When to wean a foal?
We believe that the dam has a huge influence on her baby’s actions and reactions, so we leave our foals with their dams until 6-7 months old. This decision is predicated on the fact that the mare is healthy, has superb temperament, is easily handled, and is relaxed in all situations to impart her world view to the foal. A great dam, helps you raise a great foal.
That begs the question, “Why would you want to breed to a horse without these qualities?” See Nature vs Nurture
Some studies in the 1960’s indicated that a mare’s milk begins to decrease by the time the foal is 3 months of age, and it became standard practice to wean foals at 3 months, provide them with a creep feeder and feed them supplemented diets.
We have not personally witnessed this lactation decline. Our personal observations show that the milk supply is an “on-demand” system and increases to meet demand. However, even if true, it is still of little relevance.
By 3 months, the baby’s nutrition is being supplemented by his foraging on his own as well as eating from his mother’s grain and supplement bowls. We have literally never had a foal that was poor or unhealthy because he was left with his mother. And, to further support this practice, wild horses do not naturally wean their foals until this age or much older. Even pregnant wild mares do not wean until about 10 months – just in time to interrupt lactation to develop new colostrum for a new foal.
Yes, she needs more nutrition to support her lactation and the drain on her resources as the foal gets larger. But a thin mare who is otherwise healthy just needs more calories. Feed the mare, don’t wean the colt.
There are drawbacks to weaning too early. After the wean-at-3-months craze, research showed that foals weaned at an early age are at higher risk of developing behavior issues caused by isolation from their peers and herd as well as physiological problems caused by improper diet with well-intentioned over-supplementation (a higher incidence of Developmental Orthopedic Disease is frequently seen in early-weaned, over-supplemented foals), and being stalled or confined during the growth of the long bones.
There seems to be little to discourage his staying by his mother’s side until his half year mark or longer, and many benefits.
If the mare was bred back on her foaling heat, she is beginning to need extra nutrition for the baby in the womb as well as the baby by her side when this baby is 6-7 months old. Just watch her weight and condition as the current foal approaches the 6 month mark. Make your decision then.
How to wean a foal? Prepare by making sure that the foal has a “herd” when his dam disappears. Ideally, he has been in a pasture with other mares and foals or a group of some kind. If the soon-to-be-weaned foal will end up isolated, we prepare by adding a mare or two to the pasture in the month before the weaning. That way he still has company when his dam is taken out. Ideally it is a mare or two who already know the dam. She may still be a little testy if they get too close to her baby, but the pasture soon settles down.
The barren mares don’t usually interact very much with a baby that is not their own. But they are still part of his herd and they actually continue his equine education so that he understands horse language and pasture etiquette. If there are other foals, he still has playmates to distract him.
We found by experience that separating the foal and the dam by just a wooden fence is not adequate. The dam will move over next to the boards and allow the foal to continue to nurse through the fence (quite comical). Not only does he not wean, but he can wear off his mane rubbing it under the fence board. Separate the foal and the dam by two pastures. It seems to be all right if they see each other. They will call to each other and possibly run the fence line for 2-3 days. Watch that they don’t get in trouble, but allow the process to complete.
When can they be put back together? Probably not for a month or two- maybe more. It seems like forever. Our mares don’t usually reject their weaned foal, so they are pretty much separated forever at this point.
Right away after weaning starts, the foal can begin more training. Your presence in the pasture should increase. He will start to look to you for comfort and leadership. You will become his BFF.
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