WEANING YOUR FOAL(S)

Every horse person weans a different way and since there really is no right or no wrong way, that is A okay. The following is just some of my observations over many years of going through this trying time with my babies. No matter what way you use, the following counts though. First the weaning pen must be securely fenced to hold frightened babies from escaping. The fencing must not only be sturdy but safe. No barbed wire, no broken fencing, nothing for the foal(s) to get hurt on or tangled in. No junk in the pen for them to get hurt on either. A decent shelter, water available AT ALL TIMES and excellent quality hay, grain or foal ration. Preferably they have already been eating hay and grain with their Mommas so it is not such a big shock to their systems. Preferably quiet adult horse(s) in the pen right next to them so they have adults around to turn to for comfort. This not the time to halter break them or deworm them or vaccinate them. Wait a week or two until they have settled down and adjusted to being weaned.

Unless you have a real good reason for weaning before Minimum 3 and a half months old. DON'T DO IT! They need their dam's mentally as babies as well as the milk she supplies. The optimum time to wean is around 5 months old. The mares quality of milk begins to decline shortly after the 3rd month, but she teaches them a lot about being a horse in this big old world while they are still with her. Just about as bad as weaning to early is leaving the foal(s) on their dams for months. Especially if she is bred back. She has a new foal growing inside her, that is taking up a lot of what she eats at it is, without having to continue to make milk for this years baby. And it is pretty hard to insure this years growing foal is getting the correct amount of feed they need, while Momma and/or the other adult horses are pushing them aside for the choices amount. All foal(s) should have at least one other foal their same age with them for one on one companionship. And to continue their learning about herd hierarchy. And so they settle down quickly. Being all alone in a pen does them no good mentally what so ever.

One of my preferred methods is abrupt, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind, weaning. Sounds cruel? Place the babies in their weaning pen WHICH they have already gotten used to with their Mommas, load the mares up and take them right out of sight or sound. The babies cannot see their mothers or hear their calls. They settle down in scant hours, especially if they have an adult horse or two next to them. The mares do the same. So although it sounds cruel, how come they settle down so quickly? Hmmmm!

Another GREAT method is gradual weaning for owners that have the time. You separate them for a few hours during the first day only. The second day, a bit longer before letting them back in together. Etc. The mares are in a pen next to them for these first few days, so they can still touch each other, even nurse through the secure fence. Then at the end of a week, you separate them for good, moving the mares as far away as possible so they are not in a pen next to the babies any longer.

One way I do not agree with (just my opinion here), is starting by first removing only the biggest, oldest foals, leaving the younger ones with their dams, working up to all being weaned. Those older foals are probably already bossy with the younger ones. Now, they have established the weaning pen as their own territory. They have already settled down. Then you throw in the last of the babies, who are upset with being weaned and get picked on something fierce by the older, settled, territorial, dominant foals. This does not happen so much with them being weaned all together at the same time. It of course doesn't matter if you have separate weaning pens according to times weaned.

And the worst way to wean in my opinion? That is where people leave the foals with the herd and begin removing one mare at a time instead. Unless moved right out of sight and sound, the mare herself is frantic. She knows her baby is in danger without her being there to protect it. The baby tries to nurse from other mares, even geldings. They get kicked and bit. With no Momma to look after them, they have a difficult time getting anywhere near feed, even water. This one I consider just plain silly. You are taking a chance of that foal getting seriously injured and not getting enough food, weather it is hay or grain.

No place to haul your mare(s) too for the Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind method? No time in your hectic work life for Gradual weaning? You know it is best to wean them all at the same time? You know the last one, Removing One Mare at a time is not so great? Then do what has worked for hundreds of years. Wean them today, move the mares so they are at least not right along the same fence line and try to ignore the frantic calling back and forth and the babies pacing the fence. They do stop after a few days. And life goes on.

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