When it is finally time to separate your foal from your mare(weaning), there are many factors to consider to make it the most pleasant experience possible.
Getting your foal used to a daily routine early on will help minimize weaning stress. Here are some activities you should add to your foal’s routine to prepare for weaning:
Once your foal is comfortable with all of these things next to his mom, you can try leading him further away to do these activities more independently to set yourself up for gradual weaning.
There are two types of weaning: gradual and abrupt. With the gradual method, you begin to separate the mare and foal at feeding time with a fence between them for short periods every day. With the abrupt method, the mare and foal are completely separated all at one time. This method sounds harsh, and it is. But if it is done correctly, it can be easier on everyone involved in the long run.
Some horse owners opt for a weaning method called natural weaning. This is where your mare will wean the foal herself. While this does work well for some situations, we’ve found many mares will not wean foals themselves and will continue to let them nurse. This can negatively affect your mare‘s body condition and make foal training challenging.
If your mare is dropping body weight, you may find early weaning to be necessary. Most horse owners consider 6 months of age to be a normal timeframe for weaning foals. Consult your veterinarian to determine which weaning method should be used for your mare and foal.
The method you choose to wean your foal is dependent on multiple factors:
Another element to consider is whether you want to wean your foal in a group pasture or the barn. With group pasture weaning, the foal’s mother is removed from a pasture to a place where she cannot hear or see her baby, while to foal is left in the pasture. With this method, the foal must be in a familiar field surrounded by his herd. With barn weaning, the mare and foal are brought into the barn to be fed. Then, the mare is led out of the stall and into a distant pasture while the foal remains inside the stall. Immediately after removing the mother, you should remove water buckets and anything the foal might run into in the first minutes of being alone. The barn method is typically seen as more stressful on mom and baby than the group pasture method.
For the foal weaning process to go smoothly, the following criteria should be met:
You shouldn’t combine weaning with another stressful event, like a visit from the vet or farrier. You should also hold off on beginning the weaning process if you just dewormed or vaccinated the foal.
Immediately after weaning, you will want to keep a close eye on both the mare and foal. For the first few days after weaning, you should take the foal’s temperature each day. An abnormally high temperature could be the first sign of sickness or infection. Because the weaning process will be inevitably stressful, your foal is more susceptible to picking up illnesses as their immune system is suppressed.
Immediately after weaning, you should also cut the mare’s ration of grain. However, it’s important to note that you should not cut her forage. Cutting her grain will help her body to stop producing milk. It’s important to stop her milk as soon as possible after the foal has been weaned because milk production often takes away the essential nutrients that the mare needs to be healthy. Don’t be alarmed if you see your mare dripping or even spraying milk in the first few days after weaning. It depends on each individual mare, but it can take up to 6 weeks to dry up completely. If you have any concerns about your mare’s health during this process, you should contact your vet.
If you follow these tips, you are sure to have a happy and healthy mare and weaned foal in no time!
I’ve been around horses my entire life, but my Friesian journey started just over 20 years ago. Our horses have always been a part of our family. They have traveled with us as we relocated from Vermont to New York to Iowa and finally, to Arizona. I can’t wait to share our story with you!
Nov 2, 2021
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