Sunday, October 30, 2011

He Said She Said

One of the "joys" of working with your spouse every day are the misinterpretations that come because one spouse was communicating in a way that the other spouse can't understand. I'm not talking about clear, concise instructions like, "Please clean the feed up that spilled on the office floor. " Anyone can follow that, even me, at least when I can hear what the other half of our partnership said.

This morning Melissa was in charge of the farm while I attempted to buy some new tires for the truck. When I got home I went out to check on a couple of Melissa's horses and on the cows in the back field. It was wet and cool this morning, so I thought I'd be a nice guy and blanket her horses, except that I wound up not being able to locate one blanket. When you run a retirement farm you always have several spare blankets on hand, so I selected one and applied it to the naked horse. Problem solved, or so I thought.

As I stood filling the cow trough with water, the phone rang. It was Melissa. I explained about the blanket and I proudly explained my solution. She told me to take the blanket off, immediately. Huh ? Is the blanket contaminated ? No, the blanket is missing one strap. I'm thinking to myself one piece of twine and two minutes and the blanket isn't missing a strap any more, but to my credit I didn't say it. The horse was smiling and happy, standing warm in it's minus-one-strap blanket twenty feet away from me. My wife was several miles away and telling me to take the blanket off. I took the blanket off.

She then told me that the cows didn't need water, and she said this knowing I was standing right in front of their mostly empty trough. (I feel the need to jump in here since what I actually said was "the cows shouldn't need water," but Jason's less than stellar hearing is well known in our world ...) Now folks, I'll be the first one to admit I'm not very smart sometimes, but after a life time in the livestock business I'm smart enough to know when the cows need water. What I'm not smart enough to do is to figure out an answer to a wife who's telling me something that is patently incorrect that doesn't lead immediately into an argument. I thought about not acknowledging her at all except to take a picture (yes but were you also going to include a picture of the other two troughs that were full? Just asking because I know how much it is annoying you to read this right now. Hopefully you aren't wondering why I'm giggling right now.) and send it to her but I didn't do that either. So I scratched my head, got confused and then mad and came to the house instead.

Anyone recognize themselves here ?


Johnny keeping watch while Rampal napped

Missy (unbelievably, we put sheets on a few horses again a couple of nights ago. Crazy October weather!!)


Calimba letting out a big yawn while hanging out in the shed

Lily and Norman (we're finally getting more fall color!)

Dutch napping in the sun


Clay, Chili, Darby and Lighty

Romeo and Asterik were surrounded by so much fog my poor little point and shoot camera could not focus on them

Gus and George

Silver, Faune, Winston and Fonzi

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mineral Bioavailability

In my last post, I talked some about feeding a mineral supplement as a form of "cheap" insurance against a mineral deficiency, and I'd like to expand on that topic tonight.

Feeding additional minerals is usually a reasonable thing to do in my opinion. There are a lot of commercial mineral and vitamin supplements out there that provide a good balance of additional minerals and vitamins and selecting one of these products is an excellent first step. The reason for selecting a pre-balanced supplement is that minerals and vitamins interact with one another and they need to be present at calculated rates in order to do their job optimally. Too often, a megadose of any one mineral or vitamin unbalances the system and winds up being both costly and ineffective, not to mention sometimes dangerous.

When I'm comparing feeds and mineral supplements one of the first things on my mind is the bioavailability of the minerals contained within the feed or supplement. In addition to looking at the feed tag to determine what levels of mineral and vitamins may be contained in the product, I like to flip the bag over and have a gander at the ingredients list as well. As a general rule mineral bioavailability is lowest in mineral oxides, is higher in mineral sulfates, and is highest in mineral chelates or proteinates.

Lets use iron to highlight my point, although one could use nearly any trace mineral and arrive at the same place. Iron oxide is (literally) rust. As you might imagine, an animal could eat quite a bit of iron oxide before it met it's daily iron requirement. In most cases, iron sulfate is several times more bioavailable than is iron oxide. It wouldn't take nearly as much iron sulfate to meet an animal's daily iron requirement as it would iron oxide. Similarly, chelated or proteinated iron is more bioavailable than either iron sulfate or iron oxide. So when a feed tag says it contains 50 ppm iron, my first question is from what source ?

Understanding the basics of equine mineral nutrition isn't difficult provided one keeps in mind that individual minerals need to be fed at pre-set levels in order to work correctly and that when comparing mineral oxides to mineral chelates there are usually significant differences in bioavailability, so sometimes less is more when it comes to mineral chelates.


Thor and Lightening

MyLight and Norman on the run

Cinnamon and Silky and finally a picture with a bit of fall color. Jason and I were discussing our lack of fall color this morning. The leaves mostly seem to be staying green and just falling off. It doesn't make for any striking fall photos so I had to take this picture.

Stormy and Clayton

Toledo and Kennedy

Rocky, Rampal, Johnny and Tiny

Baby, Tony, Chance and Leo

Thor, Noble, Snappy, Lightening and Lucky



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Soil and Forage Tests

(post by Jason) Late October is an easy time of year to get used to here in Middle Tennessee. In my opinion the weather can't be improved upon with lots of cool, crisp mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. The warm season grasses have largely gone by and because of this we are entering the easiest and most forgiving time of year to transition horses from stalls to pasture. It's a great time to be outside watching horses, and it's an equally great time to get some soil samples done and fall soil amendments applied. We're in the middle of all of that around here right now.

With our short winters here in the mid south, fall soil amendments play an important role in determining the yield and nutritional content of our spring grass and we pay a lot of attention to the nutritional profile of our forages, including both pasture and hay. As a general rule if the soil is deficient in nutrients, so the forages grown on that soil will also be deficient in nutrients and this is particularly true of trace minerals. This fact is widely overlooked in production agriculture today as it's considered easier and more cost effective to supplement additional minerals in the diet. I agree with mineral supplementation if it is done in a nutritionally correct way; it is a form of "cheap" insurance against nutritional deficiency. But I don't like to rely solely on my insurance policy to provide adequate mineral nutrition. To that end, we amend our soils in order to produce healthy mineralized forages which will require minimal additional mineral supplementation.

Perhaps the most important fall soil amendment is applying lime to adjust the pH. Most Middle Tennessee soils are naturally pretty acidic, varying from pH 6.5 all the way down to pH 4.5 dependent on location and parent material. Soils that fall below pH 6 need to be limed often enough to raise the pH high enough so that pH dependent trace minerals can be efficiently uptaken by plants. We're lucky in this respect. Our soils are naturally pretty fertile, at least by Tennessee standards, and they maintain pH values between 6 and 6.5 without the addition of lime. Potassium (K) fertilizer can also be spread in the fall where it is necessary. Our soil tests indicate that we don't need to worry about spreading additional potash which is good news for us !

Nearly all middle Tennessee soils are naturally very high in elemental sulfur. Even if the pH is correct, high soil sulfur will bind necessary minerals like magnesium and calcium as well as necessary trace minerals like copper, zinc, selenium and more. Where it's possible to do so, I amend the soil by applying mineral and trace mineral fertilizers as the most cost and labour efficient way of ensuring that forages grown on that soil will have a decent mineral profile.

Because trace minerals and lime tend to get released fairly slowly, and because early spring is often wet in these parts, I like to apply trace minerals late in the fall with the thought that some will get used this winter and most will get used next spring and early summer when they are most needed.

I'm going to insert an important caveat here. In terms of equine mineral nutrition, getting the basics right is really important but it won't save you in every case. There are always going to be situations and animals that require more time and effort in order to put them right and this farm is no different than any other in that respect.

Winston keeping an eye on things while Fonzi, Chimano and Asterik nap

Romeo was just a few feet away from them also taking a nap

George and Asterik

We fondly refer to the Triple Crown Senior as "Triple Bricks" sometimes.  It is a fabulous feed and our only complaint is it loves to clump together in the bag like one large brick of feed, making it a real treat to try and pour it out into the feed containers.  Jason likes to karate chop each bag a few times before dumping to combat this.  

Darby, Alex and Lighty grazing

Renny, Sebastian, Sam, Dutch and Murphy were keep a close eye on me while I prepared breakfast

Alex and Darby on the run

Lighty, Alex and Darby

Cinnamon, MyLight and Calimba (yes a new face!)

a better picture of Calimba, our newest resident

Calimba and her mom flying high over a jump (Flashpoint photo)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blanket Fail

We had a big temperature change this week. On Tuesday it was 85 degrees and sunny. On Wednesday the temperature reluctantly reached 50 degrees late in the day and it was overcast, windy and threatening to rain. We set a record as I decided we should put rain sheets on the horses. We've never used blankets in October before. Thankfully in another day we're supposed to be back to our normal temperatures.

Apparently the horses did not get the memo that we were there to save them. We were there to provide them with the creature comforts that they desperately need to be happy horses. Every time either of us got near a horse with a sheet they took off, usually at a mad gallop, often with some bucking and farting thrown in. In the first group we managed to corner and wrangle sheets onto George and Faune. I finally clued in that I needed to be fearing for my personal safety with the frisky horses galloping and swirling around us and gave up with that group. You can see how cooperative they were in this video:

George and Faune with sheets on. Silver, Asterik, Romeo, Gus, Winston, Fonzi and Chimano round out the uncooperative, galloping group of horses.

I realize people who follow this blog regularly will laugh out loud at my next statement. I decided it would be a good idea to try and put sheets on the big boys next. You probably don't need me to tell you how that worked out. At one point Jason threw down the sheets he had in his arms and shouted something along the lines of "fine, be this way, I JUST WON'T BOTHER TRYING TO HELP YOU ANY MORE!!!" I was laughing so hard I was ready to pee in my pants which only further served to egg Jason on into more frustrated venting. I am proud to say that after a ridiculous amount of time and a team effort we did get clothes on Baby and Grand. It only took like - an hour.

Elfin and Hemi playing

Elfin, Thomas, Hemi and Grand

We moved on to the next pasture and had about the same level of success. We got clothes onto Clayton and Toledo. Yet again it took us a ridiculous amount of time to accomplish this as none of the horses were being cooperative and they kept galloping away. Are you seeing a pattern here? I am. No I don't mean the general pattern of stupidity as I kept insisting we try to blanket uncooperative horses. I mean that we seemed to manage to get blankets on two horses per pasture. I told someone that I wouldn't be surprised if I stumble upon a picture of Jason and I trying to put blankets on galloping horses on the fail blog. Yesterday was a pretty epic failure!

Toledo, Kennedy, Clayton and Stormy

After we had spent a large part of the day watching horses run away with us and play catch me if you can and accomplishing nothing I finally gave up. Jason was so relieved that I finally threw in the towel he was instantly in a good mood. Today the weather was more pleasant, no threats of rain and no wind, and the sun returned. The few blankets we had managed to put on were pulled off. Hopefully they won't be needed again until sometime in late November. After yesterday's debacle it will be awhile before we can muster up the conviction to try again. Maybe the horses were just trying to remind us that it is still October and we never use blankets in October.

Thomas and Leo

Thomas and Grand

Fonzi giving us his opinion of the weather while Chimano grazed

Finally starting to calm down and get back to grazing; Baby, Moe, Levendi, Grand

Jason kept pestering me to take this picture. I don't know why but he would not let up until I took this picture so here it is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I've spent the last couple of days knee deep in blankets. I've finally finished re-waterproofing all of the ones that I think might need it. Now I just need to finish getting them distributed around to their various storage places and we'll be ready to go. Hopefully by being prepared this means they won't be needed for awhile!

I've had a couple of people ask what I use for the waterproofing. I like to use Aqua Armor because it is made for use on outdoor fabrics. It does not discolor anything and the breathability of the fabric is not affected. For any blanket that is either on its last legs and I'm just trying to squeeze another year or two out of, or of a brand that tends to lose the waterproofing fast, I use Thompson's Water Seal. This will get the blanket waterproof but it does sometimes discolor the fabric and it will also weaken the fabric over time and make it easier to tear. I can usually get away with a couple of seasons of Thompson's Water Seal and then it is time for a new blanket.

As far as what brand of blanket I like, Rambo by Horseware hands down. I like anything by Horseware and also like their mid-price Rhino line as well. I know it can be hard to swallow paying $350 for a horse blanket, but I have one Rambo that is going into its 14th season. It is still waterproof. Granted the horse that wears it is not hard on his blankets and I have always made sure the blanket was washed correctly (no detergent and line dried) but you can't complain about the lifespan of this blanket. I am also a fan of Bucas blankets.

There are lots of brands that come in second place. Dover Northwinds and Dover Riders, Weatherbeetas and Pessoas come to mind. I don't love them the way I love the Horseware blankets and they don't have the longevity but they get the job done just fine. Schneiders would be one of my least favorite brands. The blankets tend to be durable and hold up well. My issue with them is the waterproofing. No matter how carefully you wash and handle them the waterproofing seems to disappear after the first season. I've also had two Schneiders blankets be completely soaked through the first time they were used, literally straight out of the packaging. Since I consider being waterproof to be a vital component of a turnout blanket I rank them low despite the fact they seem to be hold up well enough otherwise. After a Schneiders blanket has been washed (I should add washed correctly and line dried) I reach straight for the Thompson's Water Seal as I assume the waterproofing is gone.

Since opinions are worth what you pay for them that should tell you what all of the above is worth!!

Lined up and ready for waterproofing

blankets were everywhere

Sorting through all of boxes that have been sent recently with my supervisors looking on

George and Silver

Snappy rolling, Lightening and Noble grazing

Cuff Links


Cinnamon and Traveller

Tiny, Johnny and Rampal