Are you expecting new foals on the ground next spring? Then consider finding a "nanny" horse for them at weaning time.
According to a new study by Austrian researchers, foals cope with the stress of weaning better when they’re accompanied by mares other than their dams before and after weaning. These "nanny" horses shouldn’t have foals of their own, the researchers noted, and should be in the same herd as the weanling from the time that baby is born.
"If you reduce the stress in the first days after weaning, you also reduce the risk that foals injure themselves," said Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, professor at the Graf Lehndorff Institute at the University of Veterinary Sciences in Vienna and senior author on the study.
In the experiment the research team divided 17 Warmblood foals into three weaning groups. They were either weaned abruptly into an all-foal group, weaned consecutively as dams were removed from the group over a period of several days, or weaned into a group with other foals and two unrelated mares that had been with the foals since birth–the "nanny" group. The researchers measured foal behavior, locomotion, weight, and specific indicators of stress (salivary cortisol [a stress hormone] concentration, beat-to-beat interval, heart rate variability) to determine the foals’ response to weaning.
The "nanny" group of foals showed the least amount of stress from weaning. Over the first few days of weaning, these foals whinnied and paced less and ate and slept more, compared to the foals in other groups. They also produced less cortisol in their