Equine Science Update
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Foal behaviour in winter.
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Do foals suffer in a cold environment? Research from Finland suggests that, provided they have access to a sheltered sleeping accommodation, weanling foals appear to cope well with temperatures as low as to -20ºC.

The study, by Dr Elena Autio and Dr Minna-Liisa Heiskanen at the University of Kuopio, sought to establish some basic facts about the behaviour of weanling foals in the winter.

Ten foals (seven American Standardbreds and three Finnish cold-blooded) of average age about 6 months were used in the study. They were loose - housed with free access to a paddock.

The foals were housed in a sleeping hall, an insulated building with a deep litter bed of peat and straw. They had access, through a shelter, to a paddock. Each foal was fed individually in the sleeping hall. They received concentrates three times a day and silage twice a day. They had access at all times to timothy hay in racks outside the sleeping hall. Dr Autio emphasizes that the feeding of the foals was planned carefully and the effect of cold weather on maintenance energy need was taken into account.

On 23 occasions between December and March, the researchers recorded the foals` behaviour over 24-hour periods. They noted the location of each foal and what it was doing every 15 minutes.

Overall, the foals spent about 43% of the time in the sleeping hall, 52% out in the paddock and 5% in the shelter that separated the paddock and sleeping hall. The foals spent most time in the sleeping hall during feeding times and at night, although they did go outside at night. They rested mostly at night.

The foals spent most time outside when the temperature was between -5ºC and -10ºC. At slightly higher temperatures, (0 to -5ºC) they actually spent more time inside. Dr Autio explains that this was probably because those temperatures coincided with windy and rainy conditions.

When the temperature fell below -10ºC the foals spent about 10% more time inside the sleeping hall, but they did not spend more time lying down or huddling together. The time spent inside did not increase further as the temperature continued to fall.

The foals were most active during the daytime, they rested most at night and they tended to eat morning and evening. Overall they spent third of the time eating. This is less than recorded in some other studies. Dr Autio suggests that this is probably because of the high quality hay and silage fed. The foals remained in good body condition throughout the study.

The researchers noticed no obvious changes in behaviour to indicate that the foals were suffering from the cold. The time spent on different activities did not differ between winter and late winter. The foals did not spend more time eating hay at lower temperatures; neither did they become less active. They showed no sign of shivering.

Dr Autio concludes that on the basis of their behaviour, the weanling foals did not appear to suffer from the cold environment.

For more details see: Foal behaviour in a loose housing/paddock environment during winter.E Autio, M-L Heiskanen. Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2005) 91, 277 - 288.
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