In their natural habitat weaning is a gradual process. Foals go on suckling until the mare increasingly rejects the foal, which in nature usually happens around the eighth or ninth month. That´s generally two to three months before the birth of the new foal. Most people, breeders, wean their foals between the fourth and sixth month, at a time when the intake of milk via the udder is still fairly high and therefore the bond and relationship between dam and foal is still strong. Most of the time that´s not such a gradual process and causes more stress. Rule of thumb should be that as little as possible should change in the foal´s routine. It´s good practice therefore to wean foals in groups. If the group know each other from birth then separation from the dams and weaning will be much easier.
At Walter Van Bunder´s yard weaning takes place between the fourth and fifth month. ‘Weaning is done in three phases. The first step is to put them together in groups in a large box or barn according to age. As soon as they have settled down they go to the paddock and from there it´s off to the field. Obviously, this doesn´t work if you have only one foal, but in my experience a group of foals who know each other quickly start eating and soon adapt to the new situation.
And what about transport? Walter smiles: ‘That depends on what you have agreed, but I always try to arrange for the buyer to come and pick up the foal himself. I don´t do deliveries in America. Let´s be serious now, I transport my foals without their dams. Foals scheduled for transport are weaned five days in advance.
‘I try to keep the foal together with its dam for as long as possible’, Martine of Devos Stables tells us. ‘The actual weaning is done at five months. At least, that´s what we aim for. We wean them all at the same time, putting them in groups according to age. Foals from March and April in one group, followed by the foals from May and June. They all get together in one large group which is good for socialising. After we have separated them from the dams we keep them indoors for one or two days. After that we turn them out in the field. We usually turn them out with one dam and the last foal which helps to keep things sorted in the herd.
The Van de Lageweg family, in short VDL, is a household word in the world of breeding, stallion keeping, sport and the trade. Which is quite an understatement. On a yearly basis VDL breeds about 80 foals and purchases just as many.
The Van de Lageweg family go by one golden rule: ‘We never wean before September 1st. All our foals are at least five months old. The older they are at the time of weaning the better it is for the foal and the least trouble. When the foals are weaned we always put two foals in one stable. This might take anything from two days to one week, depending on how quickly they adapt and get along. During that time they get plenty of food, obviously. After that they are moved to a large run-in barn to form one large herd. We cannot turn the foals out in the fields over the winter period. They have to wait for Spring to get time in the field.
‘We breed some twenty to thirty foals every year’, Judy Ann Melchior states. ‘For weaning we divide them in age groups and we start after our World Championships Young Horses, say in early October and we finish early November. Knowing that our first foals arrive in April, the oldest ones are weaned at the age of six months. The groups of foals are taken to the run-in barns and the mares go back to the fields. Because we wean relatively late the dam and foal have already gradually loosened their bond which makes weaning fairly straightforward. The foals were already accustomed to eating together with their dams in the field, so the switch to other feeds has already taken place. And the groups we make are the same groups they used to live with in the fields. If they are familiar with each other they only stay in the barns for a few days. Our weaning practice resembles the gradual process of their natural habitat. After weaning they are turned out in the field, even in winter. We bring them in for the night, at daytime they have the option to stay indoors or go outside.