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Feeding the Orphan Foal

By: Dr. Mary Rose Paradis

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Nurse mares provide the orphan foal with the most natural method and source of milk. The orphan foal is fostered onto the nurse mare whose own foal is orphaned and generally fed by bucket. The fostering processes vary with the different nurse mare owners. One successful method involves placing a scented coat or blanket on the mare's own foal for a period of time before the mare is introduced to the new foal. The mare becomes used to associating the scent with her own foal. The blanket is then transferred to the new foal and the mare and new foal are introduced. A handler should hold the mare while another person works with the foal. If the mare has good mothering instincts and is quiet, the process of grafting the two together may take 1 to 2 hours. Both handlers should be alert to any aggressive movement of the mare toward to foal to prevent any injury if the mare does not accept the new foal.

Advantages

  • Good natural nutrition
  • Labor saving (after the initial introduction)
  • Socialization of the orphan foal

    The socialization of the foal is an important issue. Foals raised without the guidance of a mother tend to be spoiled and less likely to be comfortable in a herd situation. Often people will remark that their orphaned foals have an oral fixation. They may suck their tongues or hold their tongues outside their mouths as adults.

    Disadvantages

  • Expense is often a disadvantage in nurse mare fostering. Mares are generally leased for 4 to 5 months while they raise their adopted foal. Costs vary between nurse mare farms but can range from $2500 to $3500.

  • In addition to the lease cost, many contracts include that the mare be bred back before she returns to her original farm. This ensures that she will be able to function as a nurse mare the following year. The leasee is responsible for having the mare rebred.

  • Another disadvantage to the nurse mare option is that the mare's natural foal is now an orphan.

    A good nurse mare farm is set up to handle orphan foals. One should check to see what happens to these foals. Many times the foals are fed in groups to provide for socialization. Often the foals are later sold to new owners or kept as replacement mares if they are fillies.

    Nurse mares are not always available in all parts of the country. This option is more common in regions where there are large horse breeding populations.

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