Auburn, Alabama —
A Valentine’s Day foal rejected by her birth mother is thriving under the care of her new mother thanks to quick work from the faculty and staff at Auburn University’s large animal teaching hospital.
Strawberry, the foal’s birth mother, felt no maternal instinct for Valentine and refused to nurse, which could have meant the foal would need to be reared as a bottle- and pan-fed orphan. “Strawberry got more and more irritated,” said Valentine’s owner, Julia Beasley. “She tried to kick and bite Valentine.”
Fortunately, faculty and staff at the J.T. Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital were able to find a solution after Beasley rushed the foal and her mother to the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Initially, we waited, because we thought things would kick in and Strawberry would allow her to nurse,” Beasley said. “But my vet said, ‘You need to get her to Auburn.’ ”
The remedy was a mare named Sugar, a fittingly sweet white Percheron who is part of the college’s Equine Breeding program. Sugar continues to serve as Valentine’s nurse mare and adoptive mother.
“We used medications to induce lactation,” explained Dr. Erin Groover, clinical lecturer of equine internal medicine. “We worked carefully to introduce Sugar and Valentine, and after a short period of time, Sugar adopted Valentine as her own.”
It is not unusual for a mare to reject its foal, Groover said. In fact, this is the third consecutive year in which Sugar has performed the role of nurse mare to an orphaned foal. “Sugar has quite a good disposition,” Groover said. “Not every mare would adopt a foal that wasn’t her own.”
Valentine’s initial, hunger-driven attempts at nursing were so forceful Sugar was slightly reluctant to adopt the filly, but she warmed to Valentine. “She was quickly in love with her new foal,” Groover said.
Both Groover and Beasley said the pairing is an absolute success. “It’s just incredible—it’s like they were just meant for each other,” Beasley said. “She just loves her like she’s her own.”
Beasley is now leasing Sugar so she can live with and mother Valentine. According to Beasley, Sugar is extremely nurturing and protective of the new foal. “Every day, I just want to see more of them,” Beasley said. “Sugar is spectacular, she’s stunning.”