The period immediately after a foal's birth is the most important to its survival. When we received a call about a mare that was lashing out at her newborn, our Irish team had to act fast in order to save the donkey foal's life.

Donkey Welfare Adviser Jane Bruce received a call at midday from an owner who was concerned about his donkey's behaviour towards her newborn foal. Realising the foal had been born in the early hours of the morning and had yet not been able to suckle, Jane knew it would be a race against the clock to ensure his survival.

Having visited the home before to deliver routine check-ups, Jane made her way to the mare and foal in need.

"I remembered the little white mare ‘Snowball’ from before as she was nervous to catch and handle - so I knew this wasn't going to be an easy task," she recalls.

Jane arrived to see Snowball kicking out with force at her newborn foal, showing little regard for him and knocking him to the ground.

In spite of Snowball's aggression, it was absolutely vital for the foal to suckle from her in order for him to survive.

Senior Veterinary Surgeon at The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, Laurence O’Sullivan, highlights the importance of colostrum in a foal's fight for life:

"Colostrum contains immunoglobulins from the mother which are vital to defend the foal from viruses and bacteria that are present in the environment. Foals feed from their mother shortly after being born to get this vital colostrum into their system."

With the stakes high, Jane successfully managed to calm Snowdrop enough for the foal to suckle, and receive the life-saving colostrum from her milk. The breakthrough meant that plans could be put in place to get the foal to safer, closely monitored environment.

Bugsy's journey

In spite of the fact he'd managed to get to his mother's milk, the foal - named Bugsy - started to deteriorate. When collaborating with a local vet to try and encourage Snowball's mothering instincts was unsuccessful, Jane needed to come up with a new plan.

"The little colt foal was becoming confused at having the opportunity to drink and then being roughly pushed away," she recalls. "I was also concerned that the foal was getting more human interaction at this stage than he should be.

"I knew the best opportunity the foal had for survival was a good few hours away and a journey of 250 miles."

Driver Eugene set off from our sanctuary in Liscarroll at 4:30am to collect the mare and foal. After 4.5 hours journeying back, Snowdrop and Bugsy arrived at The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland's New Arrivals Unit.

In spite of everyone's best efforts to unite the pair, however, Snowball's rejection of her foal was lasting. At best she would ignore little Bugsy, and at worse she would continue to lash out at him.

Thankfully, our team of dedicated vets and grooms were there to ensure he stood the best chance possible of surviving his ordeal.

With no mother to suckle from, Bugsy was given an ingenious way to get his milk: an automated milk feeder that encouraged his natural suckling instincts.

Growing up and finding family: Bugsy blossoms

After Snowball was returned to her life with her owner, Bugsy was left to make his way through the world without a mother. Thankfully, he has found himself a new best friend and a motherly figure to guide him.

You may recognise Cherry as one of the fourteen donkeys rescued from miserable conditions on a remote Co. Cork farm. Having given birth to foal Roy from the safety of the sanctuary, our staff had a feeling that this mare and foal pair could be just the two donkeys to lead Bugsy by example.

Cherry and Roy, Ireland
Cherry (left) and Roy (right).
Full size

Although the trio each had challenges to overcome before starting a new chapter at The Donkey Sanctuary, they have become fast friends. Having graduated from New Arrivals and settled into Hannigan's Farm with his new friends, Bugsy is almost unrecognisable now.

Groom Marian O’Callaghan has witnessed Bugsy's transformation from timid and disoriented foal to confident and inquisitive young donkey.

"Bugsy is very independent," she explains. "While he is great friends with Roy and will follow him about, he is confident in himself and holds his own.

"Bugsy is fed in the morning with the mares and he has no problem establishing his place at the trough."

The future is looking bright for Bugsy, Roy and Cherry - in spite of the obstacles they have had to overcome. No one is happier for the trio than Jane Bruce, who was there for Bugsy in the crucial first 24 hours of his life.

“Thankfully we were able to reach out to Bugsy at a critical stage in his early life. The swift intervention of The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland team literally determined whether he would survive or not. With round the clock care and attention he has thrived into a healthy and balanced foal.”

Your support can save donkeys' lives