Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Fever

Spring seems to have found us here in north central Minnesota with temps in the 50s, 60s or 70s during the days and no more dipping below freezing at night. The warmer weather makes doing chores easier, especially watering horses because I don’t have to carry the hose into the house at night to keep it from freezing. These blustery spring days are very enjoyable to the horses, not only do the temperatures suit them, there are no flies to bother them. We have not had any soaking rains that really bring on the green, but the herd splits their time between the provided round bales and nipping at the new growth in the pasture. The herd happily gallops their acreage, chasing and playing with one another, especially the two geldings, Trouble and Kiss.

Last week, I happened into the barn during one of the rare times when Mother Goose was off her nest. You’ll remember that I found her on five eggs March 16, now there are 14 eggs! What the heck will I do with more than a dozen goslings! I was charmed by the thought of four or five fuzzy little goose babies, who knew she’d just keep manufacturing eggs? If I had known I would have given the others to Dan, who paints eggs with the most beautiful Ukrainian patterns and could have sold them to his Easter egg admirers. Goose egg gestation is 28-30 days and we are a week passed that timeframe for the first eggs laid. I am wondering if all are viable, which certainly save me! I’ll keep you posted.

Local farmers are already in the fields – disking the dirt, mowing down corn that wasn’t harvested, spreading loads of manure to fertilize the fields, etc. Last year there were snowstorms in late April and the ground did not reach planting warmth until late May. Rain is predicted for the weekend, so hopefully this will keep farmers from hand wringing like little old ladies about a draught or poor growing season, which in my humble opinion only serves to drive up hay and feed prices unnecessarily. It’s just too soon to tell, and so far the weather is shaping up to be on the farmer’s side.

Recently, there was an ad in a local paper for a smelt fry at a restaurant in a neighboring town. I hadn’t been to one of these for decades and remembered the beer battered lovelies with great delight. We arrived at Pace’s for the all-you-can-eat buffet only to find the smelt were on the small side and were not hot enough. Like all deep-fried goodies, they’re best when finger dancing, volcanic hot. The side dishes of scalloped potatoes, baked beans and coleslaw were very good, but that’s not why we came. Ian commented that to him smelt tastes like Mackerel. Smelt only "run" in the spring, and in hopes of improving our experience, we may go to a fundraising smelt fry for firefighters in North Branch this Saturday.

A couple of weeks ago we visited a farm in western Wisconsin. It was a very nice day, so we brought the dogs, Lady and Buddy, and all four of us enjoyed the sunshine as we walked the property. The pasture has a section that is overrun with cockleburs, while these aren’t as hurtful as thistle, they easily stick to clothes and, as we learned, poodle coats.

Poor Buddy, who was really enjoying all the new sniffs, was just matted with cockleburs. I thought I might be able to comb them out, but ended up having to shave him using a pair of horse clippers. To say I am not a groomer is an understatement, but shaving Buddy did give him relief from the pulled hair and scratching cocklebur particles. I followed up the shearing with a bubble bath. Becky, our groomer, was solidly booked readying dogs for Easter, so Buddy wore his ragged haircut until she was able to even him out on Tuesday evening with a complete body shave, leaving his coat an apricot-colored crushed velvet.

Not far from the farm we decided to lunch at the Magnor Lake Restaurant near Clayton. Our waitress suggested the fish sandwich, which arrived hot from the deep fryer, slathered in mayonnaise, topped with a lettuce leaf, all on a super soft bun. We washed this down with iced tea and enjoyed the lake cabin d├ęcor and views of the lake. For dessert we shared a piece of cheesecake, after being warned off the posted cream pie selections. The restaurant shares its restrooms with a convenience store, housed in the building’s other half. I stood with my hand on the restroom door agog at the number of deer heads mounted throughout the store. I waved Ian over and we toured the store, walking along the drink cooler, noting the many different taxidermy styles. It was weird and amazing all at the same time.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Happy April

Winter is doing its best to hang on, but sooner or later it will give way to spring. Today there is sunshine, which is very welcome since we’ve had several grey days. March went out like a lion, as it dropped two inches of wet, heavy snow on the 31st. It snowed again yesterday, but it melted quickly, so quickly in fact, I could have just waited instead of immediately shoveling our back walkway. One nice thing about the colder weather is that our driveway and the area between our house and the barn is firm enough to drive on without worries of sinking into a muddy oblivion. Yesterday, our hay guy came, first, in his 4-wheel drive pick up truck with 40 square bales of a nice alfalfa mix hay, then an hour later with 10 enormous 5 x 5 foot round bales loaded on a flatbed trailer and pulled by a 1-ton dually truck. Neither vehicle had any problem negotiating the driveway.

It’s always nice to have a stockpile of fresh hay. The square bales are fed to the horses that come in at night; the rounds are rolled into the pasture, two at a time, for the horses that stay outside. As long as horses have free access to hay (or grass pasture), fresh water and shelter they are well equipped to live outside – even in the bitterest Minnesota winter. Actually, the coming spring weather of rain and wind is more problematic for a horse, as their coats drench through to the skin and they chill and can colic. We watch for shivering horses and bring them into the barn from the rain/cold to dry off and get their body temperatures up. Ideally, we’d have turnout blankets for all pastured horses, but between our monitoring and them using the dry outdoor shelter that’s provided, they’re OK. I will say it does bug me to look out the kitchen window during a rainstorm and see some of the herd standing with the noses near the ground and butts turned to the wind in the rain. It is their choice and I try to grin and bear it, but I have left a warm, dry house, trudged out to the pasture, often with Ian in tow, to bring rain-soaked horse after rain-soaked horse into the barn, cussing them every step. Maybe they find it amusing, who knows maybe they make bets with one another as to how long it will take until we come to “rescue” them.

Next month, foals begin to arrive. We have five mares that are in foal to our purebred Arabian stallion, Legacys Renoir. All the babies will be purebreds too. Naturally, we’re hoping for a repeat of 2008 when we had all fillies! Four of the five mares are leased from our dear friend Kathy, who lives in western Wisconsin. Two of the mares, Mara and Eve, were supposed to be foaled at her farm, but she’s been hospitalized for most of the winter and feels she won’t be strong enough to deal with foaling and dealing with the new babies. When you’ve got as many as we do, what’s two more?

The first mares to foal are 12-year-old Elly and Mara; both due on May 16. Elly’s first foal is Princess, sired by Renoir, and born last May at Kathy’s. Mara was in foal to Renoir in 2008 too, with her first foal, a filly, but it was born dead. Mara foaled at Kathy’s farm and we don’t know exactly what happened, but it was dead when Kathy arrived at the barn. Needless to say, we will be watching Mara extra closely this year. Princess is maturing beautifully and we plan to show her this season in some halter classes.

Eve is due on June 4. Her last foal is our two-year-old stallion, Pskye, who is in training at Lonesome Dove Training Center. Eve is 19 this year and has many beautiful foals.

The next mare, Khatalina Bey, is one of ours and is due June 19. She is 15 this year and is the mother of the second 2008 Renoir filly, Baby, who was born here on the farm at the end of May. Like Princess, Baby will be shown this year too.

The last of the five pregnant mares, another of Kathy’s, is Taza; 14 this year and pregnant with her first foal. Taza is due July 21, which correlates directly with her complete uncooperativeness during the 2008 breeding season. Regardless, we are excited to see what she and Renoir produce.

Foaling time is always exciting. There is a 10-day window on due dates. The equine gestation period is roughly 343 days. Nearer the 10-day window, I begin to stall all pregnant mares overnight and give them limited turn out in a segregated pasture. I watch for all the signs that delivery is imminent and the due date draws near I keep them stalled 24/7 and check them regularly – around the clock if needs be -- until the blessed event.

Here mares and foals pasture together to learn manners from their dams and their “auntie” broodmares and to bond with their siblings. I find that playmate bonding makes weaning time much easier. I like to wean all together at three months of age, which works well when they’re born within the same timeframe, but Taza’s foal will come almost two months later, so we may wean the three oldest together sometime in late August and the last two foals out of Khat and Taza together in early October. For us, there are no hard and fast rules, we monitor each on a case-by-case basis and do what each situation calls for.

As of last week, all of our horses’ hooves are trimmed. It is a nice feeling to have that done. Because hooves grow faster in the warmer months, we’ll begin another round of trimming in 4-6 weeks time.

The next things to tackle are vaccinations and deworming. We vaccinate our own horses and buy the vaccines from a vet supply company on the Internet, which sends the requested vaccines pre-measured in syringes with needles. This is generally less expensive than buying from the vet, having her give the injection and paying the $45 farm call. We vaccinate with Fluvac Innovator 5, which is an annual booster that protects against two types of Encephalomyelitis, Rinoneumonitis, Influenza and Tetanus. This year we will also protect against Rabies and Strangles. Rabies must be administered by a vet and while she’s here I will also have her do the Strangles, which is given intranasal; there’s a trick to getting the horse to inhale it.

Normally, the Fluvac Innovator 5 is more than enough protection, but because we are showing the three yearling fillies we must not only protect them when they leave home, we must protect the entire herd against whatever they may be exposed to at a horse show. You see, a horse going to a show is a lot like kids going to school – they can return home with new germs to spread and we need to vaccinate all the horses as if they had all been to the show. If a horse is not protected and they get any of the diseases mentioned, well, I heard a seasoned horse vet put it this way, “There’s not enough magic juice on the vet truck to save them.” When we’ve invested this much time, love, energy and money, why risk it?

Deworming is what it sounds like, separating worms from the horse. Horses pick up several varieties of worms from pasture grazing and poop; simply put horses are worm hosts and the idea is to keep the numbers and types of worms that live in their guts to a minimum. Primarily, this is done by giving each horse a tube of deworming paste once a month, which kills the worms and acts as a prophylactic against new ones.

Last month, we attended a seminar hosted by our horse vet, and learned that there is now a new deworming protocol, one which basically tosses out the long standing once-a-month method because research now shows that the old standard breeds worms that are dewormer resistant. The new method calls for each horse to have a sample of its feces tested, which determines how that given horse reacts to the dewormer and, most importantly, what type of worm shedder the horse is; low, moderate or high. If the horse is a low shedder, meaning the dewormer works very well on this horse and the fecal egg count is low, it only needs to be dewormed twice a year (spring/fall), while a high shedder, meaning the fecal egg count shows a high number of worm eggs still present, would be dewormed four times a year. So, using this new, more strategic protocol, no horse would be wormed 12 times a year, which has been the norm for decades. Four times $10/tube is always going to be less expensive than 12 times $10/tube. I still need to learn where I can send the horse “apples” for the Fecal Egg Count Reduction testing, but I am definitely for this new deworming protocol!