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Domestic Foal Weaning: Need for Re-Thinking Breeding Practices?

Abstract : Simple Summary: Under domestic conditions, most foals are artificially weaned before the time of natural weaning, usually at 4 to 7 months of age. Artificial weaning is recognized as a major source of stress that can also lead to long-lasting deleterious effects. This common practice seriously impairs the welfare of foals. To date, there is still little data on the natural process of weaning and the immediate consequences for both partners. After reviewing the current scientific knowledge on this subject, we present the results of a longitudinal study carried out around the weaning period on mares and their foals kept under naturalistic conditions. We found that most foals were weaned spontaneously between 9 and 10 months of age, and overall, that natural weaning induced no stress response in either partner and no sign of rejection from the dam. The findings of this study can provide new insights on the management of weaning in breeding farms, and even lead to reconsider what is commonly practiced. Abstract: Artificial weaning is a standard practice known to be one of the most stressful events in a domestic foal's life. Research has mainly focused on ways to alleviate weaning stress. However, there is still a need for more detailed research on what should constitute best practices with respect to animal welfare. The aim of this review is to address this issue by examining the natural weaning process. We first provide an overview of the scientific literature on the natural temporal dynamics of the dam-offspring bond in horses: it is to be noted that the natural process of weaning is little documented, individual variations have been poorly investigated and immediate effects of weaning on the mare-foal relationship remain unexplored. To partly address these gaps, we performed a study around the weaning period on 16 mare-foal pairs kept with minimal human interference. Most foals were weaned spontaneously when 9-10 months old, with individual variations mainly due to the conception rate of mares. Natural weaning induced no stress response in either partner and was performed without clear signs of rejection by the dams either just before or after. We lastly open up the discussion on the need for rethinking weaning practices under domestic conditions.
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Séverine Henry, Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, Aziliz Klapper, Julie Joubert, Gabrielle Montier, et al.. Domestic Foal Weaning: Need for Re-Thinking Breeding Practices?. Animals, MDPI, 2020, 10 (2), pp.361. ⟨10.3390/ani10020361⟩. ⟨hal-02500885⟩

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