One of the most difficult things to overcome when raising horses is knowing when to wean a foal. Weaning is the process of separating a foal from his mother after he no longer needs her milk to survive. There are many different schools of thought on weaning and how it should be properly done.
One of the hottest and most debated topics when it comes to weaning is what age a foal should be when it is weaned. Different trainers and breeders swear by different ages, and it’s hard for simple horse people and home-breeders to know what to make of it.
In this article, I’m going to take a holistic approach by discussing other factors that may contribute to an owner’s decision to wean at a particular age. I will cover what the most common ages for weaning are, and why, but I think it’s important to understand all of the factors that go into the decision, not just looking at the numbers.
When To Wean A Foal- Factors to Consider
Besides just the age of the foal, there are many factors that contribute to an owner or breeder’s decision to wean a horse at a given time. Some of these include the extent of available facilities, the size of the foal, the temperament of the foal, and the vet work a foal has had done.
Some facilities are more equipped to deal with weaning than others. Breeding farms, for example, are set up to care for foals regularly. The staff at breeding farms is trained to know how to handle foals, and they are used to weaning foals regularly. That’s because this is one of the primary functions of a breeding farm.
But, not every foal is born on a breeding farm. Lots of foals are born and raised at home farms and at normal boarding farms. Typically, these farms are equipped to care for normal, adult horses. Because of this, sometimes the methods of weaning will have to be restricted to whatever a particular facility can provide.
This could mean any number of things for every unique situation; it could mean that the mare and foal’s pastures are simply further apart, it could mean that the foal has to go out with other horses, it could mean that the foal has to wait to be weaned until there’s an available pasture for it to be turned out in and so on.
But, facility restrictions can affect when a foal is weaned.
Size of the Foal
The size of the foal can also affect when an owner or breeder decides to wean him. For example, if a foal is larger than other foals his age, the owner or breeder may decide to wean him earlier, for the safety of his mother or other horses he is turned out with.
Or, on the other hand, an owner or breeder may decide to wean a horse later, if he is small for his age. He may still need the nutrients from his mother’s milk if he hasn’t grown in the way he should. Vets should also help make this decision.
Temperament of the Foal
Another factor is the temperament of the foal. Sometimes, though rarely, foals will start weaning themselves. Some foals naturally become less dependent on their mothers earlier than expected. If they begin showing signs of this, there is nothing wrong with weaning a foal early.
Sometimes foals show you that they’re ready before you even think of it. Some foals mature more quickly than others, though this definitely isn’t the norm. But, it’s always important to listen to your horse, even if your horse is a baby.
Vet Work Done on the Foal
Another factor that can affect when to wean a foal is the vet work a foal has had done. Some owners and breeders have certain things they want to have their vets do with their foals before they are weaned. And, if they haven’t had these things done yet, they will wait until the foal has had them done before weaning.
Some foals also struggle with health issues early on, and it is important that the foal is completely healthy before weaning him.
Average Ages for Weaning Foals
In the wild, foals are not “weaned” from their mothers until their mothers have another foal. This is typically not until a year or more after the foal has been born. A horse’s gestation period is a little bit over a year.
Traditionally, foals are weaned between the ages of four and seven months. Though, it isn’t uncommon to see foals stay with their mother for longer than seven months.
On the other hand, if an owner or breeder decides to wean a foal at four months, they must ensure that the foal is completely healthy. At four months, a foal should be able to get essential nutrients from foods other than his mother’s milk. But, if the foal has had any health issues at all, then this may not be the case.
So, it really depends on the situations and the philosophies of each owner and breeder. Deciding when to wean a foal will rest on many different factors. The most important thing to take into consideration is a foal’s health.
If weaning a foal at any given time will negatively affect his health, then it should not be done. Every foal is unique, and every situation is unique. Make informed decisions and always, always consult professionals!
I hope this article helped you learn more about when to wean a foal and what goes into making decisions about weaning. If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences weaning foals!