Weaning is the process by which a foal learns to depend on solid food rather than its mother's milk. In the wild, this happens naturally when the foal is about 6 to 12 months old. In a stable, you will have to make the weaning decisions to keep the foal, and the breeding mare, on track. To do this, you will have to choose when to wean, whether this will be done abruptly or gradually, and you will have to know how to care for the foal after it has been weaned.
Method 1 of 4: Preparing to Wean the Foal
Step 1. Look for signs that the foal is ready to be weaned
A good indication that a foal can handle weaning is if it shows signs of independence, such as wandering away from its mother and spending time playing with other foals. If he's doing these things, chances are he's ready to be weaned.
Step 2. Consider the mare's health
The natural weaning process usually starts when the foal is about six months old. If the mare has a health problem that makes it difficult to produce milk or care for the foal, weaning can be started from four months of age. However, before the age of five months, the foal's digestive system is not fully developed, so it may have difficulty processing solid food.
If the foal is weaned at this age, it runs the risk of not getting all the nutrients it needs and its growth may be limited. This means that he may grow slowly, lose weight and not reach his full physical potential at maturity. However, if the mother is sick, this may be a necessary risk
Step 3. Wait to wean a sick foal until it is healthy
A foal that is sick needs the nutritional support provided by its mother's milk. He is also less likely to eat solid foods, and thus deprives himself of much needed energy, minerals, and vitamins.
In addition, the stress of weaning can weaken the immune system at a time when it is needed to fight infections
Step 4. Understand that regardless of whether you wean the foal abruptly or gradually, grooming will have to be done
Proper grooming plans will help to acclimate the foal's digestive tract and reduce its stress while it is weaned from its mother's milk.
Step 5. Watch for signs that the foal is consuming other things besides the mother's milk
By 10 to 12 weeks of age, the foal's nutritional requirements for growth will likely exceed the amount of milk the mare can produce. Because of this, the foal will likely start looking for alternative foods such as hay, grass or grain. This behavior indicates that the foal's digestive system is changing to allow it to break down other things besides milk.
This can be delayed if the mare is producing a lot of milk, keeping the foal's stomach constantly full. He may not feel the need to explore other foods
Step 6. Buy foal feed
Just as there is feed for puppies and cats, there is also feed for foals. This dry concentrate is made to be easily digested and meet the nutritional needs of growing foals. The general recommendation is to provide half to three quarters of feed per day for every 45 kg of the animal's body weight.
Step 7. Introduce the foal to feed one month before you plan to wean it
Ideally, food is provided in a fenced trough so that the amount consumed can be measured. A fenced trough is a corral with a narrow entrance for the foal to enter but the mare not; this lets you know with certainty that whatever food has been eaten has been eaten by the foal.
If you put the trough in the field or stable, you will have no idea which horse ate the feed and it can be difficult to tell if the foal is getting enough feed for its needs
Step 8. Introduce the foal to other young horses one month before the start of the weaning process
Horses are social animals, and if the foal is removed from its dam and has no companionship, its stress will be heightened, making it less likely to eat.
The time to introduce him to new friends is about a month before weaning, so he will be familiar with their presence when his mother disappears
Step 9. Find a 'nanny' for the animal
An ideal companion is a gentle horse that is unlikely to kick and injure the foal (for this it is a good idea to remove the horse's shoes).
- Some horses are better "sitters" than others. A docile gelding, an elderly mare or ponies are less likely to be physically intimidating to the young horse.
- The nanny's temperament is also important - you want a docile and receptive animal rather than nervous and territorial that might see a foal as a competition for resources and intimidate you.
Step 10. Find a friend for the foal
A horse of the same age is also an ideal companion because the two animals can play together and learn social skills together. In addition, they can be weaned at the same time and can turn to each other for mutual support in this stressful time.
Method 2 of 4: Deciding between Abrupt or Gradual Weaning
Step 1. There are two methods of weaning:
abrupt and gradual. Abrupt weaning refers to the sudden removal of the foal from the dam.
The gradual weaning process more closely mimics wild weaning. During this process, the foal will be prepared for final separation, experiencing periods of separation over a period of time before it is actually weaned
Step 2. Consider gradual versus abrupt weaning
Gradual weaning requires a considerable investment of time, however the process is more like what happens in nature and therefore less stressful for everyone involved.
Abrupt weaning, on the other hand, is potentially more stressful for the mother, the foal, and you. Stress causes the production of adrenaline and cortisol. This suppresses the immune system and reduces the foal's natural immunity to infection. The foal's immune system does not fully mature until it is 12 months of age, so the stress of weaning can predispose it to problems such as gastric ulcers or a chest infection
Step 3. Consider how much space you have for the weaning process
Abrupt weaning requires you to keep the dam out of the foal's sight and earshot. This requires tens of acres of land and possibly stables far away from the fields. If you don't have that space, consider sending the mother somewhere else or a different method of weaning.
Step 4. Think about whether the foal is used to being treated
If he is not, abrupt weaning may be better. Once the mother is removed, human influence replaces her presence and is established as the source of leadership for the foal.
However, if the foal is used to being cared for, removing it from the dam's presence for short walks around the stable before weaning will make gradual weaning much easier
Step 5. Understand that abrupt weaning can lead the foal to develop OCD if separation is done in an insensitive manner (such as not providing the foal with a companion within 24 hours and keeping it isolated in a stable without any companionship), which can cause the animal to bite the stable or to sway from side to side
These behaviors are similar to a child sucking his thumb. The repetitive nature of rocking from side to side releases endorphins (chemicals like morphine), which give the foal a natural numbness. He becomes addicted to the sensation, and if the balance takes hold, it will be a very difficult, if not impossible, habit to break
Method 3 of 4: Weaning the Foal
Step 1. Remove the mare from the foal's sight
In order to properly perform an abrupt weaning, you must remove the mare from the foal's sight and hearing. You can do this by placing it in an individual stable or moving it to a different field or barn.
Step 2. Reintroduce the foal's companions after the foal has calmed down - this can take a few hours to a day, depending on the animal
The presence of other animals will reassure you. Horses are herd creatures. Being alone for a long time will only add to your pet's stress, so when your pet is calm, put him back with familiar animals.
Step 3. Be prepared for a negative reaction
Foals react differently. Some may settle down very quickly, but most scream and call for their mother - sometimes for hours. Some become very agitated and may try to run away and follow her.
When the dam is removed, there is an increased risk of the foal being injured in a field or stable. There are more potential places to injure yourself, such as fences, ditches, hedges and drinking fountains, so the security of a stable is the preferred option. Remove anything the foal could injure itself with, such as a bucket of water
Step 1. One option to decrease the chances of the foal reacting badly to separation is to ride the mare in the same field a few weeks before the separation
He will then have the option of running after her or stopping and grazing with her in sight. It gives you the idea that your mother can't be constantly by your side, but it's nothing to worry about.
Step 2. Repeat this riding process on a daily basis
Do this four to six weeks before final weaning. Exercising the mother also helps her body to stop producing milk. This makes it more likely to reject an older foal (six months or more) attempts to suckle, giving it a soft bite and sending it away. This can help make gradual separation easier.
When riding the mare, you might also consider introducing the foal to a friend. If he gets distracted by his new mate, he won't panic when his mom leaves
Step 3. Understand that some foals will still react poorly to gradual separation
If the foal is properly prepared for the mare's departure, he will likely be relaxed and not worry about her absence. Even upset animals accept and understand that she is no longer available all the time.
Some foals, on the other hand, may react badly and try to attack the fence, run away or cry
Method 4 of 4: Monitoring the foal's progress and the mare's health
Step 1. Follow the foal's growth before, during and after weaning
This can be done by recording height and weight (or, if you are unable to weigh the foal, wear a measuring tape around its waist to measure body mass gain) on a weekly basis. Feed companies provide graphs of expected gain over time in order to check the foal's progress.
If he is gaining a lot of weight, then a decrease in his ration is appropriate; if he is not gaining enough weight then consider taking him to a veterinarian in case health problems are interfering with his appetite
Step 2. Check the mare's mammary glands every day to make sure she has not developed mastitis
When the foal is removed from the mare, its milk takes time to dry. Abrupt weaning gives the mare's body less time to do this. If the mammary glands become excessively full, the mare is at risk of developing mastitis, a bacterial infection. To keep you healthy::
Check for signs of mastitis every day. Signs include hot, painful, and swollen breast glands. If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately
Step 3. Reduce the amount of feed the mare receives seven to ten days after separation
Lowering the mare's calorie count can help prevent mastitis from developing. This is because a low calorie count gives the mare less energy to produce milk.