Breeding

Horse-Breeding Help: Weaning a Foal

Weaning your foal might be heavy on the heart, but it’s something that must be done.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Weaning season is a gut-wrenching time of year. Those months of blissful play at mother’s side and all those tender moments we cherish between mare and foal suddenly turn into a frenzy of whinnies and desperate attempts to reunite. Unfortunately, weaning is as inevitable as kissing your child goodbye for that first day at school. Fence-line weaning, stall confinement, babysitters and shipping the mare away are successful methods of weaning for small farms. The one you choose will depend on your facilities and the temperament of the mare and foal. Patience and time will get you through it. But remember, if you give up, you have to start all over again. So stick to it, even if you have to switch to another method.

Keep Weaning Safety in Mind

Before you attempt to separate mare and foal, take a critical look at the areas where both will be confined during the process to make sure they are safe. In some cases, neither the mare nor the foal will be thinking clearly, and attempts to reunite can override common sense. In extreme situations, foals injure themselves trying to climb through windows or over stall doors. To avoid injury, remove all protruding objects from stalls. Hang rubber buckets, instead of hard plastic or metal, in an area that is not directly in between the foal and his mother, even if the two will be acres apart. If possible, place a feed tub in the stall only during mealtime. Never use a hay manger or hay net, because the foal could get hung up. Simply feed hay on the stall floor.

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A wireless baby monitor can help you keep tabs on what is going on in the barn while you are busy doing other things. Paddocks can pose a particular problem during weaning. Mares and foals might try to go over, under or through fences, so be sure your fencing is solid and safe, with no nails protruding from posts or boards. Never use a paddock for weaning that contains electric fence or barbed wire. Remove all farm equipment and other obstacles from the turnout area. For the first day, maintain a constant vigil over the foal and the mare. Stay close, so you can quickly diffuse a dangerous situation. After both have become settled and accustomed to the split, check on them regularly - but don’t dote.

Fence-line Method

The easiest transition for separating a mare and foal is the fence-line method. In essence, you only prevent the foal from nursing, so there is little separation anxiety. The mare and foal are kept in adjoining paddocks typically for a week to 10 days. During that time, they can maintain contact while the mare’s udder dries up and the foal becomes solely dependent on forage and grain. Gradually, the two will spend less time together and can be relocated to separate paddocks with no interaction at all.

Stall Confinement

A key to using stall confinement is to move the mare, not the foal, out of the stall. This enables the foal to remain in a familiar environment rather than thrust into a foreign situation without the security of his mother. Opinions differ as to whether the mare should removed from the barn, thereby preventing the foal from hearing or seeing her, or if she should be housed in an adjoining stall or at the other end of the barn. Complete separation is traumatic and abrupt, but often accomplishes its purpose sooner. On the other hand, if either the mare or the foal panic and could cause harm to themselves, a more gradual approach might be necessary. If you decide to keep them both in the barn, after a few days you can begin alternate turnout time between them.

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Babysitter

A foal that has always run freely at pasture could be frightened by the confines of a barn. In this situation, it’s best to confine the mare in the barn and leave the foal turned out. Before your foal reaches weaning age, consider where you will put him after weaning. Placing a weanling in a paddock with aggressive geldings - or even bossy mares - can result in an injury. While the foal is still under the mother’s protection, introduce a babysitter. In a pinch, a goat will do. When the mare is taken away, the foal will cling to the babysitter, which will ease his anxiety.

Shipping the Mare Away

Some people wean foals when they have other plans for the mare. Perhaps she is sold or put back in training. New owners or a trainer might not want to cope with a frantic mare. Additionally, a mare that loses body condition from being upset about the loss of her foal is more prone to sickness and disease. If, on the other hand, the mare is not overly distraught from the separation, she’ll soon adjust to new people and fresh surroundings.

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