Thursday, February 27, 2014

All Calories Are Not Equal

(post by Jason) Back in the fall I completed a ration analysis for a client located in one of the warmer parts of the southeastern US. One of her horses presented as more than a little perplexing. The client told me that in spite of everything she was doing the horse simply would not gain weight; not a normal condition for a fifteen year old well adjusted but semi-retired gelding. His environmental situation was pretty good too. He spent roughly eight hours a day in his stall and was turned out with three friends in a generous, well maintained and safe pasture of a few acres in size overnight. No matter how much grain he was getting, and no matter how good the forage put in front of him, he just would not gain weight. His body condition score was about a four if I was inclined to be generous. He weigh taped at 1075 lbs.

Given that my last nutrition post in this blog was all about unhappy, stressed out horses it would be correct to assume that when I do farm visits I spent quite a lot of time observing the horse sans owner to check for stall or paddock induced stressors. Frankly this horse did not seem to have any; he was very easy going and laid back andafter a thorough observation I really didn't detect any significant signs of environmental stress in his life. He had it good, he just would not gain weight. 

Next I asked about his worming schedule and about vet records, surgeries, etc. The horse was de-wormed twice a year at the spring and fall equinox with an appropriate de-wormer. He also had his fecal counts tested at the summer and winter solstice to check and make sure everything was as it should be. There were no surgeries or other obvious health problems. His feet carried a good bare foot trim. There was nothing obviously wrong with the conditions in which he was kept nor was there anything obviously wrong with him physically or mentally save for the hock arthritis that was the cause of his semi-retired state.   

According to the ration analysis that I ran his diet was pretty good too. The pasture tested a little better than I thought it might and it was plentiful.  The horse got access to plenty of good quality hay in his stall overnight. Based on my figures the  horse was getting upwards of 15,000 kcal of energy from hay and pasture. The horse was fed four grain meals per day with each meal consisting of three pounds of Triple Crown Senior . This feed has a high caloric density...roughly 1500 kcal/lb with most of the calories coming from fat so the horse was getting another 17,000 kcal energy from his grain. That's 32,000 calories per day which is slightly more than 10,000 kcal in excess of what a semi-retired horse of his size should require to maintain his condition in a warm temperate climate. He should have been fat as a tick on this ration and yet he would not gain a pound. He wasn't sick and I couldn't find anything much else wrong. I even thought long and hard about whether the client was telling me the truth, but what I was seeing certainly was in line with the story she was telling me. What to do ! 

Fortunately Melissa and I have run across this sort of situation a few times while transitioning horses here at Paradigm Farms. One day when we were both frustrated with trying to get weight on a horse of this type Melissa decided to replace some of the grain in his diet with alfalfa pellets. I'll admit that I said I thought the idea was a waste of time. In spite of that she tried it for awhile and in spite of my negative attitude it worked. We have tried it a few times since and it has worked almost every time we have tried it. 

With this information at my disposal I told the client that I'd like her to start replacing some of her grain with alfalfa pellets and to prevent chokes I'd like her to soak everything...grain and pellets both.... thoroughly before each feeding. She agreed to try. A few months later it looks like we've enjoyed some success. In total the horse has been getting eight pounds of grain and four pounds of alfalfa pellets (so still 12 pounds total) for the last few months. Last week he weigh taped at 1120 lbs and his body condition score is between 5 and 6. Success ! 

However the question that remains unanswered is why would the  horse start to gain weight only when we replaced a third of the horses grain with alfalfa pellets ? There is no easy answer to this question. Alfalfa pellets are much lower in calories per pound than the grain it replaced. I surmise that it has something to do with the alfalfa pellets creating a forage mat in the stomach and hindgut.  This forage mat would help to slow down grain digestion and thus increase nutrient absorption of the grain meal. But this is simply my theory and at the end of the day I don't really know why this tends to work well. What I do know is that sometimes simply throwing calories at a weight problem or removing calories from an overweight horse doesn't do the trick. Sometimes it seems that the type of calorie is at least as important as the number of calories in the overall diet. At the end of the day I was able to help the horse and sometimes that has to be good enough ! 


Lotus, Romeo, Lofty and Flyer made a perfect picture this afternoon

Maisie and Lily making a valiant effort to groom each other despite having blankets on


Leo, Levendi and Ritchie


Chance and Jason hanging out while waiting for the farrier

Timbit and Sparky were being wild things again

Thomas, Moe, Homer and Tony

Sam and Johnny

B-Rad, Murphy and Wiz

Leo and Baby

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Level 5 - Normal

I feel like I should hand over the reins of this blog to the National Weather Service as the weather seems to be the dominant theme lately. They would probably do a better job of simply informing you of the weather while skipping the rest of the complaining commentary.  

The good news: the last 8 days have been delightful. They have delivered lots of sunshine and much warmer temperatures. When the thermometer hits 75 I cannot complain and we saw that a few times. Yesterday and today were the cold days with the highs in the upper 50s. Even TEMA has agreed that all has been well in our world as we have been living in Level 5 - Normal.  According to TEMA this is the first time we have been Normal in 2014, make of that what you will.

The bad news: all the blankets went back on this afternoon in anticipation of our much less stellar forecast for the next few days.  I probably should not be complaining as there is no polar vortex in our future or anything like that.  But 30's and 40's with chances of rain/snow is  not exactly pleasant after 60s and 70s.  

I suppose I shall try to be content with the fact that according to TEMA we are Normal and just go with it. 


Renny, Murphy, Dutch and Wiz hanging out

Cuffie and Norman; the cool season grasses are starting to green up

I was pretty sure this was Africa  .  .  .

. . . but wasn't positive until he finally sat up and looked at me

Walon enjoying a good roll and shake

Johnny, Toledo and Kennedy having a lazy day

Calimba and Maisie grooming

Gibson, Asterik and Cocomo

George and Flyer were being playful

Donneur and Faune

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Stills

Lucky and Noble

Donovan and Largo

Chance and Trigger

Homer and Hemi

Ritchie and Rip



Bergie and Stormy

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Busy - but Warm!

We knew this week was going to be busy as we had days booked with both the farrier and the dentist. When you are scheduling appointments for February the saying that comes to mind is "life is like a box of chocolates and you just never know what you are going to get." Our last couple of farrier days were less than ideal thanks to the charming weather brought to us courtesy of polar vortexes. Those definitely were not days when I was thinking about how awesome it was to work outside.

Yesterday and today were stellar though. In fact the whole week has had glorious weather so far. I don't know anyone who would complain about mid 70's and sunny after rounds 1, 2 and 3 of polar vortexes. Both yesterday and today we opted to work outside rather than inside a barn. No one was interested in being under a roof on a warm, sunny mid-70's day in February. I will admit by the end of the day I was unintentionally doing a spot-on impersonation of Medusa thanks to the wind. It was quite unsettling when I saw myself in a mirror (but thankfully there were not real snakes in my hair) this afternoon and somewhat painful when I brushed my hair, but it was a worthwhile trade-off for not being cold. 

Here's to hoping that I will never, ever hear the term polar vortex again. 


No one wanted to work inside when it was 70 degrees and sunny so we worked outside. Miracle having her hooves trimmed.

Jason took this picture of me because I only had one shirt on instead of the usual 4 layers I have been sporting lately. Timbit, Sarky and Griselle are behind me waiting their turn with the farrier.

Timbit wanted to be the center of attention

Moe having his teeth floated

Homer having his teeth done

Chance had his turn with the dentist as well

Calimba and MyLight grooming

Oskar and Largo grooming

Dolly and Silky napping; note Silky's drooping lower lip

Norman and Cinnamon

foggy morning on the farm

Renny and Dutch waiting for breakfast


Rocky napping in the morning sun

Lighty and Sebastian were having play time