Deciding Between Milk Replacer and a Nurse Mare



Orphaned or rejected foals can be raised on a leased nurse mare or on the FOALS FIRST® MILK REPLACER.

The following information will help you make the best decision when planning on how to manage and feed your foal.

Select one of the following:

Pro and Con in Using a Leased Nurse Mare 

  • You can turn a nurse mare with grafted foal out with the other mares and foals in the pasture.
  • Adding an outside mare onto your farm, you risk the transmission of infectious disease
  • The unknown nutrient density of the nurse mare’s milk
  • Nurse mares must be in the same stage of lactation as the mare she is replacing, due to the ‘natural’ monthly decline in nutrient density in mares milk
  • The longer the mare has been lactating the more difficult it is to "switch" her foals
  • The Cost:
    • The average cost to lease a nurse mare is around $1,500
  • Plus the cost of transporting the leased mare to and from your farm and feeding her
  • Plus the cost of rebreeding the mare so she is back in foal when you return her. If not pregnant, a penalty of $500 to $1,000 dollars may be added on.
  • Plus the cost of the Foals First Starter & Creep. The foal’s average consumption while nursing a mare is 1lb. per day per month of age. Thus, the cost for 5/50lb. bags will be $300 from birth to 4 months of age
    • Therefore, the total cost of raising an orphan or rejected foal on a nurse mare from birth to 4 months of age is between $3,000 to $4,000

Pro and Con Statements for Milk Replacers


The Cost:

  • Foals First Milk Replacer Powder including shipping currently costs approximately $90/22lb. bucket, with an average of 11 buckets needed from birth to weaning time at 2 months of age
  • Plus, the cost of the Foals First Starter & Creep. It currently costs around $60/50lb. bag, with an average of 12 bags needed to weaning time at 4 months, for a foal who will mature to 1,000lbs., or weighs 100lbs. at birth
  • Thus, the cost will be $990 for the Foals First Milk Replacer Powder and $720 for the Foals First Starter & Creep. Therefore, the total cost of raising a foal from birth to 4 months of age, on the Foals First feeding program is $1,710
    • Because of the guaranteed analysis’ of each bag of the Foals First Milk Replacer Powder, the unknown nutrient density in the leased nurse mare’s milk is ruled out
    • Foals can be turned out in the pasture or paddock with a quiet gelding or mare until weaning and then turned out with other weanlings
  • Management must oversee the mixing and cleaning of the milk bucket and mixing the milk replacer powder into solution morning and evening or 2 months
  • Teaching the foal to drink from a bucket on the first day
  • Foals are not born with bad habits or afraid of people. Their habits, both good and bad, are created by their handlers. Treat the orphan foal the same as you would a foal nursing a mare.


One company’s feeding directions should not be used with another company’s milk replacer. You should follow the feeding directions provided on the label of the foal milk replacer you select.

Other specie milk replacers are also available; unfortunately, the calf, lamb, and kid milk replacers are not nutritionally adequate or balanced for the rapidly growing and developing foal. For instance, foals drinking 4 gallon per day (if the sire and dam weighed 1,000lbs.) will double their birth weight in 4 weeks. Whole cow's milk, with added sweetener, and goat's milk have been advocated in the past, but poor weight gains and metabolic acidosis have been reported in neonatal foals consuming the required amount of milk they need per day to satisfy the foals appetite.

HELPFUL HINT – Some foal milk replacers can cause digestive upset and diarrhea. Milk replacers for foals less than 30 days old are not recommended if:

  • The crude fiber of 1.0% or higher, as they are not “all milk” and can cause diarrhea in foals under one month of age
  • They contain maltodextrins, corn syrups and/or glucose polymers. Always read the ingredient list.