Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 3 – Now the Fun Part!, by Ina M. Ish

    WEANING! The very word can strike dread into the heart of a breeder. Very little is really told about weaning and all it's attendant excitements. I suspect this may be the case cause until you have gone through it, nobody wants to scare you off!
    Why should one be scared off, or tremble with dread about something as natural as weaning you may ask. HA! Sounds simple enough until you are confronted with a thousand pound mare screaming loudly and continually for her baby! Or racing the fence line till she is bothered, lathered and has bruised her udder into a full blown case of mastitis! Or until you have watched that calm , sane, smart , well behaved baby turn into a raving lunatic- climbing walls, screaming until it looses it's voice, throwing itself against doors and walls, rearing and racing around the stall until sheer physical exhaustion sets it, and the baby collapses in a heap – for a little while!

    Does it have to be this way you may ask. Well, no it doesn't but it more is than is not! There are as many ways to wean a foal as there are ways to skin a cat, and each farm has to find – by trial and error- which way works best for them.

    I have never tried the new Weaning Bra that I have seen advertised- such did not exist when I was breeding horses, but it might be worth investigating.

    Some farms simply move the mare to a different farm altogether. Thereby letting somebody else put up with the mare and her behavior.  Others move the foal off the farm. I do not recommend this method. That baby is still to immature to fight off possible infections of a different farm, and to me at least, total separation by location seems especially traumatic mentally.

    The trauma of weaning is quite enough stress, no matter how you do the actual deed. For sure trauma it is, which is one reason not to wean- unless it is a dire necessity- in the dead heat of summer. I learned from a long time breeder that I respect a great deal. Her method works for her, obviously, and I was able to adapt it to my barn. To begin with- the process started a fair amount of time BEFORE the actual deed. That process involves allowing the foal to experience a measure of complete independence from mom. I would allow the baby or babies to eat and play in the barn aisle while mom was still in her stall. Granted it makes a mess, but in the long run it is less traumatic. I would hang little, tiny buckets in front of mom's stall – not with a full ration of grain, but with a handful of grain- I did not heavily grain a suckling foal at all, but fed just enough for them to get the taste and desire for grain. That's another "Hint". But, back to the aisle- of course all outside doors to the barn were shut, and even some hay put down for the baby or babies. I would leave them in this configuration for about 30 minutes at each feeding. It goes without saying there should be nothing in the aisle save for the baby , the bucket and or hay. No wheelbarrows, no pitchforks, no blanket bars or blankets, no nothing which is not bolted down and secured! After this routine became matter of fact and looked forward to by both mom and baby– mom will be delighted not to have baby trying to eat HER food or hay by the way- the time left in the aisle is increased. Part of this method assumes that you have had both mom and baby share pasture with an 'Auntie' or an 'Uncle'- someone the foal knows and trusts and accepts. This comes in VERY handy, as it is very handy to have more than one mare and foal pair to wean at the same time. Misery loves company and two just weaned foals DO find a bit of comfort in each other's company.

    OK- back to the mechanics here. After the "Playtime" in the aisle is accepted and very well used to, it is cooler weather, the foal is at the very least 3 months of age- four is much better ( I will explain shortly), it is likely time to start reducing the grain ration on the mare. Sounds weird I know, but grain makes milk, just as water makes milk. Hay makes milk! So you begin to decrease the mare's feed, yes, she will drop weight but you are not going to let this go on long enough to cause serious weight deficiency. I used to start the mare and the foal on Vitamin B1 around this time. Not all horses are responsive to B1, but when they are, it has a definite calming effect. Flower remedies also work , and work well in this endeavor.- More on that later as well.

    So, you have chosen your method of weaning, made the foal's new stall as safe as possible by removing all hanging things, feed racks, hay nets, anything sticking out from the wall or corner- and I do mean anything sharp or pointed or breakable! That is done and the stall is ready, mom and baby have gotten used to eating separately, baby has a friend or Auntie or Uncle for company, mom's feed is reduced, baby is eating grain well, the weather is cool, the flies are not horrible, the fences are as tight as they are going to get, baby leads and halters like a pro, and you are ready.{mospagebreak}

    The day dawns, I used to use adjacent pastures for weaning- some folks simply leave the foals in the barn for a few days- I never tried that way in truth. But follow your usual routine of turn out as best you can- put mom and babies' pasture buddies out, return for mom and baby, take them into the usual area, let baby go and hold on to mom! Immediately get mom out of that area and put her where she is going to be pastured. It helps if she has a buddy of her own . As long as they can see each other but baby CANNOT get it's head through the fence to nurse -things will be fairly quiet! First time moms are the worst at this point. For a number of reasons. One, she doesn't know the drill, two it is counter to all her instincts, and three- her baby may well be more than a little frantic!

    Baby indeed will run and call and run and call and carry on. This is why having a well known auntie or uncle or same age pal is so helpful. Yearlings generally do not make good buddies for new weanlings- they simply don't have the sense! Be prepared at time to come in, to have your hands full- you will. Baby will rush the gate, try and drag you around no doubt and generally loose all sensible behavior- not all do this, but many do! Getting the mare in first worked for me, here you will have to try different orders of handling.

    Once in , do not feed grain immediately, chances are both mom and new weanling will be hot and sweaty- so give them hay in their separate stalls and let them cool down. Weanling doesn't need any grain at this point- and mom's grain feed should be cut in half ! It will be loud in the barn- believe it cause it will be.

    Why I suggested waiting to at least four months is not only for the foal's sake – indeed they are mentally better off, physically in fine shape, have developed a bit of independence and generally are ready to face life sans mom. But best of all, MOM has no doubt gotten bored with the whole routine and is- despite her current noise making etc- ready to get on with her life without the pest bothering her! Experienced brood-mares are usually delighted to wean the foals. Mine were, and did not fuss or scream or carry on- but asking that same behavior from a first time mom is a bit much for sure.

    Having progressed to this point what can you expect? Well, it takes about two weeks for mom to loose her bag totally– do not under any circumstances during those two weeks allow the foal to nurse it's mom! OR you will have to start all over again.. Not something I advise. Mom will dry up, and until she does do take care to watch that she doesn't bruise that huge, hot, uncomfortable udder and DO NOT milk her out!! She will have milk streaming from the bag, and all over her legs- shut your eyes and trust it will be fine! No doubt she has calmed down after a few days, but keep her on half rations until she is completely dried in the udder. Then you can increase her grain ration slowly to regular levels. Some judicious grooming,and loving on are usually appreciated by the mare – but not the first or second day after weaning. We all like being loved and talked to, and for sure mares are no different than we are in this regard.

    The weanling or weanlings, are usually ready to settle down after a few days- three or four is usually the duration I've found. Mine ( mom and baby) were always stalled right next to each other so I was not depriving them of each other's company, merely the milk bar. They could see, they could sniff, but they could not actually touch each other. At times due to barn crowding I would have to put two weanlings in the same stall and that worked quite well.

    That pretty much wraps up my hints on this. It is fine to put filly and colt foals together at this point, but be aware that colts have been known to breed mares when they are as young as nine months of age! Either of them!!!

    Oh, I forgot- Flower Remedies: For weaning I would suggest Rescue Remedy or Five Flower Formula, Walnut for change, Vervain for anxiety, Rock Rose for hysteria, Mimulus or Aspen for lessor fear, Holly for negative feelings or behavior and Larch for confidence in self. Longstreet Consulting can blend and provide these remedies for a reasonable amount.

Ina M Ish