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Make Way for Baby: Welcoming the Clydesdale Foals of 2014

On April 7, 1933, August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch III surprised their father, August A. Busch, Sr., with the gift of a six-horse Clydesdale hitch to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition.

Since then, the Clydesdales continue to be a symbol of Budweiser’s heritage, tradition and commitment to quality, with 2014 marking the 81st anniversary of the Budweiser Clydesdales with Anheuser-Busch.

Today, the majority of the Clydesdales seen pulling the iconic red wagon at fairs, festivals and parades across the country – and in some of the most-loved Super Bowl commercials – get their start at Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Mo. Read more about what it takes to be an American icon… from the very beginning.

Hope – star of the 2013 Budweiser Super Bowl ad “Brotherhood” – and her mother, Darla, in 2013

Hope – star of the 2013 Budweiser Super Bowl ad “Brotherhood” – and her mother, Darla, in 2013

Bright lights shine above. A team of experts stand by in case they’re needed. A mother gives a final push, and a new, 180-pound life is brought into the room.

This isn’t a weird TV script about super-sized infants, it’s the process by which an American icon is born: a Budweiser Clydesdale foal.

Warm Springs Ranch is the premier breeding facility for the Budweiser Clydesdales in Boonville, Mo., and home to 70 Clydesdales. In 2014, the ranch estimates 25 Clydesdales will be born.

What goes into the foaling process is a testament to the high attentiveness and quality of care provided by John Soto, supervisor of Warm Springs Ranch, and his team.

Final Preparations Before Foaling

Each year, 25-40 Clydesdale foals are born at Warm Springs Ranch, and their births are long-anticipated by each team member.

On average, a Clydesdale mare is pregnant with a foal for an average of 340 days, or 11 months. Mares can have their foals anywhere from 330 days to a full year of gestation, so the monitoring process begins in earnest around day 300.

Once a mare reaches 300 days of pregnancy, she’s brought up to the main barn at Warm Springs Ranch, staying in a stall at night and the smaller exercise pens during the day. This gives the staff multiple opportunities to observe the mare and track her progress, such as the udder filling with milk and muscle relaxation on each side of her tail on the hip.

“Each mare has her own individual signs that she’s getting ready to give birth, so we record those individual signs each year,” says Soto.

When the team feels the mare is about a week away from giving birth, they fit her with a foaling alarm that transmits a signal to their phones if she starts to give birth.

Foaling alarm and transmitter

Foaling alarm and transmitter

The mare is moved to the foaling stall inside the barn when the team estimates the birth is about one day away. This foaling stall also has a video monitor that feeds to the lab inside the barn and to Soto’s house, which is on the property.

Foaling stall at Warm Springs Ranch

Foaling stall at Warm Springs Ranch

All of this monitoring comes in handy when it’s go-time.

Giving Birth to an Icon

According to Soto’s team, mares will usually have their foals between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., when it’s quietest around the ranch. This also makes the monitoring systems even more critical, as the ranch staff isn’t always assembled during those hours.

When birth is imminent, Soto says every mare’s a little different in how she acts.

“Some get a little sweaty, paw the ground and wander around the foaling stall restlessly. Some just stand around eating hay, not being bothered by much,” says Soto. “We track these behaviors for each mare as well, since they’ll often go through the same routine every year.”

To birth the foal, a mare lays down, and nature takes its course. The Warm Springs Ranch team is on hand to assist and to start post-birth procedures, which includes “cutting the cord” on the foal and checking its navel for any infection.

“After the cord is cut, we leave the foal alone to bond with their mother, making sure the mare is being attentive to her foal within the first hour,” says John Detweiler, assistant supervisor, Warm Springs Ranch. “Within three hours, we want to see the foal up and standing. If the foal has trouble standing, the team jumps in and helps.”

Hour four is when a foal should start nursing from their mother, and if that isn’t happening, the team steps in again to help lead the foal to milk or by milking the mare and feeding the foal by bottle.

“The first milk is critical for the immunity and strength of the foal,” Detweiler says. “There’s a small window of time when the foal can absorb the antibodies that first milk can provide, so we make sure it happens during that fourth hour of life.”

If the average daily temperatures are starting to rise above 70 degrees, hour 12 is the foal’s first “haircut,” where they’re clipped on their sides and belly. This leaves the foal with a Mohawk-like look – one large strip of coat down their backs.

“Clydesdales are natives of Scotland, so they’re born with a very dense coat and tend to overheat if the hair isn’t clipped away,” says Soto.

From there, a foal and its mother are moved to another stall in the barn, where they continue to get to know each other and the Warm Springs Ranch handlers. The bond between the foal and the handlers is essential to start forging early, as it’s that human/Clydesdale bond that helps the foal become a successful hitch team member down the road.

“When everything works the way we planned it, we’re always thrilled”

The Warm Springs Ranch team knows no two births are the same, and that’s one of the many reasons they love to be a part of the Budweiser Clydesdales story.

“We have many memorable births, especially after waiting 11 months to see if the mare and stallion you put together will result in a perfectly marked foal,” says Detweiler. “When everything works the way we planned it, we are always thrilled.”

But it’s the ranch’s most memorable birth – the birth of Super Bowl ad star, Hope – that sticks with Soto, and perfectly describes the anticipation and excitement that surrounds each birth at the ranch.

“We knew the 2013 Super Bowl commercial, ‘Brotherhood,’ was planned on being filmed at Warm Springs Ranch on January 19. I had four mares due during that time so I wasn’t worried about producing a foal. Of course, they were all late. We got to a week before the shoot, and I still didn’t have any babies. Three days before the shoot, Hope was born. She was a cute, petite foal that came at just the right time, with just the right look, and everything worked perfectly. That’s one birth I will always remember.”

John Soto with Hope and Darla at Warm Springs Ranch in 2013

John Soto with Hope and Darla at Warm Springs Ranch in 2013

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Families can get a glimpse of the foaling experience and meet this year’s group of foals during twice-daily tours at Warm Springs Ranch, which is open until October 31 this year. To reserve a tour spot (reservations are required) or for more information on Warm Springs Ranch, visit warmspringsranch.com.