Whether you have just the one Mare and Foal or a whole Stud full, weaning time can still be as stressful! The key to successful weaning is preparation, you cannot completely prevent the odd hiccup but with a good preparation strategy in place you can minimise the chances of either the mare or foal or getting too stressed therefore preventing any problems occurring due to weaning such as stress related ulcers or recurrent respiratory problems.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” (Benjamin Franklin)
When it comes to weaning you want to ensure that throughout the foal maintains an even growth rate. To ensure this happens you have to make sure the foals digestive system has reached a sufficient degree of maturity and is capable of digesting required amounts of foal creep and grass not just milk; you may have seen the foal sharing its mothers hard feed and eating grass however you must be sure it has an established use of the hind gut! Prior to this most of the digestion takes place in the small intestines.
It is very important once weaning has commenced that the foal stills receives adequate fibre intake as lack of fibre has been associated with stereotypical behavior such as weaving, crib biting and wind sucking, all of which can be triggered by the stress of weaning and by stressful situations later in life.
Note; As much as you need to ensure the foal has adapted to eating hard feed and is receiving suitable quantities you also need to be cautious that you don’t overdo it, as this can lead to digestive and joint problems, like adult horses it can be as damaging over-feeding as it is under-feeding.
When is the right time to Wean?
It is much easier to wean your foal based on age rather than weight, however there are studies to show that thoroughbred foals should be weaned determined by weight rather than age! A lot of this decision comes down to personal preference and your own personal situation. Most people wean from six months onward; it can be done from 4 months if there are health specific problems however when weaning a foal under the age of 5 months is difficult without seeing a changes in their growth rate, which can hinder them in later life if not addressed.
Before going ahead with weaning you need to ensure that the foal has been eating appropriate amounts of foal creep rations for at least a month; obviously you can feed the foal with the mare but it gives little to no control over what each one is eating, the best way to monitor this is by using a foal creep feeding system. This pen is designed to allow access to the foal only meaning the mare cannot finish up the foals grub.
Making sure the foal has suitable company when it comes to weaning is vital, horses are herd animals making it very inappropriate for the foal to be kept on its own. Using an older mare or even a very quiet gelding to nanny the foal is often a good solution, alternatively some people choose to run their mares and foals in a herd and slowly remove the mares one by one allowing time in between for the herd to readjust, by doing it this way you often see the foals start to rely on each other instead of their mother. Also keeping young horses together is often a good way to keep the foals entertained, older horses may not be as inclined to want to play with the highly spirited youngsters.
Once you have weaned your foal it is a good idea to ensure the mare is completely out of ear shot as this will encourage her milk to dry up quicker therefore reducing the risks of mastitis.
Another important point is to always ensure the fencing is very secure when it comes to weaning as the last thing you need is an escapee trying to get back to mum or any injury’s occurring due to an upset foal!
At the end of the day you have to always bear in mind animals are much like humans in that they are all different and all react to situations differently, you never know exactly how it will pan out when you begin the weaning process, some foals adapt very quickly especially if they buddy up to their companion well, others do spend a couple of days frantically searching for the mare, however if you do your best to keep both parties as relaxed as possible and plan ahead it is sure to pay off in the long run!
Good Luck & Happy Weaning