Study: ‘Nanny’ Horses Reduce Weaning Stress for Foals

Researchers found that the presence of “nanny” mares reduced the amount of weaning stress foals experienced.

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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 concentration, beat-to-beat interval, heart rate variability) to determine the foals’ response to weaning

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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