Weaning Foals: Underestimated Stress and its Long-Term Consequences

Published on 2024-02-26

Weaning is a crucial stage in a foal's life, marking the transition from maternal dependence to independence. However, this natural process can be a source of intense stress for the young horse, with potentially serious consequences for its long-term health and well-being.

The natural weaning process

In nature, foal weaning is a gradual process that takes place over a year or more. If the mare is not pregnant, the process can take even longer. The foal begins to wean when the mother's milk gradually dries up. At the same time, the mother begins to push her foal away, encouraging him to eat more and more solid food and to establish social bonds with other foals. This gradual process allows the foal to adapt to its new diet, find its place in the herd and gradually detach itself from maternal protection.

Weaning in modern breeding: a source of stress

In modern breeding, it is common practice to wean foals from their mothers at the age of six months. This abrupt transition can be very stressful for the foal. Not only does he lose his usual food source, but he is also deprived of the protection of his mother and his familiar social group. What's more, weaning is often associated with a move to a new environment, where the young horse has to cope with hierarchical struggles and wait his turn to eat and drink.

Weaning stress manifests itself in loud neighing and frequent movement. Stress levels can be measured by the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in the foal's saliva. High levels of cortisol can weaken the foal's immune system, increase susceptibility to infection and impair bone growth. In addition, behavioral studies have shown that certain behavioral disorders, such as tics, can be triggered by stressful situations such as abrupt weaning.

The Consequences of Weaning on Gastric Health

A doctoral thesis from the University of Hanover (Dahlkamp, 2009) revealed alarming figures on the impact of weaning on foals' gastric health. Before weaning, 48% of foals showed lesions of the gastric mucosa. Fourteen days after weaning, this figure rose to 95%.

Source : https://www.swiss-equestrian.ch/fr/Cheval/Actualites/Toutes-les-news-1/Sevrage-les-consequences-d-un-stress-souvent-sous-estime-br.html?fbclid=IwAR1slSjbfeMnr4BTCOMkpXPXX4CbQMQMADE-_8KavcIixYOlC7NRM15ph7s#.XcrypgRPQEL.facebook

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