Last Friday, October 30, 2010 we separated the foals (baby horses) from their dams (mothers).
At some point in time a mare would naturally wean her foal. But we have seen older horses come and nurse from their mothers. Usually we wean our foals at between 5 and 6 months of age.
When we separate them, we attempt to have the mares where their foals cannot see them and vice versa.
We usually put the dams and foals together in a large field after the foals are fairly sturdy on their legs. So the foals all know each other and have established their own order of ranking in their mini herd. Their dams also know each other and their herd rank; and they start teaching the youngsters herd manners.
S. Valhalla (Hal), when he was alive, was the perfect babysitter- leader for the year’s foal crop. From the time that they were weaned, until the next group was ready the following year, he would teach them more herd manners.
After Valhalla died, S. Selebrity (Seppy) held the job. Seppy was not as patient with the frolicking of the youngsters as Hal had been. But he got the job done with a minimum of unhappiness.
Since Seppy has been gone, we have tried some other methods.
This year we gave the foals to the senior mares: UC Cinnamon (Cinnie) (UVM Viking x UC Spicy Lass, our foundation mare)(1979); Sleipnir Constellation (Connie) (B-L Rhinestone Kid x UC Spicy Lass)(1983); and Coeur d’Alene (Alene) (Breezeway x Oak Hill Perfect Pic, a Funquest/Mor-Ayr Supreme mare) (1988). All three of these fine quality mares have had important Produce (their foals) for our breeding farm.
One has to think twice about putting young colts, who have not been gelded as yet, in with mares. However, none of the mares can carry to term any longer; and we had retired them. I do not recommend doing this with mares that could become “in foal”. We know that even if they were impregnated by one of the young colts, they would not carry to term. Of course, they are not cycling, and I do not believe that they have for awhile; and they informed the colts to stay away!!!
One problem with this system is that we feed the senior mares a senior grain and a mineral supplement for their joints, which the foals do not need. And the foals get a regular grain, which if the mares try to claim some, will be more difficult for them to chew and digest.
So far the procedure is working out. We put two separated feeders in their large paddock. And each “set” is staying to their own feed.
The colts have not been calling for their dams very much. And the dams are “drying out” (drying up their milk supply).
In about a week, we will return the mares to the main field (pasture). The problem there is that the foals will only be separated from their mothers by about a 16 foot aisle. So, the dams and foals could end up running the fence a lot, tiring them, or trying to break through to each other. So, that will be a stage to watch carefully. Presumably the whole process will go smoothly.
In the “old days” we didn’t have as many paddocks, and we stalled our horses more. It was much more traumatic on everyone, especially the foals, to be confined in a space with no company. This system is much more natural and humane, and yields a lot less crying for “Mama”.