Science & Equine

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Written by Debby Gudden
Posted in Behavior

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The effect of a two-stage weaning method in horses

Many horses are weaned through abrupt physical separation of foal and mare. This abrupt separation has an effect on the well-being of both foal and mare, due to behavioural and physiological signs of stress. An alternative to abrupt weaning is a gradual weaning method. This study aimed to investigate the effect of a two-stage method to approach weaning stress.

The mares with their foals were divided in a control group (weaned by abrupt physical separation) or in the two-stage method. Behaviours of both mare and foal were recorded for eight hours a day. Heart rates and global position were recorded on foals and faecal samples were collected of mares and foals for cortisol analysis.

Foals in the control group showed an increase in vocalization, running, aggression and total distance travelled. Lying time was significantly less in all foals prior to physical separation. Mares did not show any difference in lying behaviour between treatments or upon physical separation. Two-stage mares vocalized less frequently than control mares. Faecal cortisol concentration increased in both mares and foals of both groups.

The authors concluded that weaning by (abrupt) physical separation causes behavioural and physiological signs of stress. The large variety in behavioural and physiological responses may indicate the role of personality and attachment theory. However, a gradual weaning method with the use of an udder cover provides minimal benefit.

> From: Merkies et al., Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 183 (2016) 68-76. All rights reserved to Elsevier B.V.. Click here for the online summary.

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