It is widely believed that being born is about the most stressful thing that can happen to anybody. But being weaned cannot be too far behind it in the list of traumatic experiences. Most humans come to terms with it eventually and the situation in animals is probably no different. How weaning takes place, however, can have a dramatic effect on the length of time required to overcome the shock. That this is so, at least for horses, comes from the latest work of the team of Christine Aurich at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. Weaning is least stressful if foals are given the company of familiar adult female horses, even if they are not related to them. The work is published in the current issue of the journal Stress.
In the wild, horses are usually weaned for about a year, typically until their mothers are next about to give birth. Weaning takes place gradually the mothers discourage their young from suckling and do not produce as much milk and so the foals gradually come to rely on other sources of food. Contrast this idyllic picture with the situation of domestic animals, which are generally removed from their mothers abruptly and at a much earlier age. The young animal is suddenly deprived of its main source of nourishment as well as of the emotional security that the mothers provide. And the mothers no longer have young to care for, which as any human mother will confirm represents a significant change in lifestyle.
With increasing attention being paid to animal welfare, new and more "humane" weaning methods are being gradually introduced. Nevertheless, there have to date been relatively few investigations of whether the new methods actually improve the situation. Christine Aurich and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) have filled this gap in our knowledge by comparing the levels of stress suffered by foals when weaned by different methods.
|Contact: Christine Aurich|
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna