ARE WE WEANING TOO SOON?

I just read an interesting article that I want to share with you. It’s about weaning foals.

recipient_mares_foalsI rode, when I was a kid, at a ranch with about 200 horses — most of whom lived in large 200+ acre pastures. Usually they lived in 2 herds, original lead by two geldings that hated each other. One of those geldings was my first horse. The other belonged to one of my best friends. (Trail rides together were interesting!) A few of the mares were bred during the spring and the foals were still at their side, although usually weaned in their 10th month by the mare, if and when they gave birth the next year. If the mares started getting thin, we just supplemented their feed with hay and maybe a little grain. My mare (who was not bred again after she foaled) continued to nurse her colt well into his first year. She wasn’t an easy keeper, but with plenty of feed, she did well. We often supplemented the herd’s feed with hay — California is NOT known for green fields in the summer. And it was a different time back then. It rained more often and it often rained for days at a time. And still we needed to supplement!

I was away from the horse world for most of my adult years. My love for horses and desire to have them again never wavered. Then in 2007 when I started my business, I decided to cater to the horse world and threw myself back into it with a passion. My first foray was through Mare Stare, foaling cams for horse owners (really for anyone with a passion for animals!). I engaged with many of the breeders and owners. I was really curious about the (to me anyway) new idea of weaning at 4 months. It just seemed too soon. When I casually asked why, the standard answer was, “because that is when it’s done!” I still felt that was not in the best interest of the foal — I felt that it could not be a good thing for their growth, and it had to mess with their mental health!

Based on the aforementioned article, it appears I was correct. Beth Bernard writes in Horse Journal,

As the volume of milk decreases by the third month, its mineral profile also changes. This is believed to be an evolutionary incentive to encourage foals to learn to obtain foodstuffs on their own and gradually establish independence.? The key word here is “gradually.”

Research has shown that early weaned foals, especially those with a high proportion of grain in their ration coupled with increased confinement and isolation from peers, are at high risk for developing stereotypic behaviors like cribbing/wind-sucking, weaving and stall-walking as the horse grows. These behaviors have not been observed in feral horses.

The horse has survived for millions of years. It’s only been in the last few thousand that man has begun meddling with it. That’s the evolutionary equivalent of a blink of an eye.

I encourage you to read the article for yourself: It’s Time to Re-Think Early Weaning of Horses

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