How It Works
The process of rescuing foals in MercyFoal is a work of heart that unfolds over the life of all our rescues. We begin by identifying foals at risk. This happens through collaborating with other rescues that work with PMU or Nurse Mare breeding farms. We do not work directly with the breeding farms because it hinders our ability to advocate for the foals. In a rescue organization's effort to save PMU and nurse mare foals, the breeding farms very much have the upper hand. Certainly some of these breeding farms have more heart than others and will work with a rescue to try to help the foals; others are absolutely hardened and are only interested in making as much money as possible. To them, the foal has no inherent value and is simply a by-product of a service they are selling. The death of a foal has no effect on their bottom line. As such, they know that rescues want to save the foals and they can dictate any terms the want to the rescues, even to the extent of requiring the rescues to buy the foals they were simply going to let die. Flying Change does not work directly with the breeding farms so that we maintain our ability to tell the story of the foals without the threat of a breeding farm refusing to allow them to be saved.
Identifying Foals in Danger
When a nurse mare foal is born, the breeding farm notifies the rescue. The rescue then goes to a secure location for the transfer of the foal. The need for secrecy is great because the breeding farm does not want the general public knowing who they are - that could lead to negative PR and animal activists. It follows that if a rescue does not keep the identity of the farm confidential, the farm will no longer allow them to buy the nurse mare foals and the foals will die.
Once the rescue has secured the foal, they take them back to their own farm and stabilize them. Once stable, Flying Change prepares a stall in the Baby Barn and readies for transportation of the foal.
Preparations begin with checking our inventory of supplies and ordering more of what we need. Foal milk replacement formula, bleach, Kaopectate for upset tummies, thermometers, probiotics, baby wipes, and shavings to bed the stalls must all be in good supply. The foal replacement milk is the most important and most challenging supply to have ready because it is not routinely sold in feed stores and must be ordered. Foal formula costs $90 and will last a newborn about 4 days.
Once supplies are in place, our team thoroughly cleans and sterilizes the stall, water and feed buckets for the foal. Prior to getting the foal there is no way to know if they are carrying any type of infection that could be spread to other horses. To protect foals from the risk of contaminating each other, the stall is lined in thick sheets of plastic so that the foals in adjoining stalls can see each other but can't touch nose to nose. Once the plastic is securely attached we fill the stall deep with shavings so the babies can nestle and sleep comfortably.
Rescue And Transportation
With the necessary supplies at the ready and the stall prepared, our team hooks up the trailer, fills the truck with snacks, caffeinated drinks, iPods, books, pillows and blankets and heads north. Nurse mare farms and the rescues we work with to save the foals are generally in proximity to race tracks, meaning that many of the farms we work with are in the vicinity of Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. With Tyler refusing to allow anyone else to drive a shift, Alicia's affinity for eating things that stink up the car and Lissa's muttered cursing as she searches the mountain ranges for radio stations that are not predominantly static or Mariachi music, these trips make for a long haul. What is often a 20-23 hour drive up to the farm becomes a sort of forced team building exercise.
When we arrive at the farm, we exchange paperwork and money for the foals. Then it is time to meet the babies:
Given the length of the drive, we will often stay overnight at a motel before hauling home with the babies the next day. Getting the foals into the trailer can be challenging because they are so young they haven't learned to walk on a lead yet. They are so small that, in a pinch, Tyler has been known to pick them up and gently place them in the trailer if needed.
On the ride home the foals generally lie down for the ride and rest. We stop every couple of hours to check on them, pick out any manure and offer them milk.
Once home, the babies are brought to their stall for some quiet settling in and warm milk replacer. This is usually when we begin taking and recording their temperature. The long drive is especially stressful to babies and can lead to some respiratory "gunk". Often they arrive with a snotty nose and sometimes a cough, generally this resolves easily. The milk replacer formula, like human formula, tends to give the foals diarrhea, which we treat with Kaopectate. Using a small oral syringe, we squirt a few cc's of the medicine into their mouths at a time. Before long they think of the berry-smelling liquid as a treat and nicker when they see the pink syringe.