Weaning Time

It’s that time of the year again. Last Thursday was Weaning Day. Needless to say, neither the foals nor the mares were incredibly thrilled about it but since our youngest foal is now 4 months of age and the oldest is 6 months, it was time for the weaning to be done.

With many of our mares bred back for the 2011 season, weaning at this point in their pregnancies gives the mares a chance to regain any condition lost during lactation. Plus, this also gives the mares time to put on some more weight before winter sets in.

However, please keep in mind that this doesn’t happen immediately…

Weaning is an extremely stressful time for both mares and foals. And for us, it means a loud three days at the farm… Since we choose to keep the foals in the pasture right behind our house, we can hear them whinnying to their mothers for at least a solid 48 hours afterwards.

In our circumstances, we wean as follows:

1. Bring all the mares and foals into the area where the foals will remain and quietly and carefully, slip halters on the mares.

2. Then we walk each mare outside of that penned area, ensuring that the foals stay behind in the fenced area. Since the foals are of an age where they have started to developed some independence anyways, sometimes it takes both the mare and the foal a minute to realize they have been separated.

3.  Walking 2 or 3 mares together at once (the buddy system is the only way to go with weaning), we take the mares to the pasture on our farm at the farthest location away from the babies. It’s hard for them to see each other in these locations, however when the wind has died down, unfortunately the mares and foals can still hear each other at times.

The foals take great comfort in each other during weaning time. We monitor them closely immediately following the separation, just in case somebody comes down with a temperature, runny nose or any injury. The foals spend a great amount of energy running around and calling, when they are taken away from their mothers and may appear depressed or sickly. So we need to be prepared for any loss of appetite that may occur, or medical treatments needed in the event of an injury. This is why we like to keep the babies very close to our house – where we can see everything.

As you can see, this little filly (on right) is taking her weaning anxiety out on some of the other colts around her.

Please note that prior to weaning, we also keep a close eye on the weather report. Weaning during extreme heat or cold, rainy days can cause the foals to become very ill, very fast. Since they run around so much, if it’s a +30 degree Celsius day, you can almost guarantee that you will be dealing with a heat stroke foal in a few hours time. And if it’s incredibly rainy, prepare for high body temperatures and snotty noses within a few days. The best day to wean is neither too hot of an ambient temperature, nor too cold. And if the weather does not co-operate with your weaning plan, you are best to wait a few days until Mother Nature smartens up.

Also long before we weaned, we dewormed each of our foals on 2 separate occasions with a Pyrantel dewormer. In our area this year, the hot/cold/hot/cold summer weather created an ideal environment for Parascaris equorum aka, equine Roundworms. Therefore, to ensure the foals and mares were in the best possible health they could be before enduring the stressful time of weaning, we dewormed them twice and fed them up to good body conditions. Since often during the first two days of weaning the foals refuse to eat, their body weights won’t drop too badly if they have healthy weights to start with.

We also feed our mares and foals a supplement called Frisky Foal, made by Masterfeeds during the time of lactation to help prepare the foals for weaning. Frisky Foal is a pelleted feed created especially for nursing foals, for weanlings and for horses up to one year of age. It encourages growth, development and improved immunity for the foals when they are weaned away from their mothers’ milk. Plus, the supplement is somewhat of a “comfort food” for the babies, since it’s something they’ve been eating alongside their dams since nearly the start of their lives.

Comments

  1. I feel so bad for the foals during weaning time – a few years back I helped wean a filly from her mom, I led the mom away expecting some drama meanwhile the filly did all the calling and the mom didnt seem to care! She just munched on grass quite happily – probably thinking, geez finally I got peace and quiet from the little brat! haha

  2. About 10 years ago we started weaning in a less stressful way. We put the mares and foals in a “safe” pen and after everyone is comfortable in there we move the mares to the next pen for a few days. Nobody can suck but they are still just over the fence for a reassuring “chat” or nuzzle. Nobody stops eating, or runs around screaming, it seems to be quite a calm experience.
    We leave them like this for a few days and then leave the gate open for the mares to graze around the baby pen and eventually they start to slowly wonder further and further away.
    There have been many studies on the stress of weaning and stomach ulcers that often lead to scar tissue and colic in the foals adult life.

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