Fostering

Sometimes, unfortunately, a foal needs to be fostered on to another mare; this can be a difficult time for all concerned. The main reasons why this might be necessary are; the mare is very ill or dies shortly after giving birth, the mare rejects the foal or the mare does not have sufficient milk to feed the foal. If any of these situations occur it is very important for the foal’s health and well being that an appropriate foster mare is found quickly.

A suitable foster mare can sometimes be difficult to find as they must have certain attributes:

  • They must have a suitable temperament for handling and ideally a history of having been a good mother in the past.
  • They must be able to produce enough good quality milk to feed the growing foal.
  • They must be in good health and vaccinated against tetanusinfluenza and ideally Equine herpesvirus (EHV).

A foster mare only becomes available when they lose their own foal. At this point the owners may decide that she can become a foster mare.
The owners may advertise the mare as suitable for fostering. In the thoroughbred racing industry these adverts usually appear in the racing newspapers and on racing websites.
There are several organisations such as the National Foaling Bank (www.nationalfoalingbank.com) which have foster mares available for you to loan until the foal is weaned. The arrangements for fostering this way differ between organisations.
If the mare that is being used has only just lost its own foal, she should be left with the dead foal for a period of time before introducing her to a new foal.
When introducing the foal to the foster mare it may be necessary to sedate the mare or employ the use of a twitch to keep her calm. The foal should be introduced to the mare calmly by experienced handlers; some people advocate using something very strong smelling such as Vics Vapour Rub to mask the foals own scent and others suggest rubbing the dead foals skin or the placenta over the new foal to try and prevent rejection.
The mare should be held at all times during the introduction until her reaction to the new foal can be assessed. The foal should also be held towards the mares head so that the mare can see and smell the foal. Mares can react very unpredictably and sometimes aggressively to a new foal, so it is important to monitor her very closely, she may even require further sedation.
Unfortunately some mares will not accept a new foal and attempts at fostering to that mare should be abandoned so that the foal and the handlers do not get hurt. Even if the mare does accept the foal it may take several hours before she is comfortable with the foal and can be left alone. The whole process can take some time in which case the foal may need to be supplemented with milk replacer.

Before the foal and foster mare are introduced it is important to ensure that the foal has received enough colostrum as this is a very stressful time for it.
If the mare that is being used has only just lost its own foal, she should be left with the dead foal for a period of time before introducing her to a new foal.
When introducing the foal to the foster mare it may be necessary to sedate the mare or employ the use of a twitch to keep her calm. The foal should be introduced to the mare calmly by experienced handlers; some people advocate using something very strong smelling such as Vicks VapoRub to mask the foals own scent and others suggest rubbing the dead foal’s skin or the placenta over the new foal to try and prevent rejection.
The mare should be held at all times during the introduction until her reaction to the new foal can be assessed. The foal should also be held towards the mares head so that the mare can see and smell the foal. Mares can react very unpredictably and sometimes aggressively to a new foal, so it is important to monitor her very closely, she may even require further sedation.
Unfortunately some mares will not accept a new foal and attempts at fostering to that mare should be abandoned so that the foal and the handlers do not get hurt. Even if the mare does accept the foal it may take several hours before she is comfortable with the foal and can be left alone. The whole process can take some time in which case the foal may need to be supplemented with milk replacer.

Fostering foals can be very rewarding and worthwhile but it is a difficult process and you should seek advice from your vet or other experienced people before attempting it.