From the Foaling Barn

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Weaning: When and How

For the last several years we've ended up with a group of early foals born in January and February and another later group born in April and May. This year, for the first time we tried two different weaning techniques on these two groups.

We usually wean both groups between four and six months of age. We try to wean in large groups because we think it less stressful--this accounts for the differential in age in each group. Hoever,this year we had three foals who were weaned at three months. Our orphan foals were on milk replacer. The protocall for the feeding regime calls for weaning a three months. Also, we weaned one of the fillies at three months because her mother had foundered right after she was born, and we wanted to take any stress off the mother as she struggled with her recovery.

Because we live in such a cold climate, the foals from the first group spend at least part of the day outside if the temperature is above 20 degrees but come in with their mothers at night. These early foals are halter broke right away, so that we can lead them in and out easily. By March they stay out all night. This year we had six foals in this group. Because our foaling barn only has six stalls, and three of them were being used by the foundered mare and the two orphans, out of necessity we decided to wean by separating mares and foals by putting them in adjacent pastures.

We had a very hot summer this year, and I really don't like to wean when it's hot. But it's not practical to wait for fall weaning when several of the foals were already six month in June. Finally, when we got a stretch of seventy degree days, we made the change. For several days before the big split, I gradually reduced the mares' grain and supplement in order to reduce milk production. I don't take the grain completely away, because all the mares were pregnant, I don't like to make sudden extreme changes in feed. Once we separated the mares and foals, we kept a fresh bale in front of the mares as far from the shared fence-line as possible. For the first 18 hours after the weaning, the mares were far more interested in the hay than in the foals. Once their bags became full and a little painful, the mares began to occasionally visit the fence, but by day two they seemed pretty comfortable with the situation and went back to their hay.

The weanlings on the other hand were pretty upset for three or four days. But because they were in a large pasture, they could work off their excess energy and seek comfort in one another. Occasionally, the colts would try to nurse off each other, but pretty quickly, they figured out that it's not quite the same thing. In general, I think this is the easiest, least stressful way of weaning.

However, we decided to go a different route for the youngest three. Because of their late births and our preoccupation with the orphans, we pretty much threw these three out in the pasture at day two or three after their births, and barely touched them after that til it was time to wean. Consequently, they were almost feral. We couldn't begin to catch them in the pasture. So we just let them follow their mothers into the stalls, and then extracted the mothers right away and took them to distant pasture. Then we left these three wild things alone in their stalls, and slowly began the rather painful process of halter breaking. I would say this method is much harder on the mothers. They were more upset than the mothers who could see their foals and paced the fenceline for quite awhile. And the weaned foals, were also more stressed. They lost their voices, rubbed hair off their noses, chests, foreheads.

After this same year test of the two different methods of weaning, I come down firmly on the adjacent pasture method. It was just so much easier for us and less stressful for both foals and mares.


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