We got our first significant snowfall December 9 with 20 wet, heavy inches. I awoke that morning with a splitting headache, sore throat, and fever--in short, I had the flu. The rest of the winter was more of the same--gray, snowy, icey and cold. Today is April 2 and as I sit here at the computer, I survey a still white world. All the pastures are still snow covered; the temperature the last three mornings has been around 10 degrees. My case of the flu dragged on through Christmas and was followed by a cold and bronchitis. With all the dreariness, we were really looking forward to the arrival of our first foal due February 2, an Einstein out of our mare Smart Sugar Pop. However, our new filly took her sweet time waiting til a fierce cold spell February 18. However, she's a beauty and well worth the wait.
Last year we named all our foals after Harry Potter characters. This year we had another naming theme which we made into an online contest--the first person to guess the theme would get a Chatsberry Farm cap. The first foal's name is Esther. No one successfully guessed the theme until our second filly arrived four weeks later. Our mare The Bun Is Dun had a gorgeous buckskin filly named Diane.
Colin and Viktor were both hospitalized five days for treatment of the symptoms of rotavirus.
Every year when I pick up my recipient mares, Royal Vista gives me a list of the reminders and dates for the mares, including when to start a vaccination schedule. With one exception, I have always included these vaccinations in my regular mare care. I give all my mares the recommended three-shot series (at 5, 7, and 9 months) of Rhino vaccination to prevent what could become a potentially devastating loss of foals. I also give an Encephalitis-Tetanus-Flu-Rhino shot four weeks before foaling so that the mother will pass on antibodies of these diseases to her newborn.
However, Royal Vista always includes one other suggested three-shot series of rotavirus vaccine.
When I have asked Dr. Brian about this, he did not feel it was necessary as here in our cold climate we hardly ever see rotavirus in foals. He felt that this instruction was probably meant for breeders in hotter parts of the country. So until this year, I have never given this vaccine.
But, if you have been reading, my blogs you may remember that I had three foals come down with rotavirus last June. Two of the foals were extremely ill, suffering from anorexia, extreme watery diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration. They each one spent five days in the vet clinic, where they were tubed with milk substitute and rehydrated with intravenous fluids, until they finally were eating and drinking on their own and passing solid manure. As you can imagine this was a fairly costly treatment. With the other foal, we acted immediately when she showed symptoms and we were able to avoid a lengthy hospital stay. Without treatment for rotavirus, the mortality in foals is fifty percent.
When I asked Dr. Brian this year about the wisdom of giving rotavirus vaccine, he was of a different opinion. He now thinks that because we have had an outbreak it would be wise to give the vaccine series to all our mares for at least two years. He's also of the opinion that rotavirus may be more common in our state than commonly thought. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of serious illness and death in foals, but few breeders bother to have the lab work done to determine the specific cause of the diarrhea, because all diarrheas are treated the same.
When our foals were in the clinic last June, there was a thoroughbred foal in the next stall with the exact symptoms. When I asked if he also had rotavirus, the vets couldn't tell me because the owner had declined to have the lab work done.
I suppose if I only had one mare, I might feel the same way. Maybe. But having been through this with three foals at significant expense, I would rather be safe than sorry this year. I may spend several hundred dollars on vaccine, but I may also save myself thousands of dollars in vet bills.
It's the quietest time of the year on the farm. The foaling barn is empty so no stalls to clean, no orphan foals to tend, no vet appointments at 7 A.M., no trips to the airport to pick up semen, no garden to weed, no pastures to mow--just lots of time to indulge one of my favorite pastimes--planning my breedings for next year. This planning takes me about three to four months to really firm up. I will change my mind repeatedly, before I finally decide which of my fourteen mares to breed to which stallions. I'll scribble lists of stallions and mares on the backs of receipts, on backs of napkins, etc. But this week I made my initial foray into the whole process.
I have a big whiteboard in the foaling barn. I have seven columns on the board. The first three columns are 1. the mare's name, 2. the stallion the mare is curently bred too, and 3. the stallions I'm currently considering for 2013. The fourth column is a list of held over breedings. Since I lost two mares and ended the season with three open mares, I have five breedings to start with next year, including Wimpy, Boomshernic, Conquistador Whiz, Smart Like Juice, and Gunners Special Nite. Then in the fifth list I have a list of all the proven studs that I would consider breeding to which include such names as Gunner, Einstein, Spooks Gotta Gun, etc. Finally, I have a list of unproven studs (no foal crop to show) which includes Gunnatrashya, Walla Walla Whiz, Spooks Gotta Whiz, etc. After the names on the last three lists, in parenthesis, I'll tentatively put in mare's names.
In general, because I'm breeding to sell, I stick to proven studs, especially those who have produced offspring earnings in excess of a millions dollars. I do breed to several unproven studs each year, but always to high earners who have owners with enough money to promote the horses and first class breeding managers. It's always a gamble to breed to a new stud, because you never know what kind of a sire he will be and you don't know if his popularity will hold up.
Then as I clean the barn each day, I study my list and think about my mares. Every few days, I'll pull a folding bar stool up in front of the white board and play with the lists, adding names to my stallion lists, moving mares around. As I said, my mare's list will go through numerous iterations before I'm satisfied.
I have a lot of criteria I use to determine which stallion to which mares, and a number of ways I gather the information I need to make my final choices. I'll go into this a lot more in coming posts.
Jewel and Her 2011 Filly, Amber
Yesterday, Brian finished treating Dry Sugar Rose and Ozzie. He had treated both mares for the last three days by infusing them with Naxcel. Finally, with Ozzie he performed a Casslick to keep her from reinfecting herself by aspirating air and debris into her vagina.
However, it's back to the drawing board for Jewel. As I noted when Brian treated her previously, he noted an ugly discharge and mucus on his glove. Then yesterday when he ultrasounded Jewel he detected quite a bit of fluid in her uterus--this after being treated for mucus and infection for two days. So rather than a regular culture or a small volume lavage, using the ultrasound Brian directed a pipette into the uterus and actually drew off the fluid which looked like a pinkish-grey glue. When he saw it, Brian was pretty sure we were dealing with a staph infection rather than a fungal infection. But, before we go any further, he'll send the sample into Marshfield Lab to be cultured. Then we'll decide how best to proceed.
While he was collecting the uterine fluid, Brian detected a fairly sizeable tissue tag attached to Jewel's cervix. He thinks this tag could be wicking infection into the uterus from the vagina. He's debating about removing this tag.
So basically, Jewel has three breeding problems: the uterine infection, conformation problems that cause her to contaminate herself by aspirating air into her vagina, and the tag attached to the cervix.
The culture will be back by the end of the week. I'll keep you posted on what we find out and what we decide to do about it.
My Problem Girl--Jewel (Smart Chic Olena X Gay Freckles Rio)
In my last post I gave you some incorrect information. Only Ozzie was flushed and then treated with Naxcel. The other two mares Dry Sugar Rose and Jewel were treated with acetylecysteine. When we did the small volume lavages (SVL) the flushes on both mares was cloudy with mucus and debris. The recommendation was for acetylecysteine to be infused on these two mares until the uterine lavage is clear. Today, Ozzie was infused again with Naxcel. Dry Sugar Rose was infused with acetylecysteine once more. Both of them looked good.
Before we treated Jewel today, we ultrasounded her to get a better look at her ovaries to see if the observed abnormalities might be dialated fallopian tubes. After a close look Brian thought this was unlikely, and what we are seeing is what it looks like--ovaries with many unusually small follicles. However,when Brian prepared to infuse Jewel he found suspicious material leaking from her vulva. And after he infused her, he found thick mucus on his glove. As it did with Dry Sugar, the acetylecysteine should have taken care of the mucus. He now thinks we should do another SVL on her and test it for a fungal infection. Usually, fungal infections create a nasty looking uterine environment. But a few years ago, one of our mares had a fungal infection that looked a great deal like what we are seeing in Jewel. We treated her for it, and she got infoal on one breeding the following year.
Actually, I'm feeling more confident about all three mares. None of them appear to have unsurmountable problems. I think we should be able to get each of them in foal next year.
I just want to mention one of the suggestions we received from Rood and Riddle ( the clinic in Kentucky that evaluated the biopsies). It was suggested that we give the three mares an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily for at least 60 days prior to breeding. Actually, when I contacted the supplier of the specific supplement mentioned by the clinic, they suggested that the supplement needs to be given for three months before it takes full affect. So, when I start bringing the mares in at night to put them under lights in November, I'll also begin administering the supplement then.
I'll keep you updated on these three mares.
Dr. Brian Dahms setting up to treat out three open mares.
For the last several years we've ended up with a group of early foals born in January and February and another later group born in April and May. This year, for the first time we tried two different weaning techniques on these two groups.
We usually wean both groups between four and six months of age. We try to wean in large groups because we think it less stressful--this accounts for the differential in age in each group. Hoever,this year we had three foals who were weaned at three months. Our orphan foals were on milk replacer. The protocall for the feeding regime calls for weaning a three months. Also, we weaned one of the fillies at three months because her mother had foundered right after she was born, and we wanted to take any stress off the mother as she struggled with her recovery.
Because we live in such a cold climate, the foals from the first group spend at least part of the day outside if the temperature is above 20 degrees but come in with their mothers at night. These early foals are halter broke right away, so that we can lead them in and out easily. By March they stay out all night. This year we had six foals in this group. Because our foaling barn only has six stalls, and three of them were being used by the foundered mare and the two orphans, out of necessity we decided to wean by separating mares and foals by putting them in adjacent pastures.
We had a very hot summer this year, and I really don't like to wean when it's hot. But it's not practical to wait for fall weaning when several of the foals were already six month in June. Finally, when we got a stretch of seventy degree days, we made the change. For several days before the big split, I gradually reduced the mares' grain and supplement in order to reduce milk production. I don't take the grain completely away, because all the mares were pregnant, I don't like to make sudden extreme changes in feed. Once we separated the mares and foals, we kept a fresh bale in front of the mares as far from the shared fence-line as possible. For the first 18 hours after the weaning, the mares were far more interested in the hay than in the foals. Once their bags became full and a little painful, the mares began to occasionally visit the fence, but by day two they seemed pretty comfortable with the situation and went back to their hay.
The weanlings on the other hand were pretty upset for three or four days. But because they were in a large pasture, they could work off their excess energy and seek comfort in one another. Occasionally, the colts would try to nurse off each other, but pretty quickly, they figured out that it's not quite the same thing. In general, I think this is the easiest, least stressful way of weaning.
However, we decided to go a different route for the youngest three. Because of their late births and our preoccupation with the orphans, we pretty much threw these three out in the pasture at day two or three after their births, and barely touched them after that til it was time to wean. Consequently, they were almost feral. We couldn't begin to catch them in the pasture. So we just let them follow their mothers into the stalls, and then extracted the mothers right away and took them to distant pasture. Then we left these three wild things alone in their stalls, and slowly began the rather painful process of halter breaking. I would say this method is much harder on the mothers. They were more upset than the mothers who could see their foals and paced the fenceline for quite awhile. And the weaned foals, were also more stressed. They lost their voices, rubbed hair off their noses, chests, foreheads.
After this same year test of the two different methods of weaning, I come down firmly on the adjacent pasture method. It was just so much easier for us and less stressful for both foals and mares.
The University of Minnesota Equine Clinic
Once we determined that Ozzie's three uterine cysts had become so large that they were interfering with her ability to establish and/or sustain a pregnancy, and after discussion with our vet Dr. Brian Dahms, we decided we had no other choice but have the cysts removed. The traditional treatment for uterine cysts is to go into the uterus and cut them out. But often after surgical removal, the cysts will grow back. Recently, vets have begun to remove cysts by inserting a small camera into the uterus and then using a laserto remove them. I googled the subject, read up on it, and decided that, though it was a bit more expensive, the laser surgery was the way to go. Dr. Brian's clinic does not have this technology, so he recommended that we take Ozzie to the University of Minnesota's Equine Center.
We took Ozzie to the clinic on Thursday. Dr. Tatarniuk, a resident at the Equine Center, did the surgery on Friday afternoon. Prior to surgery Ozzie was given antibiotics to forestall any chance of infection. Then she was placed in stocks, and sedated, and the cysts were removed. Following the surgery, her uterus was lavaged to remove any debris. Finally, a rectal ultrasound was used to determine that the surgery had been successful. For the next few days, I am supposed to monitor Ozzie to make sure she shows no signs of infection. Also, about five days after the surgery, Dr. Brian will lavage her one more time.
When we picked Ozzie up, Dr. Tatarniuk confirmed what Dr. Brian believed--that the cysts had grown so large that they were probably interfering with the embryo's movement around the uterus which meant that maternal recognition was not achieved and Ozzie was rejecting the embryo. Also, even if there was maternal recognition the cysts may have interfered with the embryo's implantation in the uterus.
So, we hope with this surgery, we have solved the mystery of Ozzie's sudden infertility. I am so thankful that I have such a good vet and that we live so close to such a wonderful facilty as the U of Minnesota's Equine Center.
Ozzie Leaving the Equine Center