By Nikki Alvin-Smith

The world of horse breeding is filled with emotional and financial highs and lows, and most breeders have had their share of tragic losses and euphoric successes. One of the most heartbreaking events is the loss of a foal or a mare or, even worse, both.


hen a mare is lost and a foal left behind, there are two options for the breeder: either find a nurse mare to adopt the foal or go it alone without an

equine mom in the picture and bottle feed the foal. With due diligence on the part of the breeder, a bottle-

fed foal given adequate companionship from another equine herd member or other animal, plus a huge dose of human attention, can develop into a stellar individual. On the other hand, there truly is no replacement for what a surrogate mom’s love and attention can provide for the mental and physical development of the foal. Having a mom to teach and guide the foal through-

out its critical development period prior to weaning affects the foal’s ultimate trainability and social development. The opportunity to nurse, with the nutritional quality and ease of digestion mare’s milk provides, promotes the foal’s proper physical development. If faced with a new orphan, a breeder can expect to incur substantial expenses whether he or she chooses to bottle feed or source a nurse mare. Considering the labor required to bottle feed a foal every two hours along with the $40-60 per week spent for milk replacer over the four to six months prior to weaning, the costs in time and money add up. The expense to provide a nurse mare can range from $2,000 to $3,000, plus a mileage fee to and from the farm. When making a cost comparison between the two

options, one should include the additional costs of provid- ing a companion for the foal as part of the bottle-feeding choice. Keeping another horse, pony or other animal strictly as a 24-hour companion for the foal incurs costs for his or her feeding, care and attention.

Nurse Mare Controversy The traditional nurse mare method first requires a mare to be bred so the mare comes into milk production when she foals. When a call comes in that a nurse mare is needed, the biological foal is simply tossed aside and the mare is shipped out to adopt the orphan foal, usually to the recipient foal’s farm location.

Warmbloods Today 21 As abhorrent as it sounds, this method is still widely prac-

ticed, particularly in Thoroughbred circles. Understandably, there is a swirling cloud of anxiety about the ethical use of nurse mares and some breeders do not wish to support the traditional nurse mare program, which will inevitably require leaving another less fortunate or perceived less worthy foal behind to suffer. It’s an ethical dilemma. Where do these by-product foals go? If they are fortunate, they will end up at a rescue where they will be given the necessary care, which may involve IV fluids, administration of oxygen, bottle-feeding and 24-hour care. But not all are so lucky. While some are successfully rescued and adopted, the majority are not properly nurtured.

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