Since birth, your foal has been entirely dependent on their dam for food, comfort and security. Regardless of the precise age you choose to wean, the most important consideration is the individual foal and reducing any stress they may experience.
Typically, foals are weaned when they reach at least three months of age. However, for many foals, delaying weaning until they are four to six months old is recommended. At three months your foal has its own immune system starting to work. Prior to this age your foal relies on mum for immunity.
Just like many aspects of your young horse’s development, there is no perfect timing. As your foal matures, the choice to wean should depend on their readiness.
A foal that is ready for weaning is strong and healthy, with a good appetite for forage and concentrate suitable for young, growing horses and regularly seen interacting with others away from their dam. Together, these factors will aid the process of separating mare and foal.
There are two methods of weaning — gradual and abrupt — and both have their pros and cons.
- Gradual weaning – this approach involves separating mare and foal at feeding time, increasing their time apart over several days.
- Abrupt weaning – as the name suggests, this approach sees mare and foal separated immediately, out of sight and sound.
For many horse owners, your approach to weaning will not only depend on your personal preference and your individual horses, but also on your facilities. In some instances, a gradual approach may not be possible if available space and staff is limited.
Depending on your facilities, you will also need to choose between group pasture weaning and stable weaning. Studies show weaning in a group setting at pasture is less stressful as your newly separated foal will remain in the company of other companions.
- Group pasture weaning – in this situation, your foal will remain in a paddock surrounded by other horses after their dam is removed.
- Stable weaning – in this situation, your foal is placed into a stall with their dam before she is led out, leaving the foal on their own.
Safety is the first priority when choosing between group pasture and stable weaning. Your foal must be housed in a safe environment, free from potential hazards. At pasture, the fencing must be appropriate for foals. This excludes any form of wire fencing, included barbed and electric.
Once your foal is weaned, their need to socialise must be met. Group pasture weaning allows your foal to interact with other horses. In any event where other horses cannot be housed with your foal, consider introducing another companion animal, such as a donkey or goat.