Nearly a dozen velvety black Ariègeois broodmares and an approved stallion roam and graze freely across a 120-acre pasture in the French Massif Central hills. These horses are the foundation of Nathalie and Xavier Niaux’s Domaine de Merens de Bibracte, an equine dairy, where up to 3,000 liters (750 gallons) of mare milk are produced for human consumption every year.

Heralded within organic food and alternative health circles for its nutritive and therapeutic values, mare milk is sold to European customers directly from the farms. Products range from raw, unpasteurized milk for drinking, to cosmetic items such as fragrant soaps and body lotions.

Mares at Domaine de Merens de Bibracte equine dairy
mare milk products

Top: Mares at Domaine de Merens de Bibracte. Bottom: Mare milk products on display.

Selective breeding, positive foal handling, and transparency in their business practices have resulted in foals that are in as high demand as the farm’s dairy products, Niaux said. The farm’s foals have all been placed in families within months of weaning.

Although animal welfare groups such as the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and Worldwide Protection for Farm Animals are aware of horse dairy farms and the possible negative implications for the mare/foal relationship, none of the organization representatives contacted was willing to make a statement on the welfare risks, citing lack of research and available data in the industry.

As long as certain precautions such as not milking the mare excessively, supplementing the foal’s diet, and providing plenty of high-quality pasture are respected, a dairy mare