Meeting the Challenges of Weaning
Weaning, what a great time of the year. This is when you have the opportunity (or obligation) to be closer to this yearís foals. This is when you see how well imprinting works for you. You also have the opportunity to take full responsibility for feeding the foals for controlled growth and reaching their genetic potential for size and conformation. For a short time you also have the opportunity to correct the minor structural problems many foals are born with. And you thought all you had to do was wean the baby and turn it out to pasture.
With the exception of the cold bloods and the miniature horses, the earliest time to wean is when the foal reaches the later of these two criteria:
the foal should weigh 300 pounds, or
the foal should be three months of age.
At sixty days of age, the foal can receive the first series of vaccinations for influenza, rhinopneumonitis, strangles, tetanus, Potomac Horse Fever, and sleeping sickness. One month later these should be repeated along with the one vaccination for rabies.
Starting as early as one month of age, the foal can be dewormed. This should continue at the minimum of one deworming per month for the first year of the foalís life. A better approach is the five day worming one time each month. The best deworming will be accomplished with the daily dewormer added to the feed as soon as the foal is eating grain daily from its own feeder.
Starting two weeks before weaning, at whatever age you choose to wean, you can start decreasing the grain intake for the mare. This may vary with your situation and, of course, the condition of the mare. By reducing the grain intake, you will be reducing the mareís milk flow. Once weaning is done, milk production will be reduced enough to minimize the uncomfortable filling of the udder. If the mareís udder fills to the point it makes both you and the mare uncomfortable, check it for heat and uneven swelling. If you find the udder to be normal but full, resist the temptation to milk it to relieve the pressure. This will only stimulate more milk flow, delaying the process. As long as the udder is healthy leave it full, which will stop milk production and start the reabsorption of the milk.
The reduction of the milk flow will leave the foal hungry, leading it to eat more grain or grass to fill the void. The foal will adjust to eating, which will reduce the hunger pangs and eliminate one of the stresses of weaning. Many of the foals will have been enjoying their own creep feeder, and the transition to grain will be easy. All of the foals, you can be sure, will have been eating Momís grain. At weaning, do not increase the amount of grain but make available a good quality hay. Recent studies have found as many that 50% of foals will have ulcers. These are both due to and aggravated by stress (weaning, socializing). Grain, due to its rapid consumption and digestion, creates an acid environment within the foalís stomach and small intestine. This acid will irritate any ulcer present. Hay and grass will neutralize the stomach acids, because it must be chewed--which increases the bicarbonate release and content.
The basic rule of weaning is to move the mare away and leave the foal in familiar surroundings with friends. Weaning in batches works great, as they have each other to cry with and pick on. Whatever approach you decide to use, you should keep the foals safety in mind, especially within the first 48 hours. The newly weaned foals will do amazing feats to try to injure themselves!
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