Weaning foals refers to separating the foal from their mother so they no longer consume milk by nursing. Once weaned, foals must obtain nutrients from forage and other feeds.

Domesticated foals are typically weaned four to seven months after birth. Various weaning strategies can be used, including progressive and abrupt separation of the foal and dam.

Progressive separation is believed to be less stressful for foals. Housing newly weaned foals in a natural environment and with unrelated adult horses and or their peers may also reduce stress.

Introducing foals to creep feeding (eating small amounts of concentrates) before weaning provides a range of benefits. Creep feeds provide additional nutrients to nursing foals, reduce weaning stress, and enable the developing foal to gradually become accustomed to eating solid foods.

Foals can engage in creep feeding by providing specific feeders that only allow foals to access feeds. Alternatively, a structure that only enables foals to enter it can be constructed to facilitate creep feeding.

The Weaning Process

In the early months of their lives, foals depend on their mothers for nutrition, protection, and security. However, they must be weaned from their mother’s milk as their nutritional needs eventually increase beyond what milk can supply.

Milk production in mares decreases significantly after the third month of lactation. By the time foals are three to four months old, they may benefit from consuming milk and solid feed or solely solid feed to support consistent growth. [1]

The weaning process can be stressful for both mares and foals and should be carried out with careful consideration.

When to Wean Foals

In wild horses, foals are typically weaned when they are between nine and eleven months old. In contrast, domesticated foals are usually weaned between four and seven months of age. [1]

Choosing when to wean your foal depends on multiple factors, including the maturity of the foal and the health status and temperament of the mare and foal. The amount of involvement horse owners have in the operation and design of their equine facility may also influence weanling management.

Although foals can be weaned within a few days after birth, this scenario is not ideal as they will require colostrum and milk replacers. Weaning foals too early can have negative nutrition and behavioural effects. [2]

Weaning Considerations

The following factors should be considered when determining how and when to wean your foal.

Health of the Foal

Because weaning can be stressful for both mare and foal, the foal should be healthy before being separated from its mother.

Foals should be up to date with vaccinations and deworming before being weaned.

Mare Behavior

The behavioural characteristics of mares can be passed on to their foals, although it is unclear if this occurs due to genetic or environmental factors. If a mare is demonstrating negative behaviours, some breeders believe it is beneficial to initiate the weaning process sooner than later. [2]

Mare and Foal Bond

When choosing when and how to wean, it’s important to consider the strength of the bond between mare and foal, which varies between individuals. [2]

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube