is easy to assume that once a foal is a week old and healthy, mother
nature and mother horse will take care of it until it is ready to be
weaned. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The first few months
of the foal's life is an excellent time to influence and train the foal
for living in both human and equine society. A variety of management
practices and techniques are available to aid the foal in developing to
its maximum capability.
breaking and leading can be very traumatic experiences if attempted
when the foal is 5 or 6 months of age. Therefore, it is preferable to
start such procedures when the foal is a week or two of age. Most
breeders prefer to fit a soft leather halter to the foal a few days
after birth. The first lessons are accomplished quite easily with a
young foal and require a minimum of time and effort. Teaching a foal to
lead, to have its feet handled and to be groomed is much easier when
the foal is young. The effects of early positive experiences have been
reported to influence later behavior.
the first 12 months of the horse's life, the owner or manager has the
opportunity to influence its behavior and ability to learn. Most
trainers report that training is much easier and less traumatic for
animals accustomed to handling at an early age.
do foals start to eat? Most foals begin to eat with their mothers
in the first few weeks of life. Some mares are nasty, however, and will
not let their foals eat with them. Despite this fact, foals should not
be given too many nutritional supplements. If the mare produces a lot
of milk, the foal may be somewhat slower in starting to consume
concentrate. When the mare's milk production is only moderate or low,
the foal usually will commence eating with the mare at an early age. At
this time, the foal should be allowed to eat what it wants. Most foals
will begin to nibble some hay and grain on their own at 1 to 3 weeks of
approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age, the growth rate and nutrient
requirement of most foals will exceed the level of nutrients provided
in the mare's milk. The best way to compensate for this difference is
to supply the foal with nutrition in the form of creep feed. It is
generally recommended that half to three-quarters of a pound of a
high-quality concentrate be fed every day for each 100 pounds of foal
creep feeder is a specially constructed enclosure that allows the foal
to eat a specific diet while preventing the mare access to the feed.
Once foals learn to enter the enclosure, they will routinelyenter and
eat the grain mix. The feeder should be kept clean and fresh feed given
daily. The foals should be observed to ensure that overly aggressive
foals are not preventing timid ones from eating. Foals that consume
creep feed get accustomed to eating without their mothers and usually
adjust to weaning much more satisfactorily.
horsemen disagree on whether foals should be allowed to consume all the
creep feed they desire. Owners and managers should be careful not to
overfeed foals, since this can be detrimental to the foals' health and
future athletic ability.
nutritional experts do not recommend the free-choice feeding of
concentrates to foals because of the possibility of excessive
consumption, which can cause enterotoxemia or potentiate the problem of
epiphysitis. Enterotoxemia, caused by the excessive proliferation of
clostridial bacteria in the small intestine, usually results in colic
and death within several hours. Avoiding oversupplementation with
vitamins and minerals is another precaution. An example of
oversupplementation is the use of excessive iodine in feeds and
supplements, which has been shown to cause goiter.
mares and foals are in the pasture, the foals usually get plenty of
exercise. This, of course, is the ideal way to raise foals. If special
conditions exist, however, and the mare and foal must be kept in a
stall or small pen, arrangements must be made for an exercise program.
If such confinement is necessary, the foal should be given its own
of the most traumatic events in a foal's life is separation from
the mare. Although a variety of methods are available for weaning foals
from their mothers, there seems to be no consensus among experienced
horsemen as to the best method. The best time or age for weaning foals
also varies depending on the circumstances on each particular farm.
Some equine behavior experts advise letting the foals stay with the
mares as long as possible. For many farms and farm managers, however,
this procedure is neither practical nor advisable. By the time foals
are 4 or 5 months of age, most are leaving their mothers for periods of
play with other foals in the field and to show their independence. Many
foals now are weaned at a younger age than was once customary. It used
to be common practice to wean foals only after they were at least 6
months of age; many remained with the mares until 8 months of age.
it is not uncommon for some foals to be weaned at 4 months of age or
younger. If foals are accustomed to eating creep feed before weaning,
many of the stresses associated with weaning can be overcome. It is
very stressful for foals to have to learn to eat and be weaned at the
same time. Most farm managers in the central Florida area prefer that
foals be 5 months of age or older when weaned.
very effective weaning procedure used with foals already trained to eat
and lead involves removing the mares from the stall in the morning and
taking them out of eyesight and earshot of the foals. The foals are
kept in the stall on the first day and then put in a familiar pasture
on the second day. Usually, it is recommended that the foals be turned
out in pairs and allowed to settle down before adding other foals to
the field. Another management procedure that may facilitate weaning and
reduce stress is weaning foals in a place where the mares can see and
hear them. This is accomplished by placing two foals in a small pen and
putting the mares in an adjacent area separated by a safe fence. This
procedure allows the mares and foals to see and call to each other and
stops the act of nursing. In a few days, the foals become disinterested
in the mares, especially if they have been eating creep feed well
before separation. Generally, the mares and foals can be separated in
several days without placing undue stress on either group. These are
only two of the many ways that weaning can be accomplished.
real key to any weaning management program is training the foals to eat
well before weaning is initiated. The stress of separation can be
overcome; however, if that stress is combined with a lack of nutrition,
the foal's health and growth will be compromised. The younger the foal
is at weaning, the greater the attention that must be given to diet and
nutrient intake. Complete feeds are frequently utilized as creep feeds
for growing foals. These feeds usually are in the form of pellets or
mixtures of grain and chopped hay. Foals also should eat some long-
stemmed hay, even when consuming complete feeds.
weanling is more susceptible to nutritional problems than older horses.
The National Research Council recommends that creep feeds contain at
least 16 percent protein with 0.8 percent calcium and 0.6 percent
phosphorus. The importance of a balancedration cannot be
overemphasized. When foals' diets are deficient in essential minerals
and vitamins during periods of rapid growth, the potential for skeletal
problems is increased.
OF THE MARE
mare also must be watched and changes in the feeding schedule made
to encourage the drying off process. One of the easiest methods of
doing this includes decreasing grain intake and providing plenty of
exercise for the mare. Most mares calm down in a few days and are not
quite as susceptible to the several stresses of separation experienced
by foals. Sometimes it is beneficial to feed the mare a hay of only
moderate quality, especially if she is a heavy milker and the pastures
are lush. The mare's udder should be checked daily. Some fullness is to
be expected; however, excessive swelling of the udder, accompanied by
heat and pain, may indicate infection (mastitis). In these instances,
it may be necessary to do some hand milking to reduce pressure and to
start antibiotic therapy. Under the usual circumstances, it is not
advisable to hand milk the mare, since this only promotes the
production of milk. In general, the nearer the mare is to the sixth
month of lactation, the easier she will be to dry off.
soon as the foals have adjusted to the separation from the mares,
they may be moved to paddocks or pastures to socialize with each other.
Such areas should not be large enough to allow the foals to run and
injure themselves. Smaller areas will enable them to adjust to an
environment without the mares. During this post-weaning period, it is
extremely important that a balanced, high-quality ration be fed and
that a good hay be available, even with adequate pasture conditions.
Ideally, individual grain feeders should be available for each foal and
the animals kept in small groups in the paddocks. On some farms,
however, this procedure is not practical and the foals are fed in group
troughs. In these situations, it is important that the foals be
compatible and that plenty of feeding space be provided so that all
foals can eat comfortably at the same time.
important part of equine management is controlling diseases and
parasites to allow maximum development of the foal. It is the
responsibility of each owner or farm manager and veterinarian to design
the most appropriate vaccination and parasite control program for a
particular farm or situation. Most vaccine manufacturers recommend
initial vaccination at 3 months of age, followed by appropriate booster
vaccinations. In certain situations, however, the veterinarian may deem
it advisable to vaccinate some foals at an earlier age. All foals
should be immunized against tetanus and equine encephalomyelitis. In
some farm situations, it may be important to immunize foals for
strangles, rhinopneumonitis and equine influenza. Routine deworming
programs should be initiated for foals no older than 60 days of age; in
some instances, it may be preferable to deworm even at 45 or 30 days of
age. On many well-managed farms, routine anthelmintic administration is
carried out every 30 to 60 days. Periodic fecal analysis will aid
veterinarians and farm managers in designing and assessing the
effectiveness of parasite control programs. Foals fed individually can
be given a continuous dewormer with their daily feed as soon as they
are readily consuming adequate concentrate. This procedure is not quite
as practical in group feeding situations.
important point to remember about weaning is that it is a very
stressful time for foals. Anything that can be done to reduce stress
will benefit these young animals. Therefore, all vaccination, deworming
and halter breaking procedures should be accomplished long before
weaning is attempted.
also is highly recommended that young foals be handled and taught to
lead long before weaning is begun. A significant part of any young
horse's training is related to the experiences it has early in life.
The easiest time to handle and train a young foal is before it is
weaned from the mare.
is important for every horse owner and manager to realize that the
foal's experiences are lasting. While this is especially true for
positive experiences, it also applies to undesirable ones. The more
positive a foal's experiences before and immediately after weaning, the
easier it will be to handle and train that individual as a yearling and