I don't like playing god....Don't worry i don't have a god complex, just that on the farm, someone has to make the tough decisions, which animal gets to live, which gets culled, when to separate mother and child. Who gets to stay and who will be sold. I would rather not do some chores, i hate having to catch a goose or chicken to be killed, who am i to say which should be killed for a dinner, and which deserves to go on to live another day... i plan to be absent the day the sheep, who i secretly am quite fond of, and who follows my horses around like there her flock, is to be killed.
This week's tough decisions, were choosing a goose to be made into a friends dinner and separating Fern, the wild horse and her foal, Sonny . Weaning, its always difficult, i never want to be the one to do it. Sonny no longer gets to be with his mother, no comforting warm milk to drink, no mother to calm him, watch him, stand over him, take him to the safest pasture or keep him out of the rain. his days of carefree bliss in the paddock without a care in the world are gone.
I think this is one of the hardest weaning, because not only is there a devastated weanling, there is also a very devastated mother. Fern has been the most devoted, most loving, most successful mother horse we have ever had. i know your not meant to put human emotion on animals, but Fern loves her child. while the other mares don't seem to mind there babies out of sight and away form them, she hates any separation from her darling boy. She keeps him close, and every time he wants milk, she stops and as Sonny got bigger, lifted her belly higher and higher so he could drink. in fact Fern was so good at producing milk for him, that Sonny has become the chubbiest, roundest,most well developed young horse we have ever had, it also earned Fern the nickname 'diary cow'.
But Fern really did take exceptional care of her baby. Always in the paddock they were together, she kept him close by, and they actually seemed to enjoy each others company, not the case with some other mare foal combo's we have here. If it rained she took him to shelter, if it flooded she took him to high ground, while he slept she stood over him, and every morning she would let him clean out her feed bowl before licking the last little bits out herself. Even more amazing was the fact that if they ever did get separated, Fern would give a certain loud neigh that i swear was her saying "stay put, I'm coming to find you!", and no matter what the other horses might be doing, or how far away he was, Sonny would not move a muscle until, Fern came bustling aournd the paddock to find him.
All this is over now, as Ferns big handsome boy has been taken away from her, i didn't want to do it to her, but weaning wasn't going to be happen by itself. I feel guilty every time i look and see her lonely vigil, as she keeps watching for him and pacing the fence line calling for her son and hoping to see him coming back down the drive to her. As if to say "my baby, my baby, where is my baabbbyy..." her heartwrenching screams echo'ed down the valley all night.
Usually, as my horses run in a big herd, of mares & foals, and a couple of my big riding horses, the kindest and most stress free way to wean, has to be simply to remove the mares, one at a time when the time comes. This leaves the foals with horses they know and a setting they have been in their entire life. They barely even seem to register there mothers absence. This didn't work for Sonny however. he like his milk, and is used to having it on demand, when ever he wants it. Finding himself without his mother, he galloped around checking every other horse in the paddock, desperatly looking to find a drink. In fact he got so pushy with one of the other foals, i was worried my stallion prospect, wold be left without his stallion parts intact. so i came up with a plan B.
Fern got to be back with her friends, and it would be Sonny that had to move. Horses need company, and weanling's especially benefit from having a good calm role model and companion during this stressful time. Weanling's also need good strong fences, as some will try anything to get back with their mothers. My plan B, was put Sonny in with the wild stallion. If the fences could keep Matai the stallion in, then they would keep Sonny in. It was also solving the problem of poor Matai's loneliness, and i new he'd set a good example for young boy to follow.
i know what people say about stallions, Ive posted about it before, and I'm still very strongly of the belief that any horse is what you make it out to be. If you treat your stallion like a wild savage, and never let him socialize, he probably will be an aggressive monster. But Matai has always been a well mannered social creature, in his days in the wild he would have run with a bachelor herd of males, so i very much doubted he would do anythign to harm Sonny.
He didn't, when i called him, leading Sonny behind me up to his paddock. He let out a great whinny of greeting, and came ruining to the gate to see us. Head to shoulder they both sniffed each other, Sonny reverting back to his shy self , tucking his tail and not really looking, and Matai carefully examining the newcomer with interest.
in the paddock together, Matai examined him further, checking between poor Sonny legs just make sure it was another male horse. that was it, as far as the wild stallion was concerned this newhorse was alright, and defantly no threat. Sonny went back to screaming for his mother and running the fence line. after a half hearted attempt to follow him, the wild stallion went back to his hay pile, and quietly watched the youngster, waiting for him to settle. Their was no display of aggression, no trying to establish dominance, just a calm acceptance of the new horse. So much for ferocious stallions.
Checking on them before i went to bed found a very subdued Sonny standing pressed right up against the stallion, literally with their bodies touching side by side in the dark, just like he would do his mother, they quietly grazed together in the dark. The wild stallion just looked content to have a friend again.
i took a few quick pics today. just to show what great friends they now are..
Sonny standing with the Stallion, both covered in mud in the afternoon sun. This is Matai's favorite spot, he stands in the bushes and from here surveys his realm and its coming and goiings