Orphan–the name itself evokes sadness and sympathy. A baby without a mother, in this case a foal. Whether it occurs through the death of the mare, or just that the mare cannot produce milk or will not take care of her foal, it all leads to one problem: how to care for the foal.

In the past, there have been two standard options:

  1. Raise the foal by hand as an orphan, using some form of milk replacer, or

  2. Lease a nurse mare.

Now there is a new development in the management of orphan foals that we will also discuss, a way to turn a barren or empty mare into a surrogate mom–and a milk-producing one at that.

Many people used to feel that an orphan foal could never turn out to be a successful horse because he would be smaller than a normal horse, or he would be an adult with abnormal behavior. Now, with the help of science, many orphan foals have gone on to be healthy, well-adjusted adults.

Newborn Orphans

A newborn orphan poses a special dilemma. Foals which are orphaned at birth will require some form of milk or colostrum within two to three hours. After that time, their small energy reserves will be gone, and they will be facing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar from not eating enough). So, be prepared to feed an orphan in the unlikely event the worst happens.

If the mare dies before the foal is 24 hours old, then the baby needs supplemental colostrum. This first milk a mare produces contains high concentrations of antibodies, which are necessary for the foal to fight off infection. Without the antibodies that colostrum provides, the foal is very likely to