Weaning - How to Prevent Stress for Mare and Foal
By Purina Canada
Separating a foal from its mother can be a stressful time for the mare and especially for her baby. But there are many ways to make the transition easier and reduce the risks for both.
The mare’s grain ration should be gradually reduced about seven to ten days before weaning and ideally, three to four days before the foal is weaned, the mare’s grain ration should be removed to reduce milk production and the risk of mastitis. Forage should be fed as usual. The feed ration can be reintroduced when the udder has returned to its normal shape, which can take from approximately ten days to three weeks. If the mare loses some weight, she can gain it back later. The mare must have space to move around during this period so that the udder can deflate.
Minerals and vitamins should still be given but be careful with the protein content of the supplement because high protein will stimulate milk production.
Switching to Purina Optimal, or continuing to include Purina Optimal if already feeding it as part of the mare’s diet, is recommended. It is essential that the mare has free access to water at all times including during the weaning period.
Do not hesitate to seek the advice of an equine nutritionist approximately one month after weaning for help adjusting the mare’s ration to her new needs, whether she returns to work or is pregnant again.
During weaning the foal is more stressed than the mare, and this can affect the foal’s immune system and increase the risk of stomach ulcers and developmental problems. But there are ways to reduce these risks.
Ideally, the foal should be weaned between four and six months of age. Before this period milk is essential to the youngster’s diet, and after this period the level of stress is more intense. How can you know if the foal is ready to be weaned? Our checklist provides some guidance:
Checklist for Weaning Readiness
- Is the foal socialized? Does he know horses other than his mother?
- Is the foal nutritionally independent? Does he eat hay and feed/supplement, at least with his mother. Foals learn to eat grain by imitation, so it is much easier for him to learn to do so with his mother.
- Is the foal emotionally independent? He should not panic if he is temporarily separated from his mother.
A week before weaning, introducing a third horse with the mare and foal can be beneficial. Ideally, it should be a calm adult horse that forgives the baby for the energy he may have at play. On the day of weaning, remove the mare and leave the foal with the other horse. When foals are weaned in groups, it is advisable to remove the dams one at a time, leaving the foals together. During this period, we recommend staying on Purina Evolution Maternity for a month to continue providing needed vitamins and minerals while transitioning to either Purina Juvenile or Purina Optimal according to the weight and the body condition of the foal.
It is preferable to wean quickly rather than using a slow approach, for both the mare and foal. Studies have shown that doing so reduces the level of stress for the foal and reduces the risk of mastitis for the mare. It can also be interesting to let the mare and foal safely see each other, such as through a solid fence.
It's also been shown that the more time you spend with your recently weaned foal, the lower his stress level will be. Have fun with your foals and make their lives easier!
At Purina, we’re available to help you with equine nutrition for horses of all ages and types. We look forward to sharing memorable moments with you and working together for the benefit of all horses.
Main Photo: Shutterstock/Inesmeierfotografie