Our beautiful foals Diangelo and Mason are getting ready for one of the hardest stages of their young lives – weaning.
Up until now they have been almost exclusively reliant on their mothers’ milk but as they get bigger and more confident it’s time to give their dams a rest and get the colts used to standing on their own four feet.
The foals rely on milk for their nutritional needs for around the first three months, then the dependency starts to decrease over the next three as they begin to graze.
The friendly youngsters – who we have been featuring over the summer – were born just a few days apart after their mums arrived as part of a larger welfare case.
Both expectant mums were underweight and it was touch and go whether they would make it through the birth – but both did, delivering gorgeous and healthy foals.
Mason was a little skinny but with the dams getting stronger every day the foals soon began to flourish.
Now, their digestive systems have reached full maturity, they’re incredibly curious and playful and they have started showing signs of being ready to wean – nibbling grass and spending more time playing.
The Sanctuary has been weaning foals for 30 years and the process is done slowly, gently and at a pace set by every individual foal.
Although Mason and Diangelo are a similar age, their personalities are very different, so their weaning process will go at a different pace.
Diangelo is easy going and confident. Mason is cheeky and a bit of a mummy’s boy.
At this stage the Horse Care Team at the charity’s Honeysuckle Farm are gently separating them from the mares for just an hour or two at a time.
They are placed alone in a neighbouring stable – so they can see their mums at all times, as well as make contact with the pony next door. The care team then watches out for any signs of stress like calling or pacing.
Honeysuckle Farm Deputy Yard Manager Leah Brock said: “In the wild, weaning is a gradual process and we have a similar approach here at the Sanctuary.
“We ensure our foals are weaned gradually using stress free, natural methods, to prevent separation anxiety in later life.”
Not only is it upsetting for all involved if a mare or her foal become stressed, but it can also have a negative impact on the foal’s immune system and confidence as they grow into adulthood.
In the same way a secure attachment nurtures optimum brain development for a child – a foal requires similar stability through a stress free natural weaning process to enable progression into a calm resilient animal.
At the moment they are simply placed in stables next to their mums where they can still see and smell them, but they can also interact with neighbouring ponies.
Leah said: “Mason and Diangelo didn’t seem to mind at all. There was a little neighing to each other but once they realised they were so close they soon calmed down.
“The plan now is to extend the time they spend away from their mums gradually, so they don’t feel pressured, while also making sure they’ve got a lot of play time. Mason may take a little longer than Diangelo because he’s not quite as confident.”
The Sanctuary is fully equipped with larger foaling boxes and each stall has CCTV so the foals can be regularly monitored, even at night.
Head of Equine Sally Burton said: “’Thanks to our fantastic supporters we have some excellent facilities at the Sanctuary where both the mare and foal can be separated in a safe and familiar environment.
“It is so important to foal proof an area for weaning, ensuring potential hazards are removed. Wire or electric fencing should be avoided and anything that can cause injury, like feed buckets, should be removed.
“The most important thing is to plan the weaning process that suits your mare, foal and surroundings. Keeping a diary can be really useful too.”
The next stage for the foals will be to increase their handling and training, getting them used to everything they will face in the future – from the farrier to the dentist.
We’ll be following Diangelo and Mason over the winter as they spend less time with their mums – and more time getting into mischief.
Watch this space…