence, but she is preoccupied with nosing and pawing at her flanks. Pacing again, she turns, her new position under the light giving Delphine a better view of the sunken muscles on either side of the hooks and the swollen, floppy vulva.

Grabbing the kit by the stall door and the bucket of hot water that her uncle hands her, Delphine walks toward the mare, crooning nonsense. The muscular arched neck dips so she can scratch under the bristly mane; they stand forehead to forehead, communing and sharing breath for a long moment, until the horse sighs with a flutter of wide nostrils. While her uncle quietly picks out a pile of manure and pitches in clean straw, Delphine moves carefully, leaving her hand in contact with the long level back, until she reaches the tail. Quickly she wraps it with a fresh bandage. Using mild soap and some Nolvasan from the kit, she gently cleans the mare's teats, udder, legs and buttocks, sponging and rinsing until the skin fairly squeaks. Taking the bucket and kit with her, Delphine follows her uncle out of the stall and leans over the half door to wait.

After eating a bit of hay, the mare resumes her pacing, shaking her head and snorting. "Won't be long now," whispers her uncle. Delphine nods.

Sweat darkens the coat as the first mild contractions start. Tail raised, the pelvic muscles relax even further; above the flanks, her sides appear to cave in as the foal shifts position. The mare lies down on the thick bed of straw with a grunt, then groans as the contractions become more intense and closer together. With a heave, she regains her feet, head hanging. A gush of amber fluid streams from her vulva, the water sac having broken with the effort to stand. The whitish membrane appears after a moment, then a small foot with its rubbery frondlike hoof capsule. But nothing further, even after a series of contractions of the vast heaving sides.

Delphine looks up at her uncle, who nods. Pulling on shoulder-length plastic gloves and slathering them with sterile lube, she enters the stall again, murmuring reassurances to the panting mare. Carefully sliding her hand into the vaginal canal, she encounters first the protruding foot and then the foal's nose. Gently, she pushes the nose back toward the uterus and reaches in deeper until she finds the other leg. "It's okay, foot's just turned back," she says to her uncle, relieved. Flexing the leg until she can grasp the hoof, she cups the hoof in her hand and brings it up so that it is beneath the foal's neck and over the rim of the pelvis.

Double checking to make sure the nose is in the proper position, she takes a firm hold on each cannon bone. Patiently she waits. As soon as the mare starts pushing again, Delphine leans back and pulls out and down. The feet appear, with the nose tucked neatly between them. At the next contractions, first the right shoulder, then the left pass through the birth canal. A brief rest, one more contraction and the whole slippery mass follows. Catching the foal in her arms, she lowers it carefully to the straw as close to its mother as she can. With her hands she breaks through the membrane and clears mucus from the nostrils. She watches for an anxious moment, then feels her heart leap as the foal shakes its head and breathes on its own.

Leaving Fanette and her new baby alone to rest, Delphine strips off the gloves and washes up at the utility sink in the tackroom. By the time she's changed into the fresh t-shirt she'd left in the foaling kit and returned to her uncle's side, the big mare has cleaned off the foal and torn the cord. Her uncle hands her a small jar of Betadine; carefully she immerses the umbilical stump in it without spilling any on the foal. "Filly," she says quietly to her uncle, who gives her a thumbs up.

Back outside the stall, they watch as Fanette delivers the afterbirth, which appears intact and of a healthy coloration and size. Nudging the foal into a sternal position, the mare whickers. Wobbling, the foal manages to stand on her impossibly long and spindly legs, the knees comically large in comparison. Delphine reaches for her uncle's hand and holds her breath. The foal's questing head butts and nuzzles at the mare's flank until it finds the udder and begins to nurse.

The huge work-hardened hand engulfing hers gives a gentle squeeze. She looks up at her uncle, smiling through joyful tears. "You done good, kiddo," he says, smiling back.