Ask the Vet – When to wean a foal

March 4, 2020

DAN: “What age would you
recommend weaning a mini colt? Can late weaning
cause health issues? And first, I am going
to say by cashew_butter, please send us a photo
of your mini colt. DR LYDIA GRAY: I thought you
were going to say a sample– please send us a
sample of cashew_butter DAN: No. I mean, if you wanted to. But a picture of the mini colt
because that sounds adorable. DR LYDIA GRAY: We
brought a mini halter, DAN: I mean– DR LYDIA GRAY: –which
we thought was cute, but– but this is a full-sized– she’s talking about a
mini weanling, a foal. This is an adult.
So, even smaller. DAN: So we need to tighten
this up a little bit. DR LYDIA GRAY: I know. I know. So, all right. When you talk about
weaning, no matter what you are equine size,
it’s when and it’s how. So the when– turns
out in the wild, they will begin weaning at
pretty late, eight months. DAN: Oh, OK. Wow. DR LYDIA GRAY: And it might
go as long as two years until the foal, weanling,
is two years old. DAN: Wow. DR LYDIA GRAY: So yeah,
it’s very gradual. And it’s more like they stick
around for not the nutrition, because there’s none. They stick around
for the companionship and the safety and the– DAN: Of being in a herd. DR LYDIA GRAY: –it’s
my mom and comfort. If there’s something
scary, I go back to my mom. So that’s why they do it. In domesticated horses, it’s
more like the range is about– I’ve seen as early as
three months to six months. And I would say the majority
are in the four to five month range. Is that– DAN: Yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. But it has to do with your
farm, your setup, and the people that you have around you
and the horses themselves. So is your foal ready physically
and mentally and emotionally and socially to be
a grown-up horse? I mean, some are ready at three
months– they’re precocious– and some, you might
wait until seven months because they’re just not
developed their emotional intelligence is not there. They don’t know
how to be a horse. DAN: But say some you
see when they’re a little are a little more adventurous. They’re a little
more willing to– DR LYDIA GRAY:
That’s exactly right. DAN: –go away from Mom
to explore something– DR LYDIA GRAY:
That’s exactly right. DAN: –some are right
on mom the entire time. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yep. So the ones that are more
adventurous, independent, confident, you
could wean earlier. And the ones that need a little
bit more time, well, then give them that more
time because there’s no evidence that late, whatever
you define as late, weaning has any health– any negative effects. The only negative
effect I could think of was that maybe the mare– because lactation or
milk is one of the– where she’ll use
the most calories in her life, more than breeding,
more than high performance. It does literally suck the
nutrition out of horses. So they’ll lose weight. They’ll look kind of bad. But the advice I saw was
don’t wean based on that. Maybe just try to get more
nutrition into the mare. Feed her more. But really, the foal is not–
the peak milk is at six weeks. DAN: Six weeks? OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: Six weeks. So by three months,
they’re already not getting the majority or
much even of their nutrition from the mare’s milk. They’re eating, which
is another thing. Before you wean, I mean, this
foal has to be eating forage– hay or pasture– and
grain, like fully. They have to fully depend
on it because when you wean, you don’t want to have other big
events happen at the same time because weaning is
super stressful. So you don’t want to
be changing their diet. You don’t want to be
introducing new horses. You’d rather not move the baby. You don’t want to be
doing any major vet work. So don’t be castrating
at the same time. DAN: Yeah, let’s not a
check all the boxes at once. DR LYDIA GRAY: No. Don’t have the farrier out. Don’t deworm. Don’t vaccinate them,
do all those things. Because their immune system is
fighting to keep them healthy. And if you attack them
with some more things, you’ll overwhelm it. And they’re not even going
to be able to respond to a vaccination at
that time anyway. They need to be vaccinated
before you deworm– wean and deworm before you wean. DAN: I like that point you
made about not moving the foal, moving the mom. Because keep them with the area
they’re already familiar with– DR LYDIA GRAY: Correct. DAN: –and remove her. But at least they’re
still familiar with that surrounding versus introduce
them to a whole other place. That’s like such a
simple tip that I think a lot of times
people kind of overlook. DR LYDIA GRAY: Well,
there’s this thing called group pasture
weaning, and it only works if you have a
lot of mares and foals that are going to be
weaned at the same time. So if you have one mini
colt, it can be a problem. You may want to consider
boarding somewhere that has other ones that your
foal could bond with and then have some
weaning buddies. DAN: Oh, yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: But the way this
group pasture weaning works is you have a pasture
of mares and foals, and they’ve grown up that way. They’ve been living together
for months and months. And so you figure out who is
the most independent foal, like we talked. And then you one day
take that mare away until you’ve got nine
mares and ten foals. DAN: OK. Nine mares, ten foals. Yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: Right,
because you took a mare away. And then maybe
that foal is like, there’s something
different about today. But he’s like, well
I got my herd– DAN: All my buddies are here. DR LYDIA GRAY:
–so I’m all good. And so every couple of days,
you take another mare away. And by taking them away, you
have to take them out of eye– like visual sight. And they also have
to be out of earshot because if they can
hear each other, you’re going to
prolong the weaning. DAN: A lot of
screaming that goes on. DR LYDIA GRAY: So it may
even be– unless you have a large farm– maybe off site. OK. And eventually, you’re down
to no mares and just babies. And then you’re done. DAN: Look it that. Easy as that. DR LYDIA GRAY: Easy-peasy. DAN: So simple. DR LYDIA GRAY: So
that’s one method. That’s the least
stressful method, according to the studies.

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