It’s September, and the first lot of early foals born in February and March have turned five months and are weaned and roaming their thickly hedged and tree-lined paddock in a mischievous gang.
Weaning is a gradual process which starts at around three months, with the introduction of a special youngstock cube mixed with chaff, a selection of chopped up dried grasses and alpha, which helps stop them bolting their feed. With abundant, good grass, the mares only need a small quantity of a nutrient dense feed with minimum calories. So, to stop the mares eating more than they need, the feed for the foals is put inside a creep feeder, a low metal ring or portable fence with foal-sized openings, which the foals can fit under or through, but the mares cannot.
These foals are all young Thoroughbreds bred for jumps racing, who are aiming to first get to a racecourse in their four year old year. We supplement their natural summer grass to encourage them to grow that little bit taller and stronger so that the bloodstock agents will be more inclined to buy them at the sales – small horses can make perfectly good racehorses, but the buyers are mostly after tall, well matured youngsters with lots of winning racehorses in their extended families. To have any chance of making a profit when it comes to the sales, it’s all about size and pedigree.
Once a foal is five months, is eating well and is spending less and less time at its dam’s side, we catch the mare and lead her out of the field, to the other end of the farm, out of earshot. Within a very short time, most foals have settled back with their mates and all is calm. The mares will often pace the field they have been moved to for the first couple of days and this, combined with reduced grass for a week or two, helps dry up their milk. The field group sizes vary but six or eight mares with foals at foot in a group is ideal, with two or three mares being taken out at a time. The group is then left to properly settle again for a couple of weeks before the next mares are removed, with the aim of making the whole process as stress-free as possible.
This is also the time of year when we start looking towards the autumn sales and helping our clients analyse their broodmare bands. It’s the time to consider whether any mares have been underperforming with offspring either not making a profit at the sales or, ultimately, not winning races. Time to decide whether there are mares that should be sold or bought, always with an eye to improving the quality of the mares being bred from.
Ultimately, September is the month for the final tidying of both paddocks and buildings to get ready for the winter and, whilst we’d like to be picking blackberries and sloes, we spend most of the time praying for a long dry Autumn so the horses can stay out as long as possible.
By: Lucy Procter