From the Foaling Barn

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An Homage to Gunner

Last year I watched the finals at the Futurity with Kathy and Lindsey McCutcheon. After an uninspired, error-filled couple of hours, a little paint mare ran in and stopped and the crowd started paying attention. As we watched Americasnextgunmodel make her way through the pattern, Kathy McCutcheon leaned over and said, "Some horses just have crowd appeal." And, indeed, the little mare did. She looked like a horse who loved her job and gave it her all. You just couldn't help smiling as you watched her. When I left the stadium at the end of the competition, I saw Casey Deary on the ground with his horse, and I was surprised at how small and, frankly, ordinary she looked. Had I not seen her show, I would never have guessed that she had just won the NRHA Open Futurity. Americasnextgunmodel was just one of six Gunner offspring in the finals, but she was a perfect representative of her Five Million Dollar Sire. Since he first started coming into his own as a stud, Gunner put his stamp on this offspring, It wasn't the bald-face and floppy ears that marked Gunner offspring, but rather it was their spirit.Gunner was the bedrock of my own breeding program. Each July, after the end of the breeding season, I list all my mares on the white board in my foaling barn, and begin the long, arduous process of planning my breedings for the next season. I always know one thing for certain, I will be breeding to Gunner. And the first decision I make is which mare or mares I will pair with him. Now when I think about the coming breeding season, I can't imagine how I will fill the void. This past year I bread my mares to ten different stallions, all of them wonderful, proven or promising studs, but .. . . Well, there just isn't any other reining stud like Gunner.

It Was A Long Cold Winter

    

 

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.

 

Ann Pulling was the first to correctly identify our naming theme as characters from the sitcom "Cheers".

Broodmare Vaccinations

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.




Which Mare To Which Stallion: Part Two

Once I settle on a list of stallions I want to breed to, I begin the process of assessing the stallions and mares to determine the best crosses .The very first thing I do when trying to decide which mare to breed to which stallion is to thoroughly and truthfully consider my mare's strengths and weaknesses. It's nice to think you could breed any good mare to any good stallion resulting in a superlative foal. But that's just not the case; it's just not that easy.Here are some of the things I consider. If the mare was shown, was she hot in the show ring, or laid back? Did she have a lot of feel or was she dull-sided? Was she soft in the face?
Conformationally, is she long-backed, tight coupled, low-headed, short necked, slight in the hip, upright in the shoulder, pretty-headed, plain-headed, tall, short, stocky, small-boned,etc?

Then I do the same thing with the stallion--consider all his plusses and minuses. Of course this is a lot more difficult than assessing your own mare. This process takes a lot of investigation. In my next post, I'll tell you how I go about getting the stallion information I need to make a good decision. Besides the issue of the stallion's conformation, feel and personality, I consider a couple of other factors as well. Color is not too important to me, but I do know that flash sells, so it is a minor consideration. Given an equal choice, I'll try to breed for some color. Buyers seem to be crazy for splash overos, which gives me some pause. I wonder what we're doing to the breed when we overlook the fact that we are breeding so many deaf horses just because we like the flash.

Another thing that is really important to me is how easy it is to work with the breeding manager or owner. Several years ago I had a very bad experience trying to breed two mares to a popular stallion. The breeding manager was a nightmare--never returning my calls or even talking to me directly about the mares (she had an assistant handle everything). After four tries we got one mare in foal for a June baby. The other mare did not get in foal. Over a five-year period, this particular stallion was moved around from stallion station to stallion station, with a different breeding manager every year. I quit breeding to the stallion until finally he got into a more stable situation. I'm also wary of difficult owners, who put a lot of restrictions and regulations on the mare owners. There are a few owners out there who seem to forget they are selling a product.

That said, the vast majority of owners and breeding managers are great and really want you to get your mare if foal. I just bring it up because, a bad breeding manager or an impossible owner can wreck you breeding plans.

Finally, there's one more thing that is more important than anything I've said so far. Have your mares checked for genetic disease, and ask the stallion owners if their studs have been checked as well. Almost all the diseases that we can determine by DNA, are recessive. Which means you can still breed to a carrier stallion as long as your mare is not a carrier also. You just need to know.

When I'm trying to fit all the pieces together, it's never straight forward or foolproof. I usually have ot make some compromises. If I think the body-types will work well together, I may overlook the fact that the horses aren't quite as good together is some other way. Or if everything else looks great, I'll breed plain-headed to plain-headed. Really, when you get down to it, trying to find the perfect cross, is a little more art than science. For example, I have a really plain, long-backed Chic mare, who always out-produces herself every year.

Which Mare to Which Stallion

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.


MQFs: Two Down and One to Go

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.


MQFs (Mares of Questionable Fertility): Updates and Corrections

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.


MQF #2 and #3: The Verdict and the Treatment

Dr. Brian Dahms setting up to treat out three open mares.

Today, our great vet, Dr. Brian, came out to treat our three open mares. The results of the small volume lavage (svl) and the biopsys came back and one thing we learned is that all three mares had uterine infections and endometritis (inflamation of the uterine walls). In addition each mare had their own distinctive issues. I've already discussed Ozzie's uterine cysts in other posts. The other two mares, Jewel and Dry Sugar Rose, both have problems that are fairly common in aging mares. Now, for the specifics:

Jewel. Jewel's biopsy was the poorest of the three, with a grade in the low IIB range. In contrast, Dry Sugar Rose was a IIA and Ozzie was a low IIA /high IIB. The condition of her uterus suggests that she is aspirating air and contaminating herself. From now on she should have a Casslick once she is confirmed infoal to avoid this source of contamination. Also, Dr. Brian had been concerned about how her ovaries looked. She appeared to have numerous small follicles or cysts bilaterally. When Brian talked to the clinic that processed the biopsy, the vet there suggested that what we are seeing is dialated fallopian tubes, which might suggest a blockage.
Brian is a little dubious about this, but tomorrow when he flushes Jewel, he's also going to ultrasound her and look more closely at the ovaries. At nineteen, Jewel is the oldest of the three mares and is expected to have the most serious issues, which she does.

Dry Sugar Rose. She had the most optimistic outlook. Like the others, she had signs of inflamation and infection. We bred her twice, got her infoal twice, and then she slipped both embryoes by 30 days. She would have had a great deal of inflamation as a result of the debris left from the embryos, so the condition of her uterus was not a surprise. However, she has had a history of slipping embryos in past years. When she is nursing a foal, she has gotten pregnant and then lost the pregnancy every year. Dr. Brian and the clinic vet wondered about DNA problems, or as Dr Brian says, old eggs. But the vet clinic also says that the hostile environment of her uterus also could account for the early embryonic deaths.

The Treatment: Dr. Brian will be treating all three mares, three days in a row. Today, he intended to inject a broad range antibiotic (Naxcel) into each mare's uterus. The next two days, he will flush each mare. Actually, today he ultrasounded Ozzie first to check to see if she had any fluid or debris from the surgical removal of her cysts. The uterus looked good, but there was a little fluid, so before treating her with the Naxcel, he flushed her and gave her Oxytocin to help her evacuate her uterus.

Dr. Brian will be back tomorrow and the day after to complete the treatments. I'll update if there are any changes. In my next post, I'll write about the pre and post breeding protocol the clinic vet has suggested that we use on each mare to maximize our chances to achieve a pregnancy. Some of the suggestions we do routinely, but there were some interesting practices we have not used in the past.

Weaning: When and How

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.


Ozzie Goes Under the Knife (Actually a Laser)

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


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