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Foal Weaning: preparation is everything Logo PaskaCheval

Around the age of six months, the foals of the year start to be gradually separated from their mother so that they learn to live independently: this is called weaning. A mandatory step for all mammals, this period is a critical time for breeders, and can be stressful for foals and broodmares. Fortunately, solutions exist to make this important moment in the foal's life as easy as possible.

Generally, when a foal reaches the age of six months, it is able to feed itself. By this age, foals have all their teeth and although they may continue to suckle out of habit, they usually only take in small amounts. Foals no longer need an all-milk diet. However, weaning is a radical change of life for foals. There are two types of risk during this period, related to diet and/or stress. Therefore, foals need to be prepared at an early stage for a change in diet, and weaning needs to be done in an appropriate environment, with the foal’s well-being in mind.

Preparing for the diet transition

Whether weaning happens when it is supposed to or earlier – for example, if the mare dies before the foal is weaned – it all comes down to anticipation. Almost as soon as the foal is born, it is important to start preparing for weaning. If the growth period of the young foal goes well until it reaches the age of six months, there is a better chance that weaning will be easier than if the foal had problems during this early development stage. Whatever the case, the most important thing is that the diet transition is introduced as gradually as possible in order to prepare the entire digestive system to no longer consume milk, but rather fodder or even cereals. 

Foal feeding under its mother

Thus, it’s possible to give your foal supplements to help ease this transition – while respecting its development and well-being – by administering probioticsprebiotics and specific feeds. This way, foals start to change their feeding habits while continuing to ingest the important nutrients found in milk.

However, this process takes time. Therefore, this process needs to start at least two months before the end of weaning so that this change in diet takes place as naturally as possible, even before the foal is actually separated from its mother.

To best carry out this transition, breeders need to consider in which season the foal will be weaned, as well as where and even the surface area of their pasture. For example, certain adaptations will be needed for the nutritional intake of green meadows in Normandy whereas others will be needed for less rich fields in regions subject to drought.

Lastly, this transition will also be facilitated by preparing the broodmare to gradually reduce her milk production. Often, the mare has too much milk during weaning, which may lead to infections such as mastitis (inflammation of the udders) or even oedema. As a result, it is necessary to gradually reduce the amount of energy and protein absorbed by the mare, without reducing the trace elements, minerals and vitamins that she needs to boost her immunity, among other things.

Foster a climate of trust

Depending on the size of the farms, the foal will be weaned alone or with other animals. This first point is essential for the foal's apprehension of being separated from its mother. Surrounded by other young animals of the same age, the foal will generally be less stressed because it will immediately be with other horses. Therefore, the foal is in a positive environment conducive to its well-being, especially in terms of sociability.

Conversely, when a foal is weaned alone and finds itself isolated in a meadow, both the foal and mother are likely to be much more stressed.

Lastly, the handling of broodmares with foals and the way in which weaning is carried out must be done in a calm manner and with know-how so that there aren’t any incidents. Here again, the experience of the breeders is what counts, and weaning is often much easier if several foals are weaned at the same time.

To support foals and their mothers during weaning, PaskaCheval sells a complete range of products to prepare foals for the diet transition, but also to calm young individuals and help them feel safe as they take their first steps towards becoming autonomous.

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