My Canadian Sport Horse mare foaled 10 weeks ago. She has always been an easy keeper, and now she is parlaying plenty of energy into milk production, where she could rival a dairy cow. Even though she is lactating and her pasture is stressed due to drought, the mare is gaining weight on a diet of pasture and a ration balancer (2 lb or 0.9 kg). The colt is a chunky-monkey and he’s growing fast, so I was thinking of weaning him early to try to temper growth a little. How early can I wean him?
You are wise to address this situation sooner rather than later. If you are not already doing so, routinely assess your foal’s weight and height using a tape-measure technique. Having these records will allow you to pinpoint any abrupt acceleration or deceleration in growth, which is sometimes difficult to detect when you see the foal daily. Aiming for steady growth is a sound strategy to keep orthopedic growth problems from occurring.
Average milk production for a 1,100-lb (500-kg) mare during the first and second month of lactation is approximately 35 lb (16 kg) per day. Milk production during the third and fourth months drops a little with an average of 33 lb (15 kg) per day. So your mare is likely still producing plenty of milk.
Weaning foals at three or four months of age has not shown any negative effects. In some management systems, this is the standard time for weaning. When weaned before three months of age, a decrease in growth rate may be seen initially, but this usually self-corrects within three to four weeks of weaning. For this reason, I would not recommend weaning prior to three months. Your veterinarian, who has had personal contact with both the mare and foal, will be able to advise you best on when to wean.
From a nutritional standpoint, if the colt is not already consuming a concentrate, introduce a feed, one designed for foals, prior to weaning. Generally, these feeds should not be fed greater than 1 lb (0.45 kg) of feed per month-age of foal. Using this as a guideline, a three-month old foal would receive no more than 3 lb (1.4 kg) of feed a day. Though this is a typical guidelines, follow the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations.
Based on the colt’s body condition, a genetic predisposition to low metabolism, and rapid growth, you may not need to feed very much. In that case, you could provide a small amount of ration balancer to make up for the shortfall in nutrients he would be receiving if he were consuming a full measure of feed. Without knowing which products you will use, it is not possible to provide exact recommendations. You will need to devise a feeding system in which the foal has access to the concentrate but the mare does not; this might be as simple as tying the mare while feeding the foal.
While the foal is still nursing, I recommend introducing omega-3 fatty acids to your mare’s diet to provide anti-inflammatory and immunity benefits for both. Feeding DHA and EPA omega-3s in the form of fish oil is superior to the ALA or plant-based omega-3s. ALA must be converted to DHA and EPA in order to be utilized. Avoiding this conversion process by feeding EO•3 fish oil is an effective way to provide multiple benefits. Adding 2-3 oz of EO•3 per day will promote optimal health of mare and foal.
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