Natural Weaning - do you do it or tried?

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Jul 6, 2008
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Has anyone ever tried Natural Weaning - like horses would do in the wild? Just let the mare wean her foal on her own? What do you think? What results did you get if you've done it?
I had neighbours that had a 3 yr old colt still nursing off his mother (oh - AND she foaled to him)

The theory may be good but in practice I don't think it is such a good idea. It can be very draining on the mare, and "in the wild" the foal is usually weaned/kicked away as the mare is in foal again. Average life of a horse in the wild is not a long one.
No such thing.

In the wild mares do not wean their foals, if the mare is not dominant enough the next foal born will die as the yearling or even two year old still nursing will steal the colostrum and also the next milk.

Bite the bullet and wean the foal...once they have shed the "milk hairs" on their noses they can digest nothing in the milk, anyway, and it is just comfort sucking.

Keeping the mare in milk is no good for her, or for her next baby either.

Our animals are not, thank God, "in the wild", they are domesticated, therefore we have a responsibility to them.

A friend of mine leaves his foals on all winter and I am constantly nagging him for it, too, but he takes them away before the next foals are born.

Although he swears it "does no harm" until he tries doing it the right way he has no way of knowing how much better it would be all round for the mares if they were not producing milk all winter!!

(that is directed at him BTW, not you!!)
I have had foals born late summer that I dont wean until next spring. No the mothers do not wean them. I do have one mare that I can take her foal away just a couple days and then she will no longer let them nurse but that is unusual. Most have to be seperated for months. I have also seen 2 year olds nursing from their dams when no one weans them. I agree with above that you really cant compare domesticated horses to wild horses. Its a whole nother story!!

I hate weaning but it has to be done
My mare had started to wean her foal herself and at first when we totally weaned her, it went great-they didn't really call for one another (maybe once or twice a day!!!). Foal is four months old. In the past we've always weaned by the moon, but for this mare, we decided to follow through on what the mare had started (plus we're selling the foal in a few weeks and I think it is much easier on everyone if the weaning has already taken place before foal goes to a new home). Alot depends on your mare.
I never like the term "like they do in the wild"... our horses are not kept anything NEAR like they would be in the "wild" and the horses in the "wild" aren't that well-off! While in captivity, our animals deserve the best care we can afford them, they don't have other options. We must look out for their well-being. I agree with Rabbitsfizz here.

"Naturally" mares will nurse their foals for as long as there is milk... and that can be for many years. Five and six year old horses can still nurse off their mothers. Like someone mentioned, wild horses don't generally wean unless there is a physical reason to do so (ie not enough milk, new foal, etc). If you do not wean the foal will be VERY attached to its mother and will be difficult to take away in the future.
I find if the mare is bred back then they do and will self wean. I also find mini people tend to wean way to early with the average seeming to be 3 months.
I agree with what has been said here - our horses are not in the wild - and basically we are in control of the weaning process. Although I do hate weaning time - as I know there is stress on the mares and the foals - it is better that way - period.

I bought a mare last year - and was talked into buying her 2 year old daughter as well (long story!!!). Well it became very obvious that the mare and her daughter had never been separated and the 2 year old can get through most fencing just to be with her mom. Even this year - when her mom had a foal and was obviously separated from her - she was beside herself - it was very sad to see. But the previous owner had way too many horses and obviously didn't care about long term effects on the young mare. So now I am dealing with a mare that needs to be "weaned" at 3 years old.

So - my suggestion is - wean foals when they the proper age to wean - whether that would be 4 months or 6 months old - that is up to you.
I still guess it is up to your mares.

We have tried weaning with out success, unless the mare says enough, their young if put back can usually bring back in the milk.

We do not wean a baby from their mom, the parents have a roll in raising these little foals, even the stallion plays a roll in babysitting and teaching their young.

We also have sold our young as early as 4 months old, and when they are sold, we take the babies away each feeding, for their own feeding in the morning and night and back with their parents and the herd, sometimes other mares play a great roll in teaching and playing.

They should get enough food to help them not wanting to nurse, mom becomes less and less needed.

Most of the time in our 5 -6 acres of pasture do not see mom anywhere near the babies as they get more independent.

Have had 15 mini foals todate, and last year had Ivy, now a yearling, and baby again at mom's side.

She did dry up, and gave birth to another healthy filly this year. So our experience is possitive, but maybe not yours.

How many saying NO to natural weaning, have honestly left a foal on, to see what does happen the next year? We did, and everything went as planned.

I am just saying in our experience, even with our Paso finos, they weaned their foals at least 3-4 months before the next foal comes. One year our Paso did not take, and her mom did allow her to drink untill the following year untill she was bred.

Our mini Mare dried right up and about one month before foaling she started an udder again, just in time for her next young.

Just what we have done, and so far yes, been lucky, and success.
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I have posted this before. I think it is so cool and would love to hear from someone who has tried it. I personally agree our horses aren't in the wild, but we can do our best to make things more natural for them. I notice that in a weaned foal you often get a little fever/founder ring in the hoof when they are weaned drastically , so it must be horribly stressful.

It is a halter that the foal wears that makes it uncomfortable for the mare. So she lets the foal nurse less and less.
I also purchased a mare who was running with a stallion and her three year old daughter. The 3 year old was still nursing even though the mare was just 2 months from foaling. The three year old was also bred to her sire.

I also noticed one of my fillies this year, just 5 months old, showing heat to a stallion on the fence line. If you don't wean and run them all together seems like you risk a very early pregnancy with those more precocious girls!
I still guess it is up to your mares. We have tried weaning with out success, unless the mare says enough, their young if put back can usually bring back in the milk.
That's because the mare will "unwean" her foal if reintroduced. It takes YEARS of seperation to prevent unweaning, three or four.
Determine when it's right for the foal and the mare, and then seperate them. Typically what we do is decide when it's time and then move the mare and a couple friends to the next pasture. We leave the foal and a couple friends in the original pasture. There's some running and calling for a couple hours and then it's forgotten. Really, it is that simple. I'll even stand in the barn keeping an eye on things that someone doesn't get to crazy but other than that, it's no big deal. Our mares are pretty much glad to be rid of the foal, I'm glad to have the foal off the mare so the mare can recoup and I can start training the foal, and the foal once dinner is served generally doesn't give it much thought after 12 hours.

The biggest problem I see with weaning time is the humans involved! There are way too many human emotions running rampant when it's time to wean the foals. It's like pulling off a band aid....the quicker you do it and the less you pay attention to the details of it, the less it hurts.
I couldnt do that. I have a mare here who has been away from her foal for 2 months. She still screams for her kid. I feel so bad for her that after she foals next year I will not breed her back.

That said, I also had to put mom and stud together in a seperate pen because stud thought he could breed his 5 month old daughter.
I have just weaned three foals for the final time.

Weaning starts at ten days old when the mares are brought in with the foals and tied up and fed.

Foals at this time are free.

BUT foals learn Mama is no longer at their beck and call and is doing something that looks GOOD!!

A few days of this and foals are offered their own feed.

Once they are eating they are brought in on their own to feed in the round pen, Mamas are right on the other side of the fence, usually trying to steal their food!!

After a few weeks of this, during which time the foals stay up to an hour off Mama, the foals are fed out of sight, still loose at this point.

By the time they are around three months I hope to have them haltered and standing tied for their feeds.

At thsi age they will be off for around three hours, some time tied most of the time loose.

At around four- five months, depending on the foal, they will be put in a half acre grassed paddock off the mares field to be fed and put back later and later.

The other day they were not let back.

No-one even called.

They could still see Mama, sniff Mama and, if they had been determined, snatch the odd mouthful of milk.

A week later I moved the mares a field away, the one mare called a bit, but the foal did not answer.

The mares are now on their winter grazing, as are the weanlings.

No-one calls to anyone, and I have nice well behaved foals.

The foals do not go back with the mares...once they are off they stay off.

Is it hard work??

You bet, most work with horses is!!

Is it worth it??

YES, without a doubt, I cannot stand the crying, so I worked hard to find a way round it. No "stress rings" on my foals feet, I can assure you.

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