From the Foaling Barn

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Erhlichiosis: Know the Symptoms

Two weeks ago, my oldest broodmare, Pappita Sunrise, refused her evening grain ration. Since, refusal to eat (anorexia) is often a sign of fever, I took Pappita's temperature, and sure enough, she had a fever of 104.5. Normally, I would have been alarmed, but because my vet and I had recently talked about the high number of ehrlichiosis cases he had treated this year, I was pretty sure this was Pappita's problem. Also, my barn manager, Ginny, has a Belgian who had just been treated for ehrlichiosis earlier in the year, so I knew the symptoms. Ehrlichiosis, usually presents with a sudden very high fever. Affected horses may also exhibit signs of partial anorexia, depression, reluctance to move, and stocking up. Rarely, a horse may have more serious complications, such as exacerbation of existing injuries and heart problems.

Ehrlchiosis, which has recently been renamed Anaplasma phagocytophila, is a tickborne disease. It is infectious but not contagious, and it is usually seasonal, occurring during the spring, early summer, and fall in Minnesota. However, my vet (Dr. Brian Dahms) recently told me that the clinic had treated a number of cases over the winter. Because one of the hosts of the disease is rodents, warm winter barns can still harbor the ticks that cause ehrlichiosis--in the midwest, the deer tick is the culprit.

Fortunately, ehrlichiosis is easily treated. Because Pappita's symptoms were so suggestive of the disease, our vet immediately began treating her with injections of oxytetracycline over the next five days. He also drew blood to make sure she did, indeed, have ehrlichiosis. The bloodwork verified the diagnosis. Pappita improved almost immediately after the first injections of oxytet. She regained her appetite and was able to rejoin her pasture mates. The good news is that she will have immunity to the disease for approximatly two years.

Orphan Tails: A Setback

Viktor and Colin Two Weeks After Their Illness

 

Everything seemed to be progressing with our two orphan foal: both were active and bright and drinking their milk supplement well. But when Colin was three weeks old, one morning I went to make up their morning milk replacer only to find that Colin hadn't drunk any of his overnight ration. When I offered him a fresh bucket, he put his head down to smell it, then walked away. It's common for foals on milk replacement to have loose stools, but now Colin was spewing watery diarhea. For the next six hours I monitored him to see if he was eating. He drank a very small amount and ate a little hay, so I waited to call the vet thinking perhaps Colin was improving. But by late in the afternoon, Colin had only drunk two quarts in 24 hours (a normal foal will drink approximately 4 gallons a day.) So I called the our vet, Brian. He thought I should bring him into the clinic as there was a pretty strong possibility Colin would need fluids and possibly tubing.

So once again we made the late night run to the clinic to meet the vet on call. Ava took his temp (normal) and drew blood. We waited for the initial results which were not overly alarming, but suggested that Colin was becoming dehydrated. When we left, Ava and an aide were preparing to give him a bag of fluids. The next morning Ava reported that Colin's condition was unchanged but she was not unduly worried and thought he would be fine with a few days of supportive care (fluids, tubing of milk, and treatments to firm up the diarhea).

At home I began to Google Colin's symptoms and found that they fit the description of Rotavirus, a common, highly contagious diarhea, which affects only foals under 5 or 6 months of age. Left untreated, severe cases have a fairly high mortality rate. Treated, almost all foals survive. The symptons are watery diarhea, anorexia, and.lethargy. When I ran my findings by Brian and Ava, they thought it could be possible, but almost all diarheas have those exact symptoms, and you treat all serious diarheas the same way.They also wondered in he could be reacting to the milk replacement.

However, the next morning the other orphan foal, Viktor,came down with the same symptoms and ended up at the clinic in the stall beside Colin. Now we were all thinking Rotavirus. So we sent a stool sample in to be tested. Neither of the orphans was getting worse, but they weren't improving either. However, most Rotavirus cases take 4 to 7 days to resolve. So we just had to wait.

The next day, Colin began to improve, drinking some milk on his own. However, we had a new alarming develpment. Our newest foal, Rita,came down with Rotavirus symptoms. Again, we rushed her to the clinic. With Rita now sick, we could reject the idea that the diarhea was specific to something in the orphan's environment. Fortunately, with only minor treatment, Rita began to recover quickly and we were able to bring her and Colin home the next day. Viktor would have to stay several more days before he was stable enough to go home.

All are home now and doing well. The results of the stool sample identified the source of the illness at Rotavirus. Since then I've done more reading about the disease. It's possible that the orphans were so much sicker than Rita, because of the conditions surrounding their births they were more stressed than she was and so developed more serious symptoms. One article I read suggested that as many as 70 percent of foals will have some diarhea in their early months, but not all who contract Rotavirus will develop life-threatening symptoms.




Raising Orphan Foals

Colin and Viktor

After the death of our two mares in less than a week, we were left with the difficult task of raising two beautiful orphans, Colin (Jerry Lees Surprise X Jodies Jac Tari) and Viktor (Colonels Smoking Gun X BH Song and Dance). Colin lost his mother at three days, and Viktor lost his at less than 24 hours. Fortunately, both foals nursed long enough to get adequate levels of passive antibodies through their dams' colostrum.

But once we got them home we were left with many decisions about the best way to proceed. We certainly didn't have a shortage of advice. Many people urged us to use nurse mares, but that was easier said than done. There's no doubt that what is best for a foal is receiving nutrition from its dam or another lactating mare. That means we needed to find a mare that has recently lost its foal. We were given many leads, but most of these mares were too far away to make it practical. Or if I got a tip about a local mare, invariably when I called the mare owners they were reluctant to turn their mares over to me, and I completely understand their feelings.

I was also given the names of several people who provide nurse mares on demand. However, once I read about these services, I had ethical qualms about what happens to the foals of these mares. Also, many of these mares are draft horses, and my vet warned me that draft mares provide too much milk for a little quarter or arab foal, with the result that the foals grow too fast and may have issues with bone development. Similarly, I was contacted by people who told me how I could cause any mare who had foaled within the last year to begin lactating. Actually, sometimes if a mare will accept a foal, she will begin to lactate on her own. However, in these cases, the quality and richness of the milk usually does not match the needs of a growing foal.

While I was considering all these factors, I contacted Travis Lempke, who is my Assurance feed rep. He was invaluable in advising me and locating a good source of milk replacement. He had dealt with an orphan foal two years before, so he new from experience what we were facing.
Eventually, I decided to forget the idea of nurse mares and use milk replacement exclusively.

This meant that we would be slave to a rigid feeding schedule for the next three months. Fortunately the vets at Stillwater Equine had trained both foals to the bucket before we brought them home, so I didn't have to worry about hourly bottle feeding. Instead, we started with a four hour feeding schedule. We made three quarts of formula every four hours, poured it into two gallon buckets and hung them in each foal's stall. Within a week or two the foals were drinking four gallons of milk a day. After a month, we began to feed the foals a gallon of milk replacer every six hours, which gave us quite a bit more freedom.

Both foals are now healthy and growing rapidly. But how to feed them has been only one of the many factors we are dealing with. The most difficult part of feeding foals with milk replacement formula is how to socialize them as horses. I'll take this issue up in future posts.


In Memory of BH Song and Dance

Four days after Jodie's death, her stablemate, BH Song And Dance gave birth to a beautiful Gunner colt, her sixteenth foal, at 10:15 PM. The labor was quick and the delivery easy. BH rested for a few minutes, then stood, dropping her placenta easily. Like an old pro, she coaxed her foal to stand and had him nursing vigorously within an hour. She looked wonderful and so did the foal. So after watching to make sure the colt was nursing consistently, around one we went back to the house and went to bed. At five that morning I got up and as I walked toward the kitchen, I glanced at the TV screen which was tuned to our foaling channel. The foal was asleep and all looked peaceful, until I saw BH's leg. She was down and something was obviously wrong. Still in my pajamas I raced down to the barn and found BH, standing now, but sopping wet, and trembling. I grabbed some Banamine, gave it to her, then began walking her, with foal following up and down the aisle of the barn, while I called the vet on call. Dr. Megan said she'd. be there as soon as possible. I also called our regular vet, Brian, who was due at the barn at seven to ultrasound another mare. When Megan arrived, she checked BH's vital signs, which were normal except for an elevated heartbeat. But when she palpated BH, she found a sizeable mass in her abdomen. Brian arrived and he, too, palpated BH, but was unable to determine the cause of the mass. He said it was impossible to know what the cause of her distress was without exploratory surgery. I thought a 23 year-old mare who had just given birth, and who had been in distress for an unknown amount of time, was a poor candidate for surgery. When I rejected surgery, Brian suggested we move her to the clinic for observation and supportive care. He said occasionally, after foaling internal organs can get displaced and with time and rest they can right themselves.

So once again, we made a sad pilgrimage to the vet clinic, to leave a beloved mare and foal in the hands of the vets. I was not hopeful, and within in hours BH began to decline precipitously. Finally, Brian called and said that she had crashed, her heartrate was skyrocketing. I wanted to come down to be with her, but he said there wasn't time, and they were worried about her falling on the foal. So, I said, yes, and I never saw my little mare again, to my great regret.

BH was a wonder--a small, little mare with great heart and grit. Her sire was Be Aech Enterprise and her dam was Melody Jac. Scott McCutcheon bought her from the late, great horseman Bill Horn when she was three. He claims she was so high-strung, he couldn't catch her in her stall til she was five. Nevertheless, Scott and BH had great success together, culminating in winning the Open Championship at the NRHA Derby. When BH retired from the showring, she was just as successful as a broodmare. Of her sixteen foals, all but one of perfomance age were money earners. Her offspring's earnings are over $110,000 and still counting. Her foals have gone on to be finalists at the NRHA Futurity, Derby and the NRBC.
I'm fortunate to still own four of her foals, a four year-old stallion by Gunner, a three year-old mare by Einstein, and yearling and weanling colts by Gunner.

At 23, BH looked her age. She was small, and fine-boned, and when she was pregnant, her belly was enormous. But she held her own in the pasture full of much bigger and mobile mares, and she was a tough disciplinarian with her foals, keeping close watch on them. In one sense, though I regret the pain she suffered in her last hours, her death was in keeping with her life. She died giving birth, and until the very end she nursed and watched over her foal.


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