Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Nurse Mare Foal Adoption
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Why aren’t these foals with their mothers?
These are nurse mare foals. For more information on what nurse mare foals are and where they come from, visit our section on "Foal Rescue".
So… it’s basically the same as the PMU foals… right?
No. By law, PMU foals have to remain with their biological mothers until they are 100 days old, effectively making them weanlings when they are separated. Nurse mare foals can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours old when they are separated, and some are even induced.
How do they eat? Do they nurse from a baby bottle?
When we bring the orphans to the farm, the first thing we do is teach them to drink milk out of a bucket. This is easier for a few reasons. First, a foal eats in small amounts very frequently. It would be almost impossible to find homes that were able to bottle feed foals every few hours. Second, if they drink milk out of buckets, they are able to drink as much as they want, whenever they want. Also, as they grow older, they seem to be a little less mouthy, since they don't equate human hands with mealtimes.
I have high tensile/barbed wire/electric tape/coated wire/electric rope etc. Is that ok?
Definitely not. While they are young, the foals need a solid fence to keep them contained. A foal with its mother is able to read her body language to see when they are getting too close to a scary fence, but an orphan wouldn’t understand to back away until they are caught in it. With an electric fence, they could potentially blow through it instead of recoiling as an older horse would. Wire mesh is fine, Hog-wire is fine, Chicken-wire is fine.
I haven’t used a veterinarian for my horses in years because I give my own shots. Is that ok?
Even though you might have endless experience with adult horses, foals are an entirely different ballgame. We ask that you develop a working relationship with a veterinarian that has experience with foals before coming to adopt. Make sure that your vet is willing to work with you and answer any questions that you may have. You never know when you might need to call for advice at 3am because your foal is doing something you have never seen before.
I have owned horses my whole life but currently do not have one on my farm. Is that ok?
It is very important that your foal has the opportunity to see and (later on) come in contact with an adult horse as he/she ages. Because these foals are so dependent on humans, they tend to grow up like big dogs if not raised with structure and other horses to “look up to”.
My mare is wonderful and would make a great mom- will she raise a nurse mare foal?
We cannot tell you how many people come to us with this one… “Sparkles is just THE BEST. She would love to take care of a foal. She is so quiet and will let me do anything to her, including touching her teats!” We are sure that Sparkles is wonderful and you can touch her anywhere. Unless you have bitten her in the teat while she was sleeping and got a motherly reaction instead of a kick in the face, it is hard to tell whether or not she will really be a great mother. Also, just because she loves one baby doesn’t mean she will love another. We can give you tips on how to introduce your mare and a new foal safely, but you will have to be prepared ahead of time to raise the foal as an orphan, just in case. This means that if your foal is under a month old, you are looking into adopting TWO foals and raising them orphans. 90% of mares will not take on another foal. Even if they have milk, their baby just died, and are screaming their head off for their lost baby, it doesn't mean that they will take ANY baby. Think of it this way. You have a newborn, it dies. Are you going to immediately want to adopt another baby? Any baby? It is the same situation with a mare. The safety of our foals is our number one priority.
I have a goat- will it raise the baby?
A goat could provide companionship to an orphan, but these babies like to snuggle up to something when they sleep. They pile up like puppies here in the barn, and it is highly doubtful that a goat would do the same. Would you want your toddler learning behavior from a gorilla? It’s a similar situation. The foal needs “motherly advice” from an animal that has common behavior patterns, another horse.
Why do I have to take TWO foals?
These foals are young. They are meant to be nuzzled, licked, and snuggled by their mothers. Since these babies don’t have mothers, the best that we can do for them is to give them a friend that is craving the same affection. In the past we have tried adopting out babies singly, but have found that depression sets in quickly. If the babies are depressed, they won’t eat. If they don’t eat, they will die. If you are only able to keep one foal, you are welcome to foster the second one until they are old enough to separate (generally at 8 weeks old). Keep them turned out and stalled together until then. At that time, a quiet adult horse (a >20 year old gelding is best) will substitute for a friend.
Why do the babies lick/suck everything- including me?
Even without their mothers, these babies have a strong desire to nurse. Armpits are often mistaken for Mama as they root around looking for milk. Mouthing is nothing to worry about unless it turns into nipping and biting, which should be corrected immediately. Lips are ok, teeth are not, at any age.
When do they start eating hay and grain?
The day they arrive, they nibble on hay and grain. The older they get, the more they eat. By the time they are 8 weeks old the majority of their diet will be hay and grain. they can have unlimited grain until they start making a career out of chomping it down the second you put it in the bucket. Usually this is around 5-8 weeks. After that, grain 2-3 times a day is best instead of free-choice.
What kind and how much hay and grain do I give them?
We feed a high quality soft grass hay. A little alfalfa isn’t a bad thing; they just often don’t like the rough texture as much until they get a bit older. We feed Omolene 300 which is made by Purina. When they are young we feed hay and grain free choice. As they grow they will start to chow down on the grain and you will want to cut back to several servings a few times a day instead of “all you can eat”. Hay still remains free choice.
What is their milk made from?
Their milk formula comes in a 50lb bag and is called “Buckeye Mare’s Milk Plus”. It is expensive ($120-150 a bag) and if your local feed store does not carry it, they can order it for you. Your local Tractor Supply will be able to get it in for you, even if it isn't something that they usually carry. Be persistent with them, the squeaky wheel gets the grease! Just be sure to have bags of milk in your barn BEFORE you come to adopt!
Why does the milk have a green tint?
We add several probiotic supplements to the milk, including G.U.T. by Ukele (that’s the green stuff). We also add 1lb low-fat vanilla yogurt to every 5 gallon bucket and some generic Quaker oats for fiber. Mix ‘er all up and you have a bucket of milk! By the time you adopt your babies, you don't HAVE to have the other additives, but it would sure give your foal that jump-start that just may make it a champion!
Can I buy my milk formula from you?
We try to save our milk for our own babies, as we can feed up to a bag a day during the busy season. If you are unable to get your own milk in for another week or so, but are ready to adopt otherwise, we can sell you one bag from our stash.
How long do they need to be on the milk replacer?
It depends on the baby. Some babies are blowing up like a blimp at 7 weeks; others are a little weaker and need to be on it for 10. Pay attention to your baby and cater to its individual needs. If you have two foals and one can come off milk but the other needs to stay on, just continue with the milk for both until the weaker one is ready. It will not hurt your chubby foal and is so much easier than dividing them up for feeding times.
How do I wean them off the milk replacer?
Do not take them off it suddenly. Gradually water it down over a couple weeks while always providing another full bucket of clean, fresh water. By the end, you should be giving a bucket of ½-strength milk at night only. Only take them off the milk when you are confident that they are drinking enough water and eating enough hay and grain to sustain them.
How long does a 50 lb bag last?
Usually, a 50lb bag of milk will last two foals a little less than a week. Remember, the bigger they get, the more they drink.
Can they be turned out?
Definitely. It is not recommended to turn them out in a large back pasture where you cannot catch them, but they need enough space to be able to get into a full run. The turnout needs to be bigger than a round pen. The bigger they get the more space they will need.
Can I keep them at a boarding/training facility if the owner lives on-site?
Not unless the training/boarding facility owner wants to adopt foals! We do not allow foals to be kept anywhere but YOUR barn for a few reasons. First, these babies often require round the clock care- and asking the barn owner to go out at 4am for a baby with colic isn't realistic. If your baby stops drinking, you will have to make sure it eats every 2 hours, often medicating it multiple times a day... something else your barn owner should not be responsible for. You need to be aware of what your baby is doing all of the time. Foals can "crash" in minutes, before lunch she was fine, now she's a hot mess. Secondly, at a boarding facility, there are often many different people cleaning, leading, feeding, washing, and overseeing the horses. Foal care equates to diligent observation, especially if they are young and sick. Leading/handling your foal is TRAINING your foal, so imagine the dumbest, craziest person at your barn training your baby. Oh boy! If your baby gets sick, the stall-cleaner can be cleaning out signs that are important to you, spilled milk, uneaten hay, diarrhea, etc. Even if he tells you about it, there is nothing better than seeing it for yourself. Thirdly, turnout is tricky. What happens if your foal gets turned out with at 10 year old that was just gelded last week? Communication is not as reliable as you might think at a barn. If turnout is inconvenient (the foal may be turned out alone in an arena in some situations) it can be almost impossible for the baby to get out at all (People need to ride my horse, there are lessons going on in the arena, etc). If it rains, gets cold, gets hot, etc, the baby needs to be brought in immediately. Lastly, it is easy to say "The baby is fed and cleaned, I'll just go out tomorrow and work with him". An unhandled baby is a scared, unmanageable baby. Basic food and shelter are not enough for the babies at this stage of the game.
When can they be with other horses?
They cannot be turned out with other horses until they are 4 months old. They should only be turned out with a mellow, quiet horse (think OLD horse) that won’t mind their silly antics.
What about shots, wormer, hoof care, etc?
Your veterinarian will be able to guide you through a vaccination schedule for your foal. They can be wormed using Panacur. Ask your farrier to check your foal’s feet when he comes to your barn, and if you could convince him to pick up your baby’s feet, file a little off and slap the bottoms… that’s training!
How do I bring them home?
Most solid, safe horse trailers will do. Stock trailers are fine assuming the weather is ok. The back doors need to go all the way up and the dividers need to be pulled out. When preparing your trailer, you are basically trying to make a little stall in your trailer. The babies are safest being hauled loose in the same area… just like a stall. Victoria always says, “If you don’t feel comfortable with me hitting your trailer floor with a sledge hammer, then I don’t feel comfortable putting foals on it”. We don’t beat every trailer that comes in the driveway, but if we can see the white lines zooming by- you aren’t putting a foal in that thing. Save yourself some time and baby-proof your trailer before coming. PROFESSIONAL SHIPPERS ARE NOT ALLOWED.
I have a 3+ hour drive to get home- will the babies be ok?
You will need to stop every 3 hours to offer your baby some milk and to check to see that everything is ok. We have hauled babies all across the country and aside from being tired, they all manage quite well if the time is taken to make sure they stay hydrated and comfortable. We will provide you with milk alreadxy mixed up to offer to them on your trip, if you are hauling a long distance you will need to bring a 5 gallon bucket to feed the milk from and anoter bucket with a lid (or cooler) for storing milk in your trailer while you are driving.
How should we haul the foals? Can we tie them in a slot in our trailer?
Not unless you want a baby with a broken neck, legs, back, pelvis, jaw, etc. These foals should NEVER be tied until they are older, more mature, and are professionals at leading and giving to pressure. When hauling these foals, you need to take all dividers out of your trailer. The idea you should have when prepping your trailer for a baby is that you want it to resemble a stall. Nothing to get legs, heads, and feet caught in, and one big open space. Think if YOU were a foal, if you fell down, what would you hit when you scrambled back up? It needs to be bedded with hay/straw or shavings, and for long trips (3+ hours) you will need to have a bucket we can pour milk into and a container with a lid to store milk in while you drive (so it doesn't spill). Your floor needs to be SOLID, your walls need to be SOLID. If you show up with a trailer floor we can hit with a sledge hammer and break through, then we will send you packing.
Are they broke to lead/tie/etc?
Nope. You will need to “bear hug” them out of the trailer when you get home (an arm around the leg and an arm around the butt) because the majority of the babies that we adopt out have never had a halter on. When you do halter-break them, put a butt-rope around them to encourage them from backing up and flipping over. We don’t care what Uncle Jimmy says either; a butt-rope is the safest, fastest, and kindest way to go. So use it!
What does normal foal poop look like?
The color will vary depending on what your baby eats, but in the young foals, you are looking for a frosting consistency. The older they get, the more it will change… eventually becoming “horse poop”!
My baby has diarrhea! What do I do?
Keep that baby drinking! If the baby stops drinking while it has diarrhea it will dehydrate and die. You can thin down the milk a little bit to help. You can give your baby anything you can give a toddler for diarrhea- Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, etc. Pedialyte is also great. If it does not resolve within a couple days, call your veterinarian.
My baby likes to run up to me and “shake hands” with his hoof! Isn’t that cute?
Not unless it’s going to be real cute when you are admitted to the hospital with a concussion because your 1200lb four year old pawed you in the head “playing shake”. Remember, anything you let them do now they are going to try when they are older.
When do I start training (leading, bathing, picking up feet, etc)?
Yesterday! The sooner you do it, the easier it will be! Their young minds are like sponges, and you are teaching them whether you mean to be or not. They need to have their minds fed as well!