Weaning foals from their dams should take place when the foal is between 4 and 6 months of age. The decision on when to wean should be made based on the nutritional needs of the individual mare and foal, as well as the use and future plans of the mare and foal. In addition to deciding when to wean a foal, an owner must also decide how to accomplish the weaning. Several methods have been studied in controlled environments and used successfully. One method might work better than the next depending on the set up of your facilities, your available time, and the number of mares and foals.
Different Methods of Weaning Foals:
Pasture Weaning/ Interval Weaning: This method works well for operations with a large number of mares and foals. With this method, mares and foals are group housed in pastures and live as a herd. A small number of mares (2-4) are removed abruptly when their foals reach an appropriate age. The mares should be taken to a distant location where their foals cannot see or hear them. Foals are left in their familiar pasture with familiar horses, which helps decrease stress as they adjust to being weaned. This procedure would continue gradually until all mares have been removed. Many producers prefer to leave one or two adult horses in the pasture as companions for the recently weaned foals. Using this method, it is important to observe the foals after they are weaned to ensure they do not injure themselves on fencing or become too frantic or distressed.
Gradual: This method works well for operations that have only a small number of foals or even just one; however, it requires more time than some other methods. To wean a foal gradually, you should separate the mare and foal for short periods of time each day, for one to two weeks prior to total separation. The amount of time they spend apart should increase gradually each day. Some producers will separate the foals across a safe and secure fence line so the foal can see its dam but cannot nurse, and some producers will separate the mare and foal pair completely to prevent any contact by putting them in distant box stalls. The goal of gradual weaning is to allow the foal to slowly build up to complete separation from its dam.
Abrupt: This method is probably the most commonly used, and involves complete separation of mare and foal on the designated day of weaning. If possible, take the mares to a location where the foals cannot see or hear them. The foal or foals should be placed in an area with safe and secure fencing, and should be closely monitored. Depending on your individual situation, you may want to provide a companion for the recently weaned foal. There is some conflicting research on abrupt weaning of foals in pairs. One study found weaning foals in pairs to be less stressful, with pair-weaned foals being less vocal. However, a follow up study found foals weaned in pairs to exhibit more aggressive behavior towards one another immediately following weaning which lead to increased stress. It is always important to observe foals after separation from their dams. If you wean foals in pairs and notice aggression, you should separate the pair to prevent injuries. Additionally, be sure to spend time working with pair-weaned foals individually once they have adjusted to being weaned so they do not become too attached to the other weanling.
Once you determine which weaning method you prefer, it is important to learn how to make the process less stressful!
3 Tips to decrease the stress of foal weaning using any method:
1. Keep as many other factors the same as possible: Keep the weanlings in a familiar area, and maintain any familiar herd-mates.
2. Avoid additional stressors near weaning time: For example, do not attempt to halter-break the same day as weaning.
3. Maintain a consistent diet: Providing a creep feed to foals while they are still with their dam, allows them to become accustomed to consuming concentrate before weaning. This can also help keep growth consistent throughout the weaning process.
While the foal is still with the mare, offer a creep feed in an enclosure or feed bucket that restricts the mare’s access and allows only the foal to consume the feed. There are several commercially available creep feeders as well as guidelines available through your state extension service to help you build your own.
Offer creep feed at approximately one pound per 100 pounds of the foal’s body weight. For most light breeds, this is about 1 pound of concentrate per month of age. (Consult the feed tag to double check feeding rate recommendations for individual products.)
Continue to provide this concentrate through the weaning process. Your foal will be accustomed to consuming this concentrate which will help decrease the amount of stress your foal experiences during weaning.
Be sure to clean out your creep feeder regularly. To encourage consistent consumption, be sure to clean out any feed that has not been consumed after about 24 hours. This is especially important if your feeder is exposed to the elements and could get wet and result in moldy feed.
Why should you top dress your foal's creep feed with Calf-Manna?
- High-quality Proteins: Calf-Manna includes multiple sources of high-quality protein. This protein provides a wide array of essential amino acids that meet the needs of your growing foal.
- Digestible Carbohydrates: Calf-Manna’s digestible carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy. It’s often called “energy dense” which means it delivers more calories per mouthful.
- Palatable: Calf-Manna’s unique aroma and palatability attracts foals to feed and keeps them coming back for that great taste!
- Brewer’s Dried Yeast: Brewer’s Dried Yeast improves palatability, encourages earlier and more consistent intake of dry feed, and promotes optimal digestion of other nutrients.
- Linseed Meal: Provides protein and oil to help add sheen and luster to your foal's coat.
Want to give Calf-Manna a try? Click here to locate a Manna Pro dealer near you.
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