A nurse mare foal is a foal who was born so that its mother might come into milk. The milk that the nurse mare is producing is used to nourish the foal of another mare, a more “expensive” foal. Primarily these are thoroughbred foals, though certainly not limited to the thoroughbred industry. The foals are essentially byproducts of the mare’s milk industry. A thoroughbred mare’s purpose is to produce more racehorses. A mare can give birth to one foal each year provided she is re-bred immediately after delivering a foal. Because the Jockey Club requires that mares be bred only by live cover, and not artificially inseminated. The mare must travel to the stallion for breeding and may be shipped as soon as 7-10 days after giving birth to a foal, but a period of 3-4 weeks is generally allowed.
In general there are a number of reasons why a nurse mare may be called upon, among these are: loss of maternal mare, mare has no milk, mare rejects foal, and countless other malandy’s.
As far as the Thoroughbred breeding industry goes there are also numerous reasons a nurse mare might be needed, these include: travelling and insurance costs which prohibit the foal from accompaning the Thoroughbred mare to the stallion station, and this is just to name a couple out of many other concerns.
Traveling is very risky for these newborn racing foals, and insurance costs are prohibitive for the foal to accompany the mother to the stallion farm. At this point a nurse mare is hired to raise the thoroughbred foal. In order to have milk, the nurse mare had to give birth to her own baby. When she is sent to the thoroughbred breeding farm, her own foal is left behind. Historically, these foals were simply killed. Orphaned foals are difficult to rise and no one had tried to raise large numbers of them. Now, these foals do have value … their hides can be used as “pony skin” in the fashion and textile industries, and the meat is considered a delicacy in some foreign markets.