Friday, August 8, 2014

It's time to rethink the early weaning of Beth Benard (published in the Horse Journal)

Overlooking outright cruelty, our caretaking has led to health issues that seldom occurred in the horse's natural state, including colic, ulcers and laminitis. Many of our decisions regarding the maintenance of horses have been made with our own convenience at the forefront. One that receives little discussion is weaning.  

While there is little published research to either support or refute early weaning, recent studies are now coming down, albeit tentatively, on the side of delayed weaning. Let's call "early" those foals weaned at three to four months, and "delayed" as six months or later. We'll look at the arguments for early weaning and see what science now has to say. 

Foals in the wild remain with their mothers for extended periods. If the dam is pregnant, she will wean her foal herself at about 10 months of age, allowing for the production of colostrum for the new foal she's carrying. If she isn't pregnant, she may permit her foal to nurse well into the yearling year. (If she's got a cheeky, randy colt by her side, the herd stallion will likely run him off into a bachelor herd at some point in his yearling year.) In a study of zebras in the wild, natural weaning occurred in pregnant zebras between days 243 and 355 after foaling.

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