Weaning Foals the Natural Way
by Pat Parelli on Jan 31, 2024
By Pat Parelli
Who has ever had an exciting dream of breeding your mare to a great stallion, or at least the best one you could afford? After approximately 11 months, 11 days, and 11 hours, the foal hits the ground. Well, within the next six months, we're going to have to make another decision, "When do we wean this foal? How do we wean this foal? Where do we wean this foal?"
It's an interesting subject. So when I often say, "Keep it natural." I guess we have to start with, "What is natural?" In a wild herd of horses, mares will wean their foals naturally. The colts will go with the bachelor herd, the fillies will stay with the mare herd or the harem until it gets too big, and then it'll split off. This is nature's way of keeping genetics going in the right direction. It is also the natural process of procreation and weaning. So, the lesson we can learn is that weaning is an obvious but slow, gradual process.
The best luck I've had with natural weaning is when I have invested time observing the mares and the foals. They should be comfortable spending plenty of time away from each other. When a foal is days old, the mare will not let it out of her sight and wants to be within touching distance. About four or five months later, the mares and the foals will be at opposite ends of the pasture. I observe these social behaviors, and this is an indication that we're getting close to the time that weaning could happen naturally.
What has worked best for me over the past four decades is to put the mare and the foal in a corral next to each other, where the mare can sidle up to the foal at the fence, and the foal can still suckle when she wants. This way, the mare doesn't get mastitis; she gets milked out gradually. You can move her over one corral four or five days later, and there doesn't seem to be much fuss about this. Usually, within a week, you can separate them, so this gradual process allows the foal to have a way to suckle, either over a low panel or through a fence. The mare will want release, and this incremental process will benefit both mom and baby, lowering the chances of health problems, stress and anxiety, and even potential injuries. Remember, keeping it natural is a lifestyle choice, and here at Parelli, we are all about helping you do that in your everyday horse life.