In Response to Donna Vowles, Assistant Broodmare Manager At Lane’s End Farm

I recently watched a video about the use of nurse mares.  The video was actually not so bad and the points made not nearly as arguable as many videos I have seen.  There were plenty of angry comments left on the video page, many of which were personal attacks and discounted the fact that woman speaking purports to not exploit nurse mares for pure profit.

As far as I am concerned, the nurse mare industry itself remains fair game for angry comments because it is supports a sickening practice and results in the death of new born foals who were only created so their mothers could make milk to feed more “valuable” horses.  So this article is not directed at Donna Vowles, but is an attempt to remove some of the candy coating applied in the video about nurse mares for those who might see her video and consider using a nurse mare in their own barn.

(Below) Video Uploaded on Jan 31, 2012.  Description:  “Donna Vowles Assistant Broodmare Manager at Lane’s End Farm talks to us about nurse mares: when they’re needed, and how to help them bond with a new foal.”

First, I want to be clear, in this video, Ms. Vowles states that she does not use nurse mares for the sake of nursing broodmare foals when the mares are able to care for their own babies.  She specifically states her facility does not bring nurse mares in so that broodmares already with foals can be separated from their foals and shipped off to be serviced by studs.  In this video, the nurse mare she shows, has been placed with a foal that the broodmare was unable to care for.

I commend her barn for not exploiting horses for the sake of convenience and wish more breeders considered the use of nurse mares as a backup plan rather than a main protocol when it comes to breeding.  This would certainly cut down on the thousands of nurse mares currently being exploited in the United States alone.  However, using nurse mares for any reason still supports an industry I take issue with (the nurse mare industry) and puts the needs of a broodmare (bred for profit) above the needs of the mares being exploited as nurse mares.

In other words, the more desirable, expensive horses get nurse mares to “save” their foals; the nurse mares give up their foals who are often then killed unless a rescue organization takes them.

Even with the conservative use of nurse mares, at 4:10 in the video, we are reminded of the business side of nurse mares when she states “….Generally, when the [nurse] mares arrive we will give them a little sedation because they’ve just lost their foal and we need them to accept the new foal.”

The words, “they’ve just lost their foal” are the ones I want you to remember.

The situations in which Donna Vowles claims in her video that nurse mares are needed fall on my deaf ears.  Here is why:  Yes, some broodmares reject their foals, or become too dangerous to handle, die during birth, or cannot produce enough milk.  So the justification is that a nurse mare is brought in to save the foal in crisis.  This sounds noble on the surface until you remember that the nurse mare’s foal is put at even higher risk than the broodmare baby in crisis.  Typically, a nurse mare foal is either killed using inhumane methods, left to die, sold to slaughter, or, if lucky, is picked up by a rescue organization who then must bear the financial costs of artificially nursing a foal via human intervention.

It makes no sense at all.  The number of foals in true crisis due to issues with their biological mothers is a small fraction of the number of nurse mare foals at risk (nearly 100%) born for the purpose of milk.

The truth is, nurse mares are in demand because the thoroughbred industry requires live breeding and prohibits artificial insemination. And, because many broodmares are bred every year and insurance will not cover the transport of newborn foals with their moms, broodmare babies are taken from their mommas, given to nurse mares to raise for a season, and the nurse mare’s own foal usually ends up either being killed or taken in by a rescue organization.

I appreciate that, in the wild, mares typically produce a foal each year, and, that it is generally considered safe to impregnate healthy broodmares every year.  However, wild mares also raise their own babies and typically nurse them for up to one year.  They do not have their babies taken away, they are allowed to enjoy the benefits of pregnancy — the simple pleasures of nursing, bonding, and raising their offspring, and yes, loving their foals, are afforded them.

None of those things take place when a nurse mare is used — not for the nurse mare, nor for the broodmare, and certainly, there is no benefit to either of the two foals involved when it is done for the purpose of transporting broodmares to stallions.  One foal is abandoned to be raised by humans; the other forced to be raised by another (nurse) mare.

Nurse mares are not bred with any intention of selling the foals so there is no incentive to breed responsibly.

The problem begins with the horse owners who use keep broodmares perpetually pregnant for profit.  Breeding TB mares every other year would virtually end the high demand for nurse mares in the U.S. because the broodmares could raise their own babies to yearlings who could safely and humanely be left behind while the mare was sent to be  serviced by a stud.  It would also help a great deal to allow broodmares to be artificially inseminated, thus ending the need for transport in the first place.

It should also be noted that the reason newborn foals are not transported with broodmares to studs is all about money.  Insurance companies will not take the risk of a foal dying in transport or at a stud barn and a claim being submitted.  Horse owners won’t transport foals with mares and risk the loss themselves, and those who can get insurance face high rates that may make it unprofitable to pay the premiums.

It sickens me to think every time this happens two mares and two foals are exploited and mistreated in the hopes of producing one champion.  The broodmares’ foals may survive, but the broodmares are just as much victims in this industry.  They are kept pregnant, but not allowed to raise a foal on their own.  And when they live out their breeding years, very often end up at auctions and are swept up by kill buyers.  Obviously, I am speaking generally of the business, and not making specific allegations againts the practices of Donna Vowles nor Lane’s End Farm.  Frankly, her insistence on only using nurse mares when a broodmare cannot raise her foal may be distasteful to me because the entire nurse mare industry sickens me, but at least she is not condoning institutionalized breeding practices for the sake of convenience and higher profits.

The psychological scars are incalculable to mares who are bred over and over again and repeatedly have their foals taken away form them by the humans they trust.

The deaths of foals already lost to this industry is unacceptable, but until practices change, the death toll will continue to climb each year.  Longer term, the market place is being flooded with new horses to be dealt with and many will end up in substandard homes, auction houses — or worse because nursemare foals are not bred as premium animals and are not in high demand by the horse community.

I remind you again of the words, “they’ve just lost their foal.”

While all broodmares may not have their foals taken away, all nurse mares do.  Again, and again, and again.  For nurse mares the cycle of life too often coincides with the cycle of death.