31st Jul 2017
Long lazy summer days are now the norm as the mares and their youngsters spend the summer at grass, chewing on the variety of grasses produced by our land, rich in limestone, so essential for helping grow good strong limbs in preparation for their tasks ahead.
By Summer Solstice many of the older foals have lost their baby coats (coated) and, like young teenagers, have begun spending more and more time away from their mothers, looking for interaction with their buddies.
The mare’s milk will also begin to dry out as the season progresses and you’ll often see a bigger foal bashing the poor mam’s teets, looking for more. To which – more often than not – the cheeky rascal will be scalded with a nip on the backside!
All of these signs point towards weaning. When it’s time to move the foals into the next exciting phase of their development and let the mares earn some rest before moving into the autumn and winter months.
Weaning is fairly stress free and tried and tested methods on the farm make it as easy as possible. One of the mares usually stays with the group and becomes matriarch to two or three weaned foals while they settle down. Then once they are confident, she’ll rejoin her broodmare band whilst her own foal is comforted by his bigger team mates. In a few days all will have found their feet again and begin teasing and playing with each other. At this stage, usually gender has no bearing and colts/fillies around the same age will usually remain together until they become yearlings (one year olds) the following January.
So if you are on the stud in the next few weeks, expect to see groups like this as we work through our 50 or so foals (or weanlings as they are called in the US). We’ll begin the process this week with those born in January and February and after that move into the later age groups.
Once weaning is complete we’ll also start to feed the foals with a grain-based diet. As the summer draws on, the nutrient-rich grass needs to be supplemented and most foals will be fed around 1-2kgs of ‘hard food’ a day depending on their size. As they get older and the grass more scarce, these rations can double.
The mares will usually cease lactating a few days after weaning and remain in their groups at grass until the autumn when they too begin hard feeding. A mare can demand anything up to eight kilos a day, especially if she is carrying her next foal.
In the next few weeks we’ll look at the progression and growth patterns of the foals and check what happens next as they prepare for their futures at the racecourse.