Thursday, February 26, 2009
Feed and Care Part II
Of course forage makes up the bulk of our program and the horses have hay and/or pasture available to them 24/7/365 as described in the post referenced above. We also always have free choice salt available for the horses as well. We do nothing fancy in the salt department, just white blocks in a holder near the water troughs. The trace mineralized blocks are worthless, as Jason said they are described with the word "trace" because the only minerals in them are the ones that happened to land on them as they wheeled the blocks past the mineral storage.
A few horse people seem to get hung up on how to meet the salt requirements. Some are convinced that horses have to have loose salt and there is supposedly some study floating around somewhere that says horses that have only salt blocks instead of loose salt are chronically salt deficient as they don't have rough enough tongues to lick salt from a block. I call BS on that. My horses have a blood panel done yearly and I've even had hair analysis done a couple of times. I've yet to see a salt deficiency. Given the proficiency that some of the residents display in doing what I call salt block sculpting and carving with the salt blocks they don't rely on their tongues anyway!
Another trend in the salt department lately appears to be Himalayan salt. I am neither for or against Himalayan salt but I have yet to see or read about any compelling reason as to why horses need this very expensive salt. Trust me, all you have to do is ask Jason about how eager I am to jump on board with each and every feeding bandwagon there is! If there were some truly convincing argument in favor of Himalayan salt the horses here would have it in front of them.
We also keep a mineral supplement available to the horses as well. It is either in loose form in a pan in the shelters or in a block form in holders just like the salt. I'm not going to go into the details of the mineral mix because our mineral mix is not necessarily relevant for any other farm. It is based on our hay/soil/grass analyses that Jason does on a regular basis. We have also top dressed the horses' feed daily with kelp meal in the past in lieu of using a mineral mix. It is just easier from a time perspective to have it available to them free choice instead of scooping it out individually every single day.
As far as "hard" feed or grain that has evolved over time as well. We've run the gamut of options from Jason designing and balancing a feed for us and having it custom milled to using a variety of commercial feeds. The custom milling was great but our problem with that is always the minimum tonnage that we had to buy in order to have this done. Of the local options we have available for custom mixing feed we have to order a three ton minimum. In the summer months it spoils before we use it all so it just didn't work out logistically.
So then I felt like a mad scientist as I ended up with a zillion different feeds in my feed room trying to make pre-made feeds work. That was just a headache. Then our local feedstore started carrying a feed milled about 70 miles away from us just across the Alabama line. It was basically almost exactly what Jason had designed when we tried the custom milling route. The NSC content (non soluble carbohydrates) is one of the lowest on the market at 9%. Compare that to Nutrena Safe Choice which has an NSC content of somewhere around 22% and Purina Equine Senior which is approximately 24%. (Please note those are NOT exact percentages for those feeds, those are from memory and I have not looked at a NSC comparison chart in quite awhile). I would also like to point out that it is easy to get caught up in the latest fads when it comes to feeding horses. Horses need carbohydrates, they need protein, they need fat, they need fiber, they need digestible energy, etc but around here safety comes first and safety with elderly, insulin resistant residents equals low NSC.
This feed is 14% protein, 8% fat and 16% fiber and comes in a pelleted form. It can be fed as a complete feed which is a key factor for us and our toothless wonders. The vit/mineral profile is good AND they come from organic sources. A lot of feeds and vit/min supplements have an ingredient list that looks impressive but the form of the minerals is often a form that is basically unavailable to the horse. So for example even though the ingredient list says you are giving your horse X% of selenium it is probably all just passing straight through the horse without being absorbed. This feed is the closest I have found to a one size fits all for our farm.
The only other ingredients currently in our feedroom are beet pulp shreds and alfalfa cubes. Since some of our older residents are missing some or most of their teeth they simply cannot masticate grass and hay properly and they need us to supply them with some alternate forms of forage. This is just my personal opinion but I would NEVER feed any form of beet pulp (pellets, shreds, etc.) or hay cubes without thoroughly soaking them first. If you have ever had the misfortune of dealing with choke in a horse you will go out of your way to avoid it! This also means that almost all of the residents get their pelleted feed that I described above soaked as well as this is a pretty dry pellet. Not just the residents with questionable teeth but those that tend to eat fast for example get their pelleted feed soaked. Basically almost every horse on the farm is fed soaked feed. We spend lots of time soaking feed around here!
The only supplement that we use with regularity is Yea Sacc. We feed this to all of the older residents and anyone that tends to be anything but an extremely easy keeper. Yea Sacc is a live yeast culture which helps stabilize gut pH and also enhances fiber digestion. We cut our feed bill dramatically when we started using Yea Sacc a couple of years ago. We of course have some residents that get various joint supplements that their owners provide.
I am often amazed at the length of the SmartPak strips that accompany new arrivals. Their owners are spending a fortune every month giving their horses a zillion different supplements. Everything from coat enhancers to immune system boosters, various vit/min supplements (sometimes more than one!) and everything else under the sun. I have to say they are always (pleasantly) surprised that their horses look and feel just as good if not better with us after we convince them they don't need all of those supplements. The horses are glad not to have so many mystery additives to their food and the owners save a lot of money every month. Again we are not against supplements when their is a real need, but why spend the money "just because" or "just in case?"
One other note about feed. Jason always gets a chuckle when he hears the pronouncement that sweet feed is terrible for a horse, nothing but carbs and sugar! This is often followed by the proud announcement of "therefore my horse eats a pelleted feed." Guess what folks, what do you think is the binder ingredient holding most of those pelleted feeds together? That's right, molasses. You cannot just assume that pellet=good and sweet feed=bad. You have to look at all of the ingredients and see what the total NSC content of the feed is to have an accurate picture. Believe it or not there are sweet feeds out there that will have a much lower NSC content (and much lower molasses levels) than some of the pelleted feeds.
I am very lucky to be married to Jason and be able to take advantage of his knowledge every day. Although I have taken a couple of basic equine nutrition courses it is hard not to be lazy when you can just go ask Jason. It is quite nice having someone around who can basically balance out an entire feeding program in his head just because he has done it so many times! It is especially great to have someone who can scan the label of a supplement or a feed tag and let me know right away if A) there is enough of the right things listed and B) if the ingredients are available in a form that is readily uptaken by the horse. It saves a lot of time and money!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Welcome Wilhelmina and Josephine
Jo on the left and Mina on the right with the white stripe
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Not My Best Week Ever
By the time I was feeding all of the horses dinner on Monday I was heading downhill fast. I was in absolute misery on Tuesday, pretty comparable to where Jason was on Monday. Thanks goodness for great help. Unfortunately Tuesday was one of the only days this week when Jason and I did not have any help. I fed breakfast and dinner and got through stall cleaning, water troughs etc. All of us horse people have had to care for the ponies when we are miserably sick so that is nothing new. The killer was I had to put rainsheets on everyone as we had a front moving through Tuesday evening bringing us rain and a temperature drop. By some miracle I managed to get a farm full of horses in their rainsheets. I say this not to praise myself but in sheer wonderment that I managed to get the right sheets on the right horses and get all of the buckles and surcingles attached correctly!
Jason did not get to spend the entire day in bed on Tuesday. He did venture out on the tractor Tuesday afternoon filling up some of the hay feeders. Really they all had enough hay to make it another day or so but with the temperature change coming we felt it important they have plenty of fresh hay to choose from. I will admit that as I was dragging myself around the farm that afternoon feeling utterly sorry for myself it was nice to know that my misery had company. I cannot say that Jason was exactly driving in smooth, straight lines on the tractor! It probably wasn't the smartest thing for him to be driving heavy equipment in his sick and drugged state but it was the only option at the time. If we weren't outside working we were lying in the bed thinking about our miserable state.
Wednesday was a lot easier just because we had great help again. My only contribution was feeding dinner and topping up some water troughs and Jason was back on the tractor briefly putting out some more hay. Other than that we had great help do everything else for us, right down to grooming some of the horses.
I don't think Jason and I have really slept since Monday. We've spent plenty of time in the bed but there has been so much coughing, hacking, sneezing, aching and sweating through our clothes from fever for any sleep to be happening. One of us didn't even have to go sleep in another room since we were both being so noisy. Today we both attempted to get back to our normal routines. I would describe us as both still feeling puny and being in a fog-like state but we both appeared to be rid of our fevers as of this morning as well as most of the accompanying achiness. The coughing, hacking and sneezing remains but is slowing down. Hopefully we will both get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow is a busy day as our wonderful farrier Gwen will be here.
I will wrap up my pity part of a post now and share some pictures from November. As usual I am way behind on pictures!
I'm not sure why Bear was "jailed" in the back of the truck as I'm too drugged to remember but he looks cute!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Another Busy Weekend - Pasture Preparation
His first step was to spread the contents of our manure compost pile. Our only issue with compost is that we simply don't have enough of it! Since most of the horses live outside 24/7 we don't make huge daily contributions to the pile like most boarding facilities would. Composted manure (and shavings, hay, straw, etc.) is a beautiful thing and so good for your pastures and we wish we had more. Given all of the rain we've had over since the fall our compost pile has had plenty of moisture to help the composting process along. This was a two tractor job for Jason. He had the old Kubota tractor hooked up to the manure spreader and was using the Ford tractor to load up the spreader with compost.
Jason spent a good part of one day getting the contents of the manure compost pile spread. You would think it wouldn't take that long but you have to factor in all of the other steps aside from just driving around with the spreader. We don't use the manure spreader very often so it had been sitting for quite awhile and needed to be greased and serviced. He had to switch out the hay spear for the bucket on the front loader of the Ford tractor. Then he had to hook up the manure spreader. Then switch back and forth between tractors as he used the Ford to load the compost and then the Kubota to spread it. And of course when you are done you have to put all of the toys away!
Jason then spent another day harrowing the pastures. Harrowing is excellent for pastures. It loosens things up and breaks down and spreads organic matter. After Jason had run the harrow over the areas where he had spread compost you couldn't even tell the compost had been spread.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
They have lived outside 24/7 since they were born and have always gotten to just run around and be horses. I believe this is the healthiest way to raise foals both for physical development and for developing social skills with other horses. They are both a bit behind on their educations under saddle thanks to me. I waited until the summer of their three year old year to have them backed. I think that was a good thing but then I didn't have time to continue working with them after that and they hung out in the field again for several months. They certainly weren't complaining about that by the way.
I got back on track with riding them last summer and we were starting to really make some progress. I took them to an open schooling day at our local cross country course just to get them off the farm and exposed to strange places, horses, etc. They were both great and even went through the water jump, jumped the ditch and went up and down the bank. Then we had our trailer incident thanks to an idiot driver. Thankfully both of their injuries were pretty mild in the grand scheme of things but they needed some time off to recover. Of course when they were ready to be brought back to work I was extremely busy on the farm so they sat around for several months again.
I started riding Lexi on New Year's Day and put Bonnie with a trainer a few miles from the farm a few weeks before that so they are both in work again. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single ride I have had on Lexi since getting back in the saddle again to start the year off right. So Lexi has a grand total of just under six months under saddle, and unfortunately it isn't six months in a row.
Jason took some pictures of me riding Lexi this weekend. With such perfect weather what better way to enjoy it than riding? I have to say she was especially fantastic during today's ride. We've been incorporating trot poles into our work the last few rides and today we cantered some poles. She was so cute and reminded me so much of her mother when she was learning to go over poles and then learning to jump. Bridget's signal that she felt good was when she would squeal after a pole or a jump and do a mini version of a crow hop. And I do mean mini, a beginner could sit through it easily. Lexi did the exact same thing today! The first time we cantered the pole she squealed and did a mini crow hop on her first stride after the pole. It made my day and I hugged her as we were cantering around after her squeal and hop.
Horses really know how to bring out a wide spectrum of emotions in me. They bring me such joy and happiness, but they've also brought me a lot of sadness and despair from certain situations. Facing the reality of Bridget's retirement was really hard. Losing one of our retirees is really hard. Seeing them happily grazing, napping or playing is wonderful. A great ride on a horse you bred and raised yourself is almost unbeatable. So thanks for such a great time today Lexi!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
More pictures of the Dogmobile
I mentioned the wonderful weather we've had the last several days. 70's and sunshine is hard to beat. That also means it is perfect weather to be out working on the farm so the dogs had plenty of opportunities to catch a lot of rides on the dogmobile the last few days.
According to Jason Bugle introduces himself like this: "My name is Bugle and I belong to Mr. Tom and I ride on the front seat of the Gator without exception." By the way Bugle is the tall black and white border collie. We don't actually know what his breeding is but he looks like a border collie with extra long legs. He is not to be confused with Bella the border collie who is also black and white.
Jason has also assigned some phrases to Bush the coon hound. According to Jason Bush introduces himself like this (and it must be said in a slow southern drawl): "Welcome to this farm, my name is Bush. Do you know how to run this machine?" Bush would be referring to the Gator as the machine. Bush lives to ride in the back of the Gator. He sleeps in the Gator waiting for someone to come and drive it around. Sometimes he refuses to get out of the Gator and my parents have to feed him in the Gator.
The other dog seen riding along on the dogmobile in these pictures is Trooper. Trooper is a 3-legged black lab mix missing his right front leg. Amazingly Trooper could be identical twins with another dog whom we lost this past summer. Sherman was also a 3-legged black lab mix missing his right front leg. I adopted Sherman many years ago from the shelter. He was the VP, Public Relations of my recruiting company and went to work with me in the fancy office park every day. My mom happened to be shopping at the mall when the local no-kill shelter Happy Tales was having an adoption day. She saw Trooper there and said for a second she got confused and thought she was looking at Sherman. So of course Trooper had a new home from that adoption day!!
If you look closely you will see this is not the same picture as the one above. I didn't realize it as I was taking the picture of Bush sleeping but Bugle was sleeping on the passenger seat of the Gator. He woke up when he heard the camera click. That is his nose peeking over the top from the passenger seat.
Bugle letting out a big yawn. I'm sure he is wondering when my dad is going to return to shuttle him around. How long does a dog have to wait for a ride around here??
A traffic jam of utility vehicles. Riding with dad is Bush in the back, Bugle on the passenger seat and Trooper on the floorboard looking over the dash in front of Bugle. What you don't see is Bear on the front seat of the Kubota with Jason. He is too short so he is hidden from this angle.
Trooper sitting up and showing off while also giving me a big yawn.
Trooper giving us a more serious look.
Dad driving along with some passengers
While dad and I were chatting he put his hat on Bugle. He looked really cute in it but unfortunately he has his eyes mostly shut in the picture!
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Another Great Weekend
I saw several of the retirees enjoying the sunshine and taking lazy naps this weekend. Faune was out cold on Saturday afternoon and soaking up some rays. I hope he had a nice dream or two as well.