Foals on their own feet

August 20, 2020
For foals it’s very important to have a playmate to grow up with.
For the whole summer the foals have been in the field with their mums. The autumn is the time when they are separated from their dams and have to start looking after themselves. The full process of weaning is an important phase in a foal’s life. Veterinarian Annemiek Oomen provides a few tips for how best to tackle this process of weaning.

Six months

Young foals still drink a lot from the dams. When the foal grows a bit older and also starts to graze, suckling gets less frequent and it becomes less dependent on its dam. Opinions differ about the ideal age for permanent separation of foal and mum. Generally, people stick to a minimum age of four months, but for the foal’s development it’s better to leave it with the mare for at least six months. Mares living in a natural habitat will stop nursing their foals when they are around six to twelve months old, especially when the mare is in foal again.

Gradual weaning

Weaning can be done abruptly or gradually. Abrupt separation of mare and foal generates a lot of stress, which could trigger the development of stomach ulcers or unfavourable behaviour in the foal. Moreover, it leaves the mare more prone to udder infections (mastitis). Gradual weaning can be done by separating the dam and foal for a short time, for example by putting the foal in an adjoining stable. The time of separation can then gradually be increased until they can be kept apart for the entire night. It is necessary to give the foal a companion so that they are not alone. To make sure the foal doesn’t lose condition and to meet the foal’s protein requirement it is advisable to feed some foal cubes. Obviously, foals always need to be given access to sufficient fibre foods.

Ask for advice

Annemiek Oomen stresses that newly weaned foals have to be closely monitored. Stomach ulcers in foals are quite common. Sudden and major changes in feeding regimes and stress, like abrupt weaning, increase the risk of stomach ulcers. When a foal starts salivating, grinding its teeth, is drinking infrequently or often lies down, that could be an indication of stomach ulcers. In that case it is important to bring in a veterinarian who can give advice about management and medicinal support.
Veterinarian Annemiek Oomen completed her studies at the Veterinary Faculty in Gent (Belgium). After an internship in Emmeloord she has been employed as an equine veterinarian by the Faculty of Veterinary Science in Utrecht for a period of eight years. Since five years now Annemiek has been working at the Animal Clinic Den Ham where she conducts many surgical interventions