From the Foaling Barn

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Finally, Breeding Season Is Over

Windy (Whiz Chill Factor) is in foal to Gunner for 2013

Finally, we're finished breeding for the year. It was a tough year. Of course, the worst came in May when we lost two of our mares within five days shortly after they foaled. But even before this catastrophe, we were really struggling with our breedings. We had a lot of early foals--six by the end of Feb., but we just couldn't seem to get the majority of our mares back in foal. By April 1, I had only two confirmed pregnancies, Smart Sugar Pop to Einstein and The Bun Is Dun to Gunner. Two mares were in foal at fourteen days, but had lost the embryos by thirty days. We pulled a grade one embryo from Shiney, but it failed to live in the recipient. Ozzie, who was open, didn't come into heat until late May. We bred Jewel four times to Wimpy with no success and we finally gave up. After Dry Sugar Rose lost her first embryo, we bred her again, got her in foal, but when we checked her at 30 days, there was a vesicle but no embryo.

I felt like a black cloud was hanging over the farm, but, finally, as the spring progressed we finally and slowly began to make progress. The late foaling mares all got in foal easily, and we just kept after the other mares, succeeding in some cases, failing in others.

The final results for the year--we'll have nine foals for 2013, two down from our all-time high this year. We were successful in pulling two embryos from Shiney, one to Spooks Gotta Gun and one to Smart Spook. All the young mares are in foal. My Fertile Myrtle continues to be seventeen year-old Poppy (Smart Sugar Pop) who got in foal to Einstein on the first try on shipped semen. My oldest mare, twenty year-old Marilyn (Dunnits Shadow), is in foal after a false start. But the bad news is that three of my old girls, Dry Sugar Rose, Smart Little Jewel, and Whizard of Ozwald did not get in foal and each one seems to be exhibiting signs of significant breeding problems. I'm particularly worried about Ozzie because this is the second year in a row she has been open.

In September, Dr. Brian will do a work up on all the open mares, taking a uterine biopsy and a small volume lavage, to try to determine what problems we will need to deal with next year. I'll put the open mares under lights in November so that we can begin breeding them in February. Brian says that these older mares with reproductive issues are not necessarily hopeless cases--they just may take longer to get in foal.

But this year's problems tell me it's time to start adding young mares to my band. I'm planning on breeding two of my show girls and pulling embryos next year. And I'll start looking to buy a couple of more young mares.


The Foundered Mare: Breeding Implications

Shiney (in the AirRide boots) gets her first adult companionship since she foundered in February. She's sharing her paddock with Jewel.

 

Our eight year-old mare, Shiney, foundered as a result of treatment for a retained placenta. Besides the founder (laminitis), she suffered damage to her kidneys, which complicated her treatment. To control the pain of laminitis, the usual protocol is to give the mare anti-inflammatories, which has the potential to further damage her kidneys. Although at times during her illness we feared for her life, eventually she began to improve and today she is relatively healthy. After the crisis was over, we were able to evaluate the damage to her feet. X-rays show that there was no rotation of the coffin bone in either foot, but in the left foot the coffin bone had sunk on the inside, causing her varying degrees of pain. Some days she walked pretty well showing pain only when she was turning to the right. But at other times she was quite sore at the walk. Part of the problem was that the part of the hoof with the damaged laminae was growing very slowly compared to the outside of the hoof, so that unless she was trimmed every two weeks, her hoof developed a significant imbalance which in turn was the cause of her pain.

Her progress to health has been slow and halting. Several weeks ago we had a setback when she developed a large abcess under her frog, which caused her extreme pain. She was so sore we were afraid she was foundering once again. Even after the abscess broke open, she still seemed to be in pain. However, x-rays showed that the coffin bone was unaffected. Within a few days, she improved dramatically and is now walking better than ever. But my vet and farrier warn that until the damaged part of the hoof is completely grown out she will be prone to more abscesses.

Which brings me to the biggest decision I had to make about Shiney--should I breed her this year of not. At first my vet was encouraging. By the time Shiney would bear any significant increase in body weight, the hoof should be completely grown out. But as her recovery seemed to sputter, I decided that I didn't want to take a chance with Shiney's health. She is a young mare and has many years of foals ahead of her if she is returned to full health. Also, I did not want to risk investing in an expensive breeding if there was any chance that Shiney might not survive her illness.

Because she is a well-bred mare (Shining Spark X Top N Final X Topsail Cody) with good earnings, and because her first two foals are showing promise, I decided that it would be worth it to pull at least one embryo from her. We decided to wait until she seemed to be stabilized to breed her. We bred her to Smart Spook, and flushed a grade 1 embryo. Unfortunately,the embryo did not survive in the recipient mare. So we tried again, this time to Gunner; no embryo. We went back to Smart Spook, but again had no luck. During this time we were trying to find the best way to alleviate Shiney's footpain--special shoeing, AirRide boots, lillypads, etc.

After three unsuccessful breedings we decided to call a halt, and do two things before we tried it again. We weaned her foal at three months to reduce the strain on Shiney. And we made a greater effort to control Shiney's pain. Our farrier and vet consulted and we came up with a plan of monitor her and trim her more often and to go back to AirRide Boots. We let her go through another cycle and then tried again. I also decided to change studs, to a younger stallion who I know has very good semen. We bred her to Spooks Gotta Gun and got an embryo, which took (we should have a heartbeat on it by next week). Then we went back to our original stud, Smart Spook, bred her again and got another embryo.

I'm satisfied that we made the right decision not to breed Shiney to carry, but, if I were to do this again, I would wait longer to try to breed her, until after we had weaned her foal and her pain was under control. The stress of her pain clearly interfered with her ability to conceive.

Orphan Foals on Milk Replacer

Colin Drinking His Morning Ration of Milk Replacer

This year we had to deal with two orphan foals and another foal whose mother foundered shortly after foaling. In all three cases, we were forced to use foal milk replacer. With the foal (Hermione) whose mother foundered, she was fed milk replacer to supplement her mother's reduced milk production. Hermione only needed supplements for about three weeks,and except for the first day or two, she drank from a bucket. Eventually as her mother's health improved, Hermione was weaned off the bucket and went back on her mother exclusively.

However, with the orphans, Viktor and Colin, they have been drinking milk replacer for two and half months. Fortunately, in both cases, the mother's lived long enough to supply each foal with sufficient colostrum (See my earlier post on low IGg in foals). Both dam's were euthanized at the vet clinic. The staff at the clinic kept the foals overnight in order to train them to the bucket. To feed a foal with a bottle would require super-human effort, or an employee devoted solely to feeding the foals every hour.

The first problem we faced was securing a supply of fresh milk replacer when we needed it. Milk replacer has a shorter shelf life than other feeds, and because it is so rarely needed, most feed stores carry very small amounts of the stuff. Many feed stores carry a generic, multi-species milk replacer, but this is not ideal. Only use milk replacer formulated specifically for horses. Most of the major feed companies make milk replacer. Milk replacer is quite expensive and foals go through a lot of it during a week.

We were lucky, because the Silky Coat company, which makes milk replacer for many species, is about 25 miles from us in Lakeville, MN. Our feed rep, Travis Lemke of Assurance Feed, set us up with Silky Coat. When we needed milk replacer, Travis would pick up a week's supply that had been made freshly that day and bring it out to us. After several weeks, we also began to offer the foals milk pellets made by Silky Coat.

Once we secured a steady supply,  the hardwork fell to us. During the first six weeks or their lives, the foals were fed on a four hour schedule, 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 6PM, 10 PM and 2 AM. My husband took the 10 PM and the 2 AM feedings, and I did all the other ones. It's pretty hard to have much of a social life, or even go out to dinner with this kind of schedule. We spread four gallons of formula over these six feedings. We thought it important to hang the bucket at approximately the same height as a mother's udder, rather than setting the bucket on the ground.

After six weeks, we began slowly to wean the foals off the formula, reducing the amount of formula by two quarts each week with fewer feedings. We first went to four feedings a day, and now we feed three times in twenty-four hours. However, as we reduced feedings, we discovered a new problem. The foals began to gulp down a gallon of milk in a matter of minutes, so we had to come up with ways to parcel out the milk so that the foals would eat more slowly. Drinking too much at one time, can cause foals to have loose stools, which in Viktor's case was exactly what happened. At Travis's suggestion, we began to freeze portions of the formula, so that it took the foals longer to get through a gallon. This worked well, and Viktor's diarhea disappeared. As we decreased the milk replacer, we increased the amount of milk pellets and began offering them the same grain and supplement the other foals eat. They are also now eating hay and pasture during turnout.

The foals will be on milk replacer for about three more weeks. Once they are weaned from the milk replacer, we will continue to add milk pellets to their grain rations for another month or so. At that time we will wean them completely and they will be turned out with the last three of our other foals to be weaned.

And my husband and I will let out  big sighs of relief.

Update: Foal Heat Breeding

We have two young mares (both five year-olds), who foaled late in the breeding season. Late foaling leaves you with only one or two attempts at breeding your mare. We really wanted to try to move up both our mares, Chicky and Icey, so we wouldn't be facing the same problem next year. Both mares had uneventful pregnancies and deliveries, and as far as we could tell by ultrasound neither had any post foaling problems. So we decided to give it a try.

The odds of a successful foal heat breeding are slim if the mare ovulates before nine days post foaling. However, the longer the mare goes beyond nine days without ovulating the better the chances of achieving a pregnancy. When we checked Chicky at day ten, she already had a CL, so that was that. But when we checked Icey at day ten, she was just coming into heat with multiple medium follicles on both ovaries. The next day she had a 35 on one ovary and a 34 on the other, so we called the breeder and ordered a FedEx delivery for the next day. We also gave Icey a shot of historelin to induce ovulation. The next morning when we checked her before breeding we found that she had already ovulated the 35, and we also found that we had a meager amount of semen to work with. Therefore, Dr. Brian thought we would be wise to do a deep horn insemination. We took a chance that the ovulation was recent (there was no CL yet) and inseminated in that horn. Brian thought there was a good chance that Icey would not ovulate the other follicle.

Fourteen days later we checked Icey for pregnancy and found that she had, indeed, ovulated the second follicle and she was infoal with twins. Fortunately they were located in both horns so Brian was able to pinch the smaller one. He gave Icey a shot of Banamine to forestall any inflamation in her uterus as a result of the remains of the now pinched twin. Pinching a twin can cause the mare to lose the other embryo in about 20% of the cases when the embryos are in both horns.

Because Icey delivered her foal six days early and we were successful with our foal heat breeding, we moved her up 25 days. So instead of a May or June foal next year, she'll have her foal in late April.

Icey and her 2012 filly Rita.  Icey is in foal for 2013 to Smart Spook.


Orphan Foals at Two Months

Colin at two months

Right after our two foals were orphaned within a week of each other, we were inundated with advice and offers of help from well-meaning folk. Some of the advice was helpful, but a great deal of it was discouraging and, frankly, incorrect. We were treated to so many nightmare stories of foals' physical developmental problems. And, even worse, many people assured us our foals would not know how to act like horses or would be spoiled by an excess of attention from humans. Some really tactless souls told us the foals were more or less doomed.

Our foals are now two months old, and I'm happy to report none of the depressing prognostications have come true. We did not find a local nurse mare and rejected the rent-a-nurse-mare organizations on ethical grounds. Instead, we worked with our great feed rep, Travis Lemke of Assurance Feed, who linked us up with a local company, Silky Coat, who specializes in making milk replacer for many different breeds. Every week, Travis would bring us fresh bags of milk replacer and milk pellets right from Silky Coat. That meant that we were always feeding the foals fresh milk. Both foals have done very well on the replacer, although Viktor had loose stools for the first six weeks, which is not an unusual problem for foals on milk replacer. At six weeks we began to wean them off of the replacer and on to the milk pellets. Since then, Viktor's stools have become more solid. At two months both foals are plump and well-muscled. Our vet has routinely drawn blood to check on the foal's protein levels, and has monitored their growth.

Because we have had to feed the foals frequently (every four hours for the first six weeks), it has not been practical to put them outside with other horses. We do get them outside together, several times a day for two to three hours at a time. If there is any upside to having two orphan foals, it is that they are company for one another, and their horse instincts kicked in right away when we put them together. To see them playing their little colt games, you would never think they were any different than any other foals. They spend their nights in large, open-grill stalls across the aisle from one another. Tomorrow, we plan to put them out in a small pasture with our twenty-three year old mare, Pappita Sunrise, for most of the day since we are now on an eight hour feeding schedule.

Viktor at two months

During this whole process, we have been mindful of the need to treat Viktor and Colin as horses, not pets. We do not coddle them, and we correct aggressive behavior immediately and firmly, just as their own mothers would have. The only time we handle them is when we take them in and out of their stalls. They are both halter broke and lead fairly well. There are other horse in the barn with them, and when they are outside they are in a pasture adjacent to other pastures holding mares and foals.

At three months, we plan to wean Viktor and Colin from their milk replacer, and by then they should be able to be in pasture twenty-four hours a day, At that point we will introduce them to other foals.


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