University of Vermont AAHS

Weaning Your Foal

by Bill Day, Ph.D.
Logan, Utah
AAHS Vice-President, Equine Education

[reproduced from Summer 2002 Caution:Horses]

     It tears at your heartstrings, but if you have a foal around, sooner or later you will need to make some decisions regarding weaning. In this article Iíll try and shed some light on the two main questions you may have, when you should wean and how you should go about it.

     The main concerns for the timing and method of weaning are stress and an accompanying increased probability for illness or injury. While there is some disagreement among experts just how the deed is to be done, all agree that the foals should be eating comfortably on their own from a creep feeder before weaning and most consider it best to wean between 4 and 5 months of age if possible. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself while deciding when you should wean.

As for the question of how, there are two basic approaches, abrupt and gradual. Some experts, who would liken weaning to pulling tape from skin, will tell you that short-term stress is better than subjecting foals to the more prolonged stress experienced using a gradual method. For others, the reduced stress offered by gradual weaning methods seems best, regardless of its duration.

One example of an abrupt method:

Step 1. Place at least two mares with foals in adjacent stalls overnight.

Step 2. The following morning, remove any buckets from the stall then remove the mares to a place out of sight and earshot from the foals. After the foals begin to regain some of their composure, replace the buckets and leave the foals alone for the remainder of the day.

Step 3. The following day, if the foals are not broke to halters, it is a common practice to place halters on the foals with leads that are 4- 4.5ft in length (just long enough to be reached by a hind leg). Leads made of ĺ " nylon cord work very well as drag lines. They're big enough to grip, they can be melted on the end to prevent fraying instead of having an end splice or knot that can become snagged. Another plus is that when they get dirty and packed with mud, they become rigid enough to prevent entanglement.  

Step 4. After allowing some time for adjustment, calmly begin to handle the foal. However, at this stage a foalís attention span is very limited so you should keep handling sessions shortened to about 15 minutes or less. 

One example of a gradual method for weaning:

Step 1. Retain mares with their foals in stalls or a small corral for several days.

Step 2. Take mares into an adjacent stall or pen for 3-4 days. (Note: the separating fence should not permit nursing, and should be examined closely for sturdiness, loose nails and wire).

Step 3. Make food and water available on the side of the stall near the mare. 

As with the decision of when to wean, the ideal weaning method for you may depend on several factors that pertain to how your facility is laid out, and how much handling your foal has experienced prior to weaning. Here are some of the concerns you may have when deciding on a weaning plan.

If your foals have been handled regularly, you may wish to wean them in small groups. However, regardless of how gentile your foal may be, keep it up in a stall or a small pen. Giving it too much space during this period will promote panic and the foal will be more likely to act in a frantic and dangerous manner.

If you have only a single foal to wean, a gradual method would be best. In addition, if your single foal has not been trained to accept the halter and lead, now would be the best time to start, while still at the mare's side.

What about the mare? Remove grain or other feed concentrates from her diet for a period of 7-10 days after the foal is weaned. If you have grass hay, feed it. If you have only alfalfa, cut the amount fed to 1% of the mares body weight (the minimum roughage requirement). This will aid in slowing lactation and help to guard against founder and colic as her lactation process shuts down. As for which weaning method is best for mares, both are probably about the same. However mares may "dry up" faster when an abrupt method is used. Finally, regardless of the method you plan to use, always wean in the early morning so that it will be cooler during the most stressful period and both the mare and foal will have the entire day to adjust before nightfall. This will also give you the benefit of being able to look in on things from time to time. Good Luck!


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