Friday, August 30, 2013

Testing, testing....

If any of you are interested in having your hay or pasture tested, but aren't sure how to go about it, the best place to start is with your local feed mill.  Chances are, they will tell you that they mostly work with dairy farms and don't know much about horses.  This is because the dairy industry is light years ahead of the horse industry when it comes to nutrition.  They are using science to get the most out of every cow while most horse people make feed choices based on emotion, advice from friends, trainers, barn owners, etc or what the supplement catalogs say.  Creating custom rations for dairy farms is what these guys do because they know that it is the only way to really get the nutrition right and if they don't get it right, the farm cows and the farm will fail.  They have the tools to do the same for horses even if you have to talk them into it.  Don't be put off.

All of the soil and feed testing is exactly the same whether you are feeding cows, horses, sheep, donkeys, etc.  Even interpreting the results is mostly a matter of comparing the findings with the NRC tables for horses (or donkeys, sheep, etc) rather then cows.  It's getting the raw data in the first place that you really need and these are the people who are most likely to help.

Once you get past the whole horse vs. cow thing, they will usually come right out to your farm (free of charge!) to do soil tests and collect your forage samples.  You will have to pay for the actual tests, but the price is the same as if you collected the samples and sent them in yourself, at least it is here.  Doing things this way, you get the advantage of a pasture expert who has the right tools to collect samples properly and at least understands the soils and how minerals interact.  A maintenance ration for a dry cow and for a horse are not that dissimilar after all.  They do this because, once you create a balanced ration, they want you to buy it from them, which isn't a bad thing.  You have to get the stuff somewhere and buying it from a local business who in turn buys their commodities from local farms is what keeps communities alive.  It's also likely to cost a fraction of what you'll spend out of a catalog or tack store.

So here's how it works:  I call the store, in my case it's a company called  McDowell & Walker and speak with the feed specialist.  If you are in the five county area surrounding Chenango county in upstate NY, these folks are probably your best option.  I have found them to be very helpful so far.  The feed guy tells me he can come out to the farm the very next day...

we do a pasture walk, examine what's growing there and collect samples.

Then we head down to Riding Buddy's place to check out her pasture and collect the hay samples as she has some of all of our hay in her barn..  To get accurate hay samples, you need a hay corer, which is the tool you can see here...

along with some elbow grease (or a really good drill:).

RB has hay from several sources and we decided to have them all tested because we really need to know exactly what these critters are eating.
Once all the samples have been collected, they get sent off to Equi-Analytical for testing.  Anyone, anywhere can send samples here, just check their site for details if you are interested.  They also sell the corer, but at $120 it's nice to have McDowell & Walker come out with theirs.

Once you have the data, is when you might want to get in touch with extension agencies and Ag. schools with equine programs to get some help in interpreting the results.  There are also a couple of commercial sites that will work up an analysis for you that you can then take back to the feed mill so that they can use the information to custom mix a ration balancer for you.

We should have all of our results back early next week.  I post the info once I get it sorted out.  We are anxious to to get some real information to work with rather then keeping up the guessing game we have been playing for so long.

I have been toying with the idea of offering ration analysis as a means of generating a little more income.  Would anyone out there be interested?  I do have a background in all of this as I have an AAS degree in Saddle Horse Management and a Bachelors in Ag. Technology.  I am rusty in all of it as I haven't sat down to do the math in a long while, but it is coming back and I have been delving deep into all of the latest research (research being one of the things I am very good at).  I'd love to hear your feedback.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Not enough to go around

When there are a million things to write about and not enough time to do it, what do you do?

Post a picture of the cat.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mask Avenger

Do you ever wonder why my donkeys don't get to have fly masks?  The flies are terrible this year and poor Emma is particularly bothered by them, even though I do everything I can think of to keep them off of her.  I did get out an old mask and try...

but it didn't go so good...


Monday, August 26, 2013

DIY Donkey Driving

"Yo Ma!"

"Yes Emma?"

"When are we gonna practice driving again?  Things are getting awful boring around here."

"Well Em, I just haven't had the time.  Besides, I thought you'd had enough excitement to last a while with those wasps and all.  There's also the little matter of no harness yet as well...."

"Ah phooey Ma, I don't want to hear any more excuses!  I'm not afraid of any stinkin' wasps.  You're just gonna have to make some time and as for the harness...

I got that covered.  I know, I know.  It's always good to have the right tool for the job, but if you haven't got it, make do!  Isn't that what you're always telling me?  I've got this all figured out...

just pick up the harness, put your head down and pull....

Easy peesy.  You humans always go and make things more complicated than they need to be.  I keep telling ya, you really ought to learn how to be more like donkeys."

Feed and Feet

It 's been a while since we had any foot updates.  It's not because I haven't been working on feet, thinking about feet and studying feet, just the opposite!  One of the big battles this summer has been keeping things together in the incessant wet we have had.  It's been dry, finally, for about two weeks and what a difference two weeks can make.  I see improvement everywhere just because it quit raining for a bit.  The other big, huge, monster thing that is overfilling all the space in my brain is nutrition and how it relates to the chronic hoof problems so prevalent here. 

I am not going to go into agonizing detail here, I don't want to make anyone's eyes cross, but I know several people are having similar troubles and are interested so a few important points...

The number one most important fact to know about about equine nutrition is that no one can know exactly what is in your feed unless the feed is tested.  I don't care who you ask, unless your feed (and by feed, I mean hay, grain, pasture, supplements...all of it has to be included.) has an analysis to go with it, any advice you get will be based on generalities and averages.  If you are trying to balance a hay ration, you need a hay test, if you have pasture you need a forage sample.

The grass growing in my pasture, with a soil pH of 4.6 is very, very different from the grass growing three miles away at Farm Buddy's place with a soil pH of 5.5.  Your vet or farrier may be able to give you good advice based on what has worked on other farms in your area, but you and they can't know unless you test.

The trouble with testing is that once you get the results, you have to be able to interpret them and if you have never done that, it can be a bit daunting.  It does involve math.  I think I could write a (hopefully) simple way to explain how to read your hay analysis, but I don't want to unless there is interest.  If you have an analysis and are struggling with it, let me know.  I'll see what I can come up with.

When it comes to understanding exactly what your horse needs and what he is actually getting, feed and supplement manufacturers are NOT your friend.  To be fair, many of them are trying to sell decently made products, but every commercial feed is aimed at the lowest common denominator.  What I mean by that is, a ration that is balanced for Tessa, living in upstate NY, might kill a horse in Kansas.   Since nearly all of our supplements are sold nationwide, without regard to how different every area is, they are made to offer a little of everything without killing anybody.  Fortunately, our horse's nutritional needs are generally met a lot more easily then most of us believe so this haphazard appraoch to feed mostly works. You are probably paying through the nose for what amounts to little more than a bucket of salt, but if it makes you feel good and you can afford it....

We horse people are a true cash-cow for the makers of supplements and the deliberately misleading label information is there to keep the cow milking.  That said, if your animals are experiencing any kind of chronic hoof trouble...thrush that won't go away no matter what noxious chemical is used to treat it; tender feet; chronic white line; thin shelly walls, etc, etc, etc...a thorough feed analysis is in order.

For myself, I know that I have had trouble with every horse who has ever lived on this piece of land.  Even horses who I had owned for many years with no problems, had trouble when I moved here.  I have been struggling with this since I moved in.  I have talked to vets and farriers and nothing (including denial) has worked.  Now I am testing, analyzing, talking to pasture experts and things are starting to come together.  I am still working on getting all the tests I need to get true balance, but I have a fair idea of what some of the trouble is.  The biggest problems I have identified so far are:
  • Extreme iron overload - this by itself can cause all of the hoof troubles I listed along with a host of other troubles that all affect the feet
  • Very low levels of copper and zinc which is made worse by the iron, it inhibits absoption of both minerals.
  • Horribly low soil pH.  The list of troubles this causes is too long to write.  Suffice it to say that it makes all of the above even worse.
Most people are not going to need to go to the lengths that I am.  A basic hay test and reading the labels on the backs of your feed will probably be enough.  When I get around to providing updates on all of the feet I am working on, you'll understand better why I seem a bit obsessed with all of this.  I have good reason.


A Ramsey update:  The donkey feet have been hit especially hard by the constant wet and I am very glad that they have a dry barn.  The tough thing about trimming their feet is that their soles grow faster then their hoof walls.  Or, I should say, thier walls wear faster then their extremely tough soles do in this soft ground.  Their soles are meant to be worn down by dry, abrasive ground.  That hasn't been happening so I have to do it for them.  For horses, I say leave the soles alone, but that does not work for donkeys in NY.

Mostly, I am pleased with Ramsey's foot.  We're getting closer to good balance...

It is this wall separation that I am still fighting and this is where the wet ground and probable mineral imbalances really makes things tough. 

I actually took these photos about two weeks ago and the two weeks of dry has helped this immensely.  Unfortunately it is supposed to rain tonight.  Arrrrgh.

Still, the foot is sound and functioning well and not half bad looking anymore...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Scene of the Crime

I went out this afternoon to see what I could do about the wasps on my hiking/riding trails.  I almost didn't find the first nest on my initial pass through, but I found the remains on the second pass.  I was right about it being a paper wasp nest.  By the time I got there, some critter had taken care of the problem for me.  This is all that was left of it...

along with some bits of confetti with a big 'ole hoof print right in the middle of it.
I suspect that a raccoon or something knocked the nest out of the tree.  Later, Tessa came along and put her foot right through the center of it, followed by Ramsey parking himself on top of the squashed nest in order to get at a particularly tasty beech leaf.  Whatever it was that knocked the nest down came back sometime afterwards and ate/shredded whatever was left.  Raccoons, skunks and bears love to eat bees and will knock a nest down like this in order to get at them.  I could almost feel sorry for the wasps.  But not quite.

As for the second nest, they are holed up under a half rotted fallen log.  In order to get rid of them, I'd have to get into that fortress and I don't see how without a big fight.  They are on a bit of trail that I used to use, but abandoned because of a huge mud hole.  We were on that trail only as an escape route from the first wasps so I have decided to just leave them be.  They will be gone in a few weeks anyways and with the other trail cleared, we can avoid them.  I don't think it is worth the fight....Although, if I have any more trouble from them, I may just find myself a flamethrower!

Emma's nose looks much better today, just terribly itchy now...

I can't quite tell as she is not too keen on having it examined, but she might have actually gotten stung inside her nose.  At and rate, her mouth and teeth seem to be itchy as well.  Which is what traffic cones are for...

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Nose Knows

Thank you everybody for all of your kind comments and emails, I really appreciate all the good thoughts and suggestions.  Everyone is OK here after all of our fun with wasps or hornets.  I am not sure which they are.  The first nest we tangled with may actually have been a tree nest that fell down, I have a brief impression of a paper nest as I was going over the top of it, but it is all a muddle and I didn't have time to go out today to check.  Whatever they were, they were very large (almost double the size of a honeybee), dark colored and downright mean. They were not yellow jackets or any other wasp I am familiar with.  The second nest that we hit must have been something even meaner though as this is what poor Emma's nose looks like today...

It's no wonder she wasn't breathing properly, this had to be extremely painful.  I guess all I can say is that I am glad we didn't all get multiple stings from this monster.  I think we might have all been in real trouble if we had.

I am going to put on my bee suit and go out and try to find this nest tomorrow and see what it will take to get rid of it.  M from NC had some good suggestions.  I generally avoid killing most insects as many of them are beneficial, but these have got to go.  They are too dangerous and too mean.

I am about 99% sure that Emma and Ramsey's reactions were from pain/fear/trauma and not an allergic reaction.  Especially after seeing what Emma's nose looks like.  The vet agrees with this, but that other little 1% has me, if not exactly worried, than wanting to be prepared for any emergency.  After all, the emergency you are prepared for never happens right?  So, I am going to keep a small dose of steroids on hand just in case.  I really don't think I will ever need it, but I would rather have it and never use it than not have it and need it.  I asked about giving Benedryl, but apparently it only works well in horses if given prior to the sting so that's out as there is no way to predict such a thing.

It turns out that two of my friends also had encounters with ground hornets this weekend.  Considering the time of year and the insane weather we have had, I guess it is no surprise.  The bees/wasps/hornets are at their peak population, but there is very little food available for them at the moment.  I think we all need to be on the look out for the next few weeks.

I sent yesterday's blog post to my vet and this is what I got back, as I said, everybody is having trouble with ground wasps/hornets lately:

Sounds like a VERY exciting day to say the least.  I would say that the reaction that Emma and Ramsay had was likely a post adrenaline rush combined with the pain of the stings.  I stepped on a ground hornets nest while hiking a few weeks ago and boy did they hurt - about 15 stings later on my legs and ankles, I felt pretty miserable and they hurt for a very long time.  The whole thing sounds pretty scary to them so their reaction would have been expected. As long as they are both doing well now, no need to worry and they are not at increased risk for anaphylactic reactions in the future.

Emma's odd breathing after her second sting makes a lot of sense considering how it looks today, it must have hurt to breath so she was holding her breath, trying not to.  I also know that donkeys talk to each other in sounds that are too low for humans to hear.  I can see this happen sometimes, usually when Emma is concerned about something and wants Ramsey to come to her immediately.  I see her nostrils move, but can't hear anything other than a tiny wuffle.  However, Ramsey (who may be a hundred feet away on the other side of a wall playing with a cone), instantly drops whatever he is doing and comes running to her on high alert with no games or nonsense.

I think that some of the odd breathing, grunting and snoring noises I heard yesterday were the donkeys talking about what had happened.  The equivalent of me sitting in the barn on the up-turned bucket, holding my stung ear and saying, "ahhh jeez, that was a bit much".  Ramsey in particular is quite vocal, in a quiet way.  He is always snoring, snuffling and squeaking at me, trying hard to tell me something.  I wish I could hear more of his conversation and understand what he is saying.  Maybe he is saying he wants an outfit like this:

If it's not one wasp, it's another

The friend whose motorcycle picture I posted yesterday (who I shall call Forest Guy), showed up unexpectedly for a visit this afternoon and we decided to take my herd out for a ride/walk.  We had just gotten a little ways into the woods (on a trail that I both rode and walked on yesterday,) FG was on Tessa, I was leading Emma and Ramsey was loose.  He was on the trail about 30 feet behind Tessa and just in front of Emma and I.  He stopped to nibble a beech leaf directly above a seething mass of furious wasps whose nest Tessa had just unknowingly stepped on.  The air was suddenly filled with a boiling mass of psychotically angry wasps, panicking donkeys, flying hooves and me screaming run, run, RUN! 

We made it several hundred feet up the trail and thought we were safe, but soon there was again a cloud of wasps chasing Ramsey, the dark (bear-colored) shape that they had already scent marked with their stingers to attack again.  Ramsey took off back down the trail, veered off just before he hit the nest again and headed for home.  At the same time, I lost my grip on Emma's lead and she also  took off to escape the wasps, save her baby and get back to safety.  Tessa was getting a bit excited by now because her donkeys were completely freaking out, but was still clueless about why they were freaking out.  Good thing too as a completely freaked horse going bonkers and pitching FG into a tree would have been just a bit more chaos then is really warranted at any one time.

I tell FG to ride on fast, make sure the donkeys made it across the road and home safe and to get Tessa out of there ASAP.  I make my slow, ponderous way back to the barn and find everybody there.  Tessa, still looking a bit confused, but happy at all the fun.  Emma, clearly favoring her left hind and both donkeys looking a little shell-shocked.  Ramsey had been stung at least 6 times, Emma 2 or 3 and me 5 times. 

I reassure myself that Emma is favoring her leg because it got stung and not because she broke it in her mad-dash gallop.  Everyone looks OK and I set about offering comfort, reassurance and painkillers - those suckers hurt.  All seems fine for several minutes and then the fun really starts.

Both Ramsey and Emma start looking a bit off.  Ramsey in particular, is breathing funny, acting wobbly kneed and lethargic. The dopey donkey look...

Several of Ramsey's stings are in his neck, just over the jugular groove  I get ice packs and start thinking about where I might be able to find epinephrine in a hurry and knowing that every vet is at least an hour away even if they can come out.  I get the ice going and within minutes Ramsey snaps back and quickly is acting completely normal.  He is breathing right, bright-eyed and is his own self.  Emma also wakes up and seems fine.  I start relaxing just a bit and thinking that their reactions were more from pain and shock and not an allergic reaction.  But, I am not 100% sure. 

Another 20 minutes and both donkeys are acting fine, but irritated at the stings.  I start thinking that everything is OK and I really don't want to end our walk on such a bad note and it would be good for both donkeys if they were to move around.  It helps take the swelling down and alleviate pain.  We decide to just go out a little and see what happens.  Both donkeys perk up immedialty and are happy to be out.  we get across the road, they are a little nervous so I let them munch on their favorite beech leaves for a bit.  They relax and become happy and eager to move again, so we did.
We ended up having a great walk/ride, it wound up being Ramsey's longest walk yet.  His foot is doing well.

Unfortunately, we aren't quite done yet.  We were returning home (down the same path that Emma and Ramsey had used to escape the wasps earlier with Tessa and me following.  We all used the same path again on our way back out), everyone was happy and relaxed.  Tessa was again in the lead with Ramsey just behind her, Emma and I about 100 feet back.  We walk over a small log and Emma gets attacked by MORE wasps.

She didn't mess around this time, just took off, grabbed Ramsey on her way by and headed back home.   She got stung on her face and twenty minutes later, she was acting lethargic and breathing oddly.  She would breath very hard for a short time and then not breath at all for 40-50 seconds.  I called the vet. 

Of course, the long distance line to my main vet wouldn't work for some reason and I got an answering service at the other and had to wait for a call back.  Just minutes before the phone fianlly rang, Emma snapped back.  She shook her head, took a deep breath and moved into the barn for a drink and started nibbling hay.  She and Ramsey have been fine ever since.

I am really at a loss about this.  If it wasn't for the scary breathing thing, I would be inclined to think this is donkey reaction to extremely painful stings.  The vet I spoke with does not know me or my animals and he was very vague in that I-don't-want-to-get-sued way that vets so often use these days.  I will speak with my regular vets in the morning. 

Meanwhile, a question for all donkey owners out there, have you ever seen reactions like this to bee/hornet/wasp stings?  Is this a donkey thing or should I be freaking out about sting allergies?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sunday Stills - The Aliens Have Landed

This week's challenge was 'motorcycles'.  I was going to just skip it because I am just not into motorcycles and I would have had to go hunting for one and I didn't want to do that.  Then, I remembered this picture I took of a friend of mine a few years ago.  He is into motorcycles and he was doing some kind of motorcycle tag thing.  If I understand it right, there is some sort of challenge (sort of like Sunday Stills actually) posted on-line.  The first person to find the whatever and post a picture of it with his motorcycle gets to issue the next challenge.  This challenge was to take a picture of the cycle with a horse, he took it one step further....

I think it looks like a couple of space aliens hanging out with a horse.:)

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Big White Dawg

Say hello to the newest farm addition, Buster, the livestock guardian dog.  He is a 5 year old Meremma.  He came from the same farm as Kelsy did last year.  When Farm Buddy asked them for advice about a predator dog, they said they might have just the answer and this is it...

He was doing his job well at their farm with one exception.  He was great when his sheep were on the farm, but when they were moved to a pasture across the road, Buster would leave them and come back to the farm, which is where he wanted to be.  It was worrisome for the sheep and for Buster who was crossing the road by himself.  On the other hand, that is exactly what FB needs, a dog who will stay at the farm protecting everybody, not just the sheep.  It seemed like a good fit so he has been here for about 3 weeks on a trial basis. 

Something tells me the trial is over.

Buster on duty

He did suffer a rather brutal haircut because he had some terrible mats.  It's only hair though, it will grow back and then his tail won't look quite so goofy.

Patrolling the grounds.

In other news, I had some folks come out to visit Emma and Ramsey and all the rest of the Dancing Donkey crew.  They came all the way from Boston to meet a couple of special donkeys, which is amazing and just a bit baffling to me, but good.  It was a real pleasure to meet such wonderful people who love donkeys.  Thanks for coming. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Driving Practice

OK Ian H., we're almost ready for those volunteers!

The knot in the sled rope is just propped inside the neck rope.  If anything goes bad, it all just falls apart.

My hi-tech harness making...a length of flat-braided nylon rope with a ring in one end and the other coarsely tied off.  It will come apart if it got caught or in case of panic.  On the other hand, if the tied end is folded up on itself and tied off, you could probably tow a car with it.  Lets you do a variety of things for about $2.00....

and it can be made to fit little brown pipsqueaks too.