The video shows a mare who had lost her baby accepting almost immediately a foal who had lost his mother. It seemed a natural step to put the two together in the hope and expectation that the mare would be a foster mum to the foal. It worked out beautifully as the video shows. But quick research indicates that it doesn’t always work out so well.
The heart-warming story doesn’t always end so happily. A veterinarian and specialist with qualifications as long as your arm, Deirdre M Carson, tells us that: “If very fortunate, her response will be to call and talk to the foal immediately as though it was her own, suggesting that she will readily accept the orphaned foal”.
So, what we see in the video is very fortunate. More commonly mares under these circumstances can behave unpredictably and aggressively. They might bite or kick the foal. If that happens the mare should be reprimanded and distracted by pinching them, she says. The whole process needs to be supervised with great caution for obvious reasons.
Foals under these circumstances are normally happy to suckle but they will be discouraged if the mare behaves aggressively. As foals are born without natural protection against infection it is important that they receive colostrum from their own dam or from a donor source within the first 24 hours of their life.
Carson says that if this is not possible the foal should receive a plasma transfusion from a suitable donor. The process is fraught with difficulty and therefore it is very pleasing to see such a success in this instance.
We don’t know the background to the story, but mares can sometimes die after foaling and I think that is why this foal lost his mother.
Other reasons why foals lose their mothers is because she has a history of savaging her offspring or the foal is separated from their mother for treatment and thereafter the mare no longer produces milk or may lose interest. Or the mare may not produce enough milk to feed her foal due to a variety of reasons such as illness.
The foal selected for fostering should be less than three weeks of age ideally. Apparently, there was a time when it was a common practice to skin the dead foal of the mare and use the skin as a coat for the foal to be fostered. I take that to mean that they try and make the new foal smell like the old foal. It sounds rather disgusting to be honest. The technique is now considered to be unwarranted and unhygienic.
Carson says that the fostering mare should be “deeply sedated and held in a bridle by a competent handler”. And sometimes the mare has a strong-smelling ointment placed in their nostrils to mask the smell of the foal. The foal should be made hungry by withholding milk for a couple of hours before his or her introduction to the mare.
At the introduction the mare should be held firmly and confidently with their hindquarters in a corner. That is to prevent the mare kicking the foal, I guess.
If a mare insists on being aggressive towards the foal despite all the tricks and methods to smooth the introduction, they should be rejected as a foster mother and another more suitable mare found.