In our last newsletter we featured an article entitled Introducing a Nurse Mare to an Orphaned Foal. We discussed where you may look to find a nurse mare should you find yourself with an orphaned foal and how to go about introducing them to one another. However, there is an alternative option to a nurse mare which was not covered in this article, grafting a foal onto a recipient mare which has been induced into lactating. It just so happened that a week after our last newsletter was sent out we were faced with finding a nurse mare for two orphaned foals (pictured left with their new moms) which were admitted to our mare services division. We wish to highlight our recent success stories and share this alternative option with you.
One hurdle you may find when searching for a nurse mare is that they may not be readily available in your area. Concerns can also arise when mares are bred specifically for the purpose of becoming a nurse mare because in such situations the nurse mare’s own foal is pulled off of her in order that she be available for a client with an orphaned foal. There can be an ethical struggle with the general concept of breeding mares for this type of service such as what happens to the foals from these nurse mares and are we indirectly contributing to a population of unwanted horses? An alternative to the nurse mare is to graft the foal onto a recipient mare which is identified from your own herd or from an embryo transfer herd.
The choice of mare is important. An older multiparous mare is the best choice as these mares often know their job well and though they are not in foal this season they may still have some milk production. She should also have a good temperament that is easy to handle/manage and would be willing to accept a strange foal. These non-pregnant mares can be given prostaglandin to simulate the contractions of labor and then carefully introduced to the orphan foal. If she accepts the foal and he begins and continues to nurse, this will provide the stimulus the mare needs to increase milk production. Within a week the mare can be producing as much milk as a foaling mare. In the meantime, it may be necessary to supplement the foal’s diet with a milk replacer as described in our article, Feeding and Managing the Orphaned or Rejected Foal. The weight and health status of the adopted foal should be monitored closely to ensure he is gaining weight appropriately, staying hydrated and getting the nutritional support required.
As mentioned, we had two orphaned foals come into our mare services division a couple of weeks ago. Both of these foals were successfully grafted onto recipient mares from our embryo transfer recipient herd. The foals are doing well and the adoptive mares are doting mothers. It may not always go as well as these two cases. However, such moments are precious to witness and the happy endings we all strive for as breeders and equine reproduction specialists. The loss of a post-foaling mare is such a difficult time, especially for owners, caretakers, and veterinarians alike. Being able to provide the orphaned foal a new “mom” can be a wonderfully rewarding experience for everyone involved. Should such a tragedy affect you, try looking closer to home when an orphaned foal needs a mom.