The loss of a mother: a tragic event for any species. Likewise, the loss of an infant: devastating. At the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana this spring, both of these events occurred, leaving a mare without her baby and a foal without a mother.
To Kate McGovern, DVM, a resident in equine internal medicine at the hospital, this tragedy presented an opportunity to learn something new while helping this pair of horses by having the mare act as a foster mother for the orphaned foal.
Several methods are available for the procedure, and doctors first tried a traditional approach: the foal was covered in some of the mare's bedding and manure so that the foal would smell familiar to the mare. Then the mare was sedated, and attempts were made to allow the foal to nurse from her (hopefully) new mother.
Unfortunately, the mare was not persuaded to accept the foal as her own, and the two were separated to prevent the mare from injuring the foal. Doctors had to find another way to convince this mare to accept the foal.
The next step, then, was to use a more realistic and involved process, called "grafting" as recommended from a hospital in Kentucky. As before, the goal is to achieve a bond between the mare and the foal that would normally occur immediately after birth. According to McGovern, it is actually "meant to 'trick' the mare into thinking she has just given birth."
In order to do that, the birthing process is simulated using hormones and manual manipulation. For safety, the mare is sedated and restrained. She is then given two hormones, oxytocin and prostaglandin, which are normally