Monthly Archives: November 2010

  • The Benefits of Flaxseed

    Elaine Magee, MPH, RD — WebMD Feature

    Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that flaxseed may help fight everything from heart disease and diabetes to even breast cancer.

    Flaxseed may be on everyone's lips -- and in everyone's cereal -- but this new darling of the plant world has been around for more than 4,000 years, known even in the days of Hippocrates for its healthful benefits.

    Flaxseed has been a part of human and animal diets for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and more recently in North America and Australia, says Kaye Effertz, executive director of AmeriFlax, a trade promotion group representing U.S. flaxseed producers. As flax gained popularity for its industrial uses, however, its popularity as a food product waned, but it never lost its nutritional value. "Today flax is experiencing a renaissance among nutritionists, the health conscious public, food processors, and chefs alike," says Effertz.

    The reason for the increasing interest in flaxseed is its apparent benefits for a host of medical conditions, says Roberta Lee, MD, medical director of the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York.

    Flaxseed is very high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, Lee explains. It's the omega 3s -- "good" fats -- that researchers are looking at in terms of their possible effects on lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar, lowering the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and reducing the inflammation of arthritis, as well as the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and asthma.


  • Telling the Story

    Three dogs on truck hood

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I had the privilege of photographing some old dogs yesterday.  My friend, Deb, made the long drive from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to our farm in western Wisconsin with her three dogs in tow.  She wanted me to do a photo session for her before she lost one of them to old age or disease.  She was especially concerned for her almost 15 year old Australian Shepherd, Brady. His condition was progressively getting worse. Day by day, she could see his once sharp mind slipping away.

    She arrived and her dogs leaped from the back of her SUV, heads high and eyes bright.  It was if they were saying, “Where are we? What are we going to do? What a cool place, Mom!”  They spotted the cats first and Dilly, her six year old Mini Aussie, pulled hard on the leash as he tried to say hello to the closet one. Brady sniffed the air and her 12 year old Sheltie, Murphy, stepped forward as if he owned the place. After a few minutes of initial excitement the dogs began to settle down, or at least Brady and Murphy did. It is not in Dilly’s nature (not unlike my own) to be still for very long. There was so much to see and do.

    I had my camera in hand so we headed down to the big barn door where a long hallway frames a dog's head nicely with the landscape beyond and tried to get the three dogs into a sit-stay. Being well trained obedience dogs, Dilly and Murphy sat quietly, but Brady couldn’t bear to have Deb out of range for more than a moment and kept breaking his stays to follow her.

    Another photographer may have been upset by this, as it was in effect, ruining the shot, but to me it was just another part of telling the story. Brady was losing his vision and hearing and to an intelligent, active dog like him if must have been a new and perhaps frightening experience. No wonder he would get up and try to follow Deb when she left him. The good obedient dog in him wanted to comply, but his confidence had been eroded by his illness and he knew he needed to be by her side.

    I told Deb not to worry and had her sit down with all three dogs. She gathered them to her chest and they all grew still, comforted by her presence. Even little Dilly stopped moving for a moment or two. I managed to get several shots of them all together before Dilly broke off to chase the chickens.

    He took off after one of my hens. The hen ran as fast as she could, bee lining it towards the safety of the henhouse. Dilly was right behind her, even grabbing a mouthful of feathers as they went behind the barn. We ran after them, positively sure that we were going find a dead hen in Dilly’s mouth. To our surprise, Dilly had chased the hen to the woven wire fence of the goat pen and was making sure the terrified hen did not try to escape as he gently herded her into the corner. Thankful that his herding instinct was stronger than his predator instinct, I rescued the hen and brought a very proud Dilly back to Deb.

    Our next shot was in the hay fields where the dogs ran and played, joyful in their newfound freedom as Deb unleashed them and let them run. Dilly zoomed back and forth through the alfalfa and Murphy, ever the gentleman, stayed right at Deb's side. Brady, grinning his doggie grin, ran from new scent to new scent, just happy to be alive. I could see that Brady was slowly leaving us, and that it would only be a matter of time before Deb would lose him forever. He seemed to have moments of clarity and then  not be with us at all. I couldn’t help remembering that all animals live in the here and now and don’t know tomorrow. As much as it pained Deb to see him deteriorate all that mattered to Brady at that moment was that he was with his beloved owner and doggie companions. He was running free in green fields, smelling new smells and feeling the warmth of the late afternoon sun upon his head and back.

    I still wanted to get a shot of the three dogs together so I took advantage of my son’s rusty old pickup truck that was parked at the edge of the field. We placed all three dogs on the hood and were able to get the group shot we wanted.

    We did a few more shots of Deb walking with the dogs down my long winding driveway and then by the wooden fence of the arena. After that, we loaded up the three tired, but happy, dogs into her SUV and Deb headed off for home.

    That evening as I was editing the images, I was overwhelmed by the depth of the loyalty, devotion and undying love that shown through each dog’s face when they looked at Deb. I felt blessed that I was able to be a part of their story, even if only for a short while. And in time, when her old dogs leave her, I hope that she will find some consolation in the images and the story her dogs told us on that glorious fall day at the farm.

  • Protein Nutrition III: Determining Protein Requirements for Your Horse

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    In the last two articles we discussed the importance of protein quality, not only in terms of site of digestion in the horse, but also the amino acid composition of that feed.  Now we will try to simplify these concepts into selecting appropriate feeds for horses.

    The first task in developing a feeding program for your horse is to identify what class of horse you have.  (For a review revisit: Equine Energy Requirements and Energy Requirements for the Working Class)  The horses with the lowest protein requirements relative to their body size are the mature horses not in work, or maintenance horses.  This does not include geriatric horses which may have altered protein needs due to the lowered efficiency of their digestive system.  We also must assume that the horse is receiving enough calories in the diet.  A horse fed a diet sufficient in protein, but low in calories will lose weight (makes sense right?) but a horse which has adequate calories but not enough protein can also lose weight.  We also make some consideration for the activity level of the horse as well.  Remember the difference in energy requirements  between the couch potato Quarter Horse and the active Thoroughbred mare (Equine Energy Requirements)?  Well a similar relationship exists with protein requirements.  Essentially the more active horse would have more lean tissue/muscle  to support than the lazy horse.   Table 1 lists the actual protein requirements for a  maintenance horse depending on activity level and their body weight.  Remember that this does assume a quality protein source. Lower quality protein (less digestible or poor amino acid profile) can adjust these figures upwards.

    Table 1.  Crude Protein requirements for maintenance (grams of CP/d) based on average activity level.

    Wt of horse (lb)

    Couch potato























    What percent protein do you need?

    But let’s put these numbers into something more people are familiar with, percent of the diet.  Table 2 provides the percent protein of the total diet a horse would need to consume to meet their protein requirements.   Looking at Table 2 shows how easy it is to meet a maintenance horse’s protein requirement.  You can also see that as total consumption goes up, the percent of the protein needed in the diet goes down.  Conversely, if you fed less you would need to increase the percent protein in the diet.  Horses will usually consume between 1.5 and 2.8% of their body weight per day on a dry matter basis.  Typically you will see horses lower their consumption of less palatable hay which often equals poor quality.  However, this can largely be based on the individual, as some horses compensate by lowered feed quality by increasing intake (Edouard et al., 2008).  It turns out that horses are much more variable in their voluntary intake than other domestic species are!  Just like a horse to always want to be unpredictable. If you notice your horse picking through its hay and leaving a good proportion of the hay untouched it may be wise to select a supplement designed to provide amino acids but not to greatly increase the calorie consumption by the horse.  Alternatively it may be time to find a new hay supplier (see Selecting Forages).

    Table 2a. Percent total protein required in the diet on a dry matter basis depending on the total consumption of the horse per day.

    % of Bwt consumed

    Couch potato























    Table 2b. Percent total protein required in the diet expressed on an as fed basis assuming an average dry matter content of 85%. Note: this can change with the feed fed and is only representative of harvested feeds, not pasture or grasses.

    % of Bwt consumed

    Couch potato























    Protein content of common horse feeds

    Now let’s look at some typical protein values for feeds.  To be sure of your own feed ideally have your forage tested as well as examine your feed tag.  Corn ranges between 8-9 % CP on a DM basis, oats 12-13%, soybean meal – 43-49%, grass hays – 10-18%, and legumes between 18-25%.   With the range of protein content in forages, one can see how important it is to have knowledge of your nutrient content prior to selecting your concentrate.   Even with these ranges, most maintenance horses will easily meet their protein requirements by forage alone.  If you look at the range of percent protein needed by the maintenance horse in their total diet, it compares quite well with grass hays.  If you are feeding your horse and he is maintaining weight, he should easily be meeting his protein requirements at the same time.  Remember, we assume  the horse is receiving good quality hay.  If you are worried about the horse meeting its amino acid needs, many feed companies make supplements specifically designed to be fed with a strictly forage diet, rather than greatly increasing the concentrate intake.  For example, many feed companies offer protein supplements in the range of 30-35% crude protein.  These are designed to be fed at a minimal rate (only 1-2 lbs per day) in order to simply balance out any deficiencies from an all forage diet.  Clearly not all horses need the extra calories that come from feeding higher levels of concentrates.  This provides a convenient, easy way to ensure that your horse’s nutritional needs are being met.

    Next month we continue with protein nutrition in the exercising horse.

    Edouard et al.2008. Animal:An international journal of animal biosciences. 102:10:1526-1533.

  • Protein Nutrition, Part II Protein Quality - It's More Than Just Digestibility

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
    In the last article, we introduced the idea of examining the protein in our horse’s diet beyond just the mere percent crude protein on the feed tag or a forage report. We discussed the concept of protein digestibility and the importance of the site of digestion. As there is only limited evidence that uptake of amino acids takes place in the hind gut of the horse, we prefer to feed proteins which are digested and absorbed in the small intestine of the horse. Typically concentrates offer more pre-cecal digestibility of protein than do forages. Therefore site and extent of digestion are key components of protein quality. However, there is another equally important factor in protein quality, and that is the amino acid profile.
    Last month the amino acids that horses could synthesize on their own were listed, as well as the amino acids that are essential to be supplied by the diet. Horses must receive the proper balance of amino acids in order to synthesize the many complete proteins in their body. When they do not receive enough of a particular amino acid, protein synthesis is limited. That amino acid is then referred to as the limiting amino acid. Typically, lysine is the most common limiting amino acid in the horse’s diet, or the one in shortest supply. It does not mean it is the most abundant amino acid found in the horse’s body, rather the one that is most commonly deficient in feeds. Now remember, every protein in the body is coded for by the DNA that provides a blue print to build that protein. The DNA provides the proper sequence of amino acids that must be linked together to form the protein. Let’s say that to build one molecule of actin (a protein found in muscle cells responsible for their contractile activity) there are 25 lysines, 30 threonines and 46 alanines. (The actual polypeptide chain of actin is over 300 amino acids long.)    If the diet contained only enough for 20 lysines to be added to the peptide chain, protein synthesis would halt, even if you had 35 threonines. If you added those lysines back in through the diet, protein synthesis could continue. Now, this is an arbitrary example, instead try to think of protein synthesis occurring throughout the body, constantly adding amino acids that have come from the diet, synthesized by the horse, or that have been recycled by tearing down old proteins.   Obviously the more protein the horse is synthesizing (think young growing horses) the more critical the amino acid profile of the diet.

    DNA molecule which contains the information to build every protein in your horses body.
    So what is the amino acid profile? Simply put, it is the percentage of each amino acid that appears in the diet, or even in a horse’s tissue. For example, in equine muscle tissue, lysine is set at a relative value of 100%, while other amino acids such as arginine, leucine, phenylalanine and threonine appear at 76, 107,60 and 61% respectively of the amount of lysine present in muscle(Bryden, 1991). In other animal species such as swine and poultry, nutritionists try to match the amino acid profile of the diet to the amino acid profile of the actual animal. In this manner, the least amount of amino acids are wasted. Instead, they are incorporated into the animals’ body to allow for growth, reproduction etc. One of the goals of many animal nutritionists is to achieve something called zero nitrogen balance in the animal. That means the amount of N going into the animal matches the amount of N going out of the animal. Or we are replacing the amount of N that is being lost by the animal through normal tissue turnoever. If we feed protein beyond what the animal requires, the animal will still digest and absorb those amino acids. However, if they exceed the horse’s requirements to synthesize protein, the horse will instead catabolize those amino acids for fuel, and excrete the nitrogen in the urine as urea. If you have ever walked into a poorly ventilated barn with horses that were fed high protein diets, you probably have smelled the ammonia that comes with excessive protein feeding. Furthermore, feeding excess N just adds to the N being added back to the ground through runoff from facilities.
    Protein quality and it’s amino acid profile can alter how much protein the horse actually requires. While we often just discuss protein requirements generically as a percentage, in fact horses can be fed a lower total amount of protein if it is of higher quality. For example, in young horses, the lysine requirement is 4.3% of their crude protein requirement.    The higher amount of lysine in the feed, the less of that feed will need to be fed. Let’s take a 4 month old foal which requires 669 grams of CP and 28.8 g of lysine. We then feed our horse either a 16% crude protein feed of high or low quality. We feed him at 2.5 % of his body weight and he weighs 370 lbs. That provides an intake of 9.25 lbs per day. If his feed provides 16% protein, he gets 660 grams of protein. We have almost completely met his protein requirements. But what if one of our feed sources contained only 2% lysine? That means that the foal would be deficient by 15.8 grams (the feed would provide 13 g of lysine) and thus his growth rate would be limited. Therefore the foal would have to eat much more of that diet (more than he can consume) in order to consume the correct amount of lysine. Our foal on the high quality diet would receive 28 g of lysine, meeting his requirements, and allow his body to grow normally. In older horses whose protein requirements are easier to meet, we can actually lower the total amount of protein in the diet provided it is of a high quality. In fact, lowering the total protein in the diet while supplementing key amino acids has been proven effective in both growing horses (Graham et al., 1994, Stanier et al, 2001) and in exercising horses (Graham-Thiers et al, 1999, 2001)
    The future of protein nutrition in the horse may very well focus on identifying the correct amino acids needed in the horse’s diet, and moving to a lowering of the absolute % CP in the diet, therefore minimizing waste, and decreasing the amount of N added back to the environment. While nutritionists still have much to learn, the goal when feeding protein is to feed just the right amount the horse needs, and not to overfeed needlessly.
    Next month, we put the theories into practice and discuss protein requirements for various classes of horses.

  • Protein Nutrition, Part I: Protein Digestion in the Horse

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we begin a new series focused on protein requirements for our horses, and the various feeds which provide protein. Protein is commonly the first concern of many horsemen when selecting their feeds, and the most frequently discussed. In the equine industry, there tends to be a common fallacy that if a product costs more, it clearly is a more desirable product to feed. As feedstuffs which contain more protein are often more costly, this tends to make higher protein feeds more attractive to the consumer. However, that higher protein content may not be necessary to feed to your horse! Before we can delve too deeply into the proper amounts of protein to feed to the various classes of horses, we should back up and break down what protein does for the animal, and examine how the horse digests this very important nutrient.

    Proteins are actually complex molecules that are comprised of a series of amino acids joined together by peptide bonds. All proteins are built from a specific series of the 20 most common amino acids. While many more amino acids are found in nature, we typically limit our discussion of amino acid nutrition to these basic 20 amino acids.  Of these amino acids, some are characterized as dietary essential amino acids or non-essential amino acids. The dietary essential amino acids include lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, the branched chain amino acids (valine, leucine and isoleucine), tryptophan, threonine, histidine and arginine. The distinction between these two classes is that mammalian systems lack either the ability to synthesize some amino acids (they lack the appropriate synthetic enzymes) or they cannot produce enough of that amino acid to support normal bodily function. The non-essential amino acids can be produced in the animal’s diet from other amino acids. In contrast, bacteria can produce all amino acids. This is what gives the ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, such a unique advantage. They can rely very heavily upon bacterial synthesis of amino acids to meet their requirements.
    Figure 1. The levels of protein structure from primary (just the linear chain of amino acids) up to the completely folded, functional proteins.
     All animals, in addition to plants, bacteria and fungi produce a wide array of proteins necessary for normal function. These include structural proteins found in muscle, bone, cartilage etc., enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and cell signaling molecules. The specific make up of a  protein is coded for by the organisms DNA. The DNA contains billions of individual genes that contain the information on how to build each specific protein found in the organism. Different tissues will turn on or express different genes, thus making liver produce the necessary proteins for its function, and the heart a separate set of proteins. However, every cell will contain the genetic information to produce every protein. That is why you can use a skin cell to clone an entirely new animal. All the necessary information to make a new horse is contained in that one cell. While this information may not seem germane to feeding horses, it is important to understand why the animal must receive particular amino acids in the diet. Without the right amount of essential amino acids, the animal is unable to synthesize protein correctly.
    When we feed protein, we need to be concerned with more than just the amount of protein contained in the feed. Feed tags will provide us with the percent of crude protein present in the feed. This number is really based on the percent of nitrogen found in the feed. That number is then multiplied by 6.25 to achieve the amount of crude protein. That is based on the fact that the average protein contains 16% nitrogen. However, there may be non-protein nitrogen present in the feed which may or may not be useful to the animal. While all protein contains nitrogen, not all nitrogen is protein. For example, in ruminant animals, non-protein nitrogen is often fed in the form of urea, due to the unique makeup of the animals digestive system which allows it to utilize these feed sources.  But what the crude protein percentage does not provide us with is information about  how useful is that protein to the animal. As horseman, we need to be concerned not only with the quantity of the protein we feed, but more importantly, with the quality.
    The quality of the protein can be thought of in two different ways. One indicator of protein quality is how digestible is that protein to the animal. A feedstuff which has a high percentage of protein that is unavailable to the animal, or is unable to be absorbed, is essentially useless. So let’s take a moment and explore protein digestion in the equine. Protein digestion begins in the stomach of the horse, where it is exposed to both inorganic acids (hydrochloric acid) and proteolytic enzymes – pepsin. These two digestive secretions begin the breakdown of protein by initiating the unfolding of the protein structure. While proteins are coded for by DNA in a linear form, the particular amino acids present in the protein cause the peptide chain to fold and wrap around itself to form its unique functional shape. In fact, one misplaced amino acid can render an entire protein useless. This is often the basis of many genetic diseases, a mutation which causes the wrong amino acid to be added to the peptide chain. Pepsin begins the disruption of the polypeptide chain by cleaving after specific amino acids, primarily tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalanine. While gastric digestion does not completely break protein down to a point it can be absorbed by the animal, it shortens the polypeptides and allows more access to the enzymes which will be present in the small intestine
    As the dietary protein enters the small intestine, it will be digested much further by a series of proteolytic enzymes which arise from the pancreas. These include chymotrypsin, trypsin, elastase, carboxypeptidase etc. These enzymes essentially complete the breakdown of protein into small enough pieces that can be absorbed including single amino acids, dipeptides and tripeptides. Once these are absorbed into the enterocyte, the dipeptides and tripeptides are further hydrolyzed into single amino acids. These then enter the blood stream of the animal where they can be delivered to various tissues to be used for protein synthesis. Non-protein nitrogen can also be absorbed out of the small intestine of the horse. Feeding urea causes an elevation of blood urea nitrogen,as well as urinary nitrogen, as the animal flushes the nitrogen out of the animal’s system. There is no evidence to support the usage of feeding nonprotein nitrogen to the horse, as it is unable to be incorporated into bodily protein. 
    Sidebar: Foal management. The exception to protein digestion occurs right after birth. The foal is born with a naïve immune system and must receive antibodies from the dam. These come from ingestion of colostrum or the first milk a mare produces. The colostrum contains a trypsin inhibitor which prevents the antibodies which are present in the milk from being digested. The foal also helps out the process by having an “open gut”. The proteins initially presented to the gut can be absorbed intact through the process of pinocytosis, or engulfing of the entire protein by the gut cell membrane. However, there is a finite capacity of the gut to perform this action. The most efficient uptake of intact proteins takes place within the first 12 hrs, with relatively little to no absorption past 24 hrs. Additionally, there is a limit to how much protein can be absorbed. If a foal was first provided milk replacer prior to the administration of colostrum, they may not be able to absorb the important antibodies if fed later with the appropriate colostrum. So always make sure your foal receives high quality colostrum in the first 24 hours of life. Don’t skip straight to the milk replacer in an orphaned foal!
    Any protein which escapes digestion in the small intestine is then delivered to the hind gut of the horse, where microbial fermentation can take place. The microbes are quite adept at further degrading feedstuffs, and producing compounds that are of value to themselves, as well as to the horse. The bacteria in the hindgut of the horse are quite capable of synthesizing all of the amino acids, however there is little evidence this is useful to the horse. In contrast to the ruminant animal, whose site of fermentation and microbial protein synthesis is prior to the site of enzymatic digestion and protein absorption in the hindgut, the horse is unable to absorb these proteins. Unless the horse practices copraphagy, or the ingestion of feces, this protein is believed to be lost to the animal.  In horses infused with lysine either in the stomach or in the cecum, only gastric infusion resulted in an elevation of plasma lysine, indicating the inability to absorb lysine out of the hindgut. However, there has been some recent evidence that some absorption of amino acids may occur in the hindgut. Messenger RNA coding for specific amino acid transporters have been isolated from the hindgut of the horse. This indicates a potential ability of the horse to absorb at least some specific amino acids from the hindgut. However, the transporter proteins themselves have yet to be isolated, or the disappearance of specific amino acids from the hind gut to be proven.
    Finally, let’s compare different feedstuffs in the extent and site of their digestion in the equine. Protein digestibility differs according to both type and amount. It has been repeatedly documented across a wide number of studies that increasing the amount of protein in the diet, also increases the percentage of that protein which will be digested. Perhaps this is due to an adaptation of the digestive system to increase the synthesis of proteolytic enzymes when presented with larger amounts of protein. Total tract digestibility of protein in forages ranges from 73-83% for alfalfa, 57-64% for coastal Bermuda grass hay, and 67-74% for other grass hays. Total tract digestibility for grains or concentrates is much higher, ranging between 80-90%. If however, the site of digestion is take into account, prececal digestion of forages ranges between 25-30% while concentrates are digested much more extensively in the small intestine, up to 70-75%. So what does this mean for the horse owner? Ideally when selecting protein sources for horses, both the digestibility as well as the site of digestion must be considered. Ideally,protein should be digested in the small intestine rather than the hindgut, to optimize amino acid absorption. However, there may be some evidence that this species which does rely so heavily on hind gut fermentation may be capable of some absorption out of the hind gut. The extent of that is yet to be proven.
    For next month, we will look at the second piece of protein quality, the amino acid profile of the diet.

  • Losing Boston but Saving Sarah

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    We lost a good one yesterday.

    Part of the price of having wonderful animals in your life is the pain that comes with saying goodbye to them. We had to put Boston, our 28 year old Quarter Horse, down. He had a fast spreading neurological condition that affected his spine, which in turn affected his ability to walk or keep his balance.

    And even though I believe it was right the thing to do, it is never an easy thing to do.

    Boston came to us many years ago as a Dollar Horse. A Dollar Horse is an older horse that is ready to quit being shown or bred but not ready to be retired forever. Or they can be reliable, trusted mounts that the family has sadly outworn.

    My Son, William, rode Boston those first few years and, although they like each other all right, their connection was nothing special.

    It wasn’t until Sarah, my cousin’s daughter, came to live with us that Boston found his true companion. Here was a girl that understood the best places to be scratched and one that he could follow around the pasture like a puppy hoping for a treat.

    Sarah was fifteen when she came to us, and on the first day, I handed Boston’s lead rope to her and said. “This is your horse. He is yours to ride and care for and just love.”

    Sarah was beginning a journey of recovery when she first met Boston and I believe he knew that she needed him, and if it is possible for a horse to give himself entirely to a person, I think this is what he did.

    She didn’t like riding him at first. Even though she was a confident rider, she didn’t have a lot of experience. Boston quickly learned to take advantage of this. He would trot merrily along, and then stop short and Sarah would tumble off onto the ground in front of him. Thank goodness for helmets and soft dirt arenas and Sarah’s willingness to get right back on.

    We found an excellent instructor and with time and hard work, Sarah’s riding improved enough that she was able to canter Boston bareback through the fields, and for the first time in her short life, I think she felt something akin to pure joy.

    Boston loved Sarah too. She was in charge of feeding him and all other aspects of his care. She would go to the gate and call his name and he would come running from wherever in the pasture he was. Boston knew what was coming and knew it was good.

    He was a good listener and over the next three years, he heard many a story about her life and took it all in with a kind eye and warm head and neck to cry into.

    Boston’s illness came on quickly. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong until I saw his rear fetlocks scraped up with abrasions from the opposite hoof. As I led him up to the barn I saw that he had to twist sideways to stay upright. I put him in a stall and called the vet. I also called Sarah, who was at her parents in town packing to move onto her dorm at college, and told her what was happening. I knew she would want to be there if we had to put Boston down.

    The vet watched Boston walk and we all agreed that his condition was only going to get worse and the decision was made.

    Sarah stroked his head and told him goodbye and after a short time he was gone. We all cried as she clipped some of his mane and tail to keep. She told him he had always been a good horse to her and that she was sorry he was gone and that she would always love him.

    I told her that he would be waiting for her and now he was whole, and well, and running in green pastures with the other horses we have lost over the years.

    Sarah is now 18 years old and embarking on her first year in college. She has overcome huge difficulties in her life and is a strong, beautiful, young woman ready to face whatever life throws at her. I am hoping that in some small way, Boston helped in this journey – that he knew that his work here was done, and she was going to be all right without him.

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  • Eating Crow

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    There comes a time in every parent’s life when suddenly their children are smarter than they are.

    This happened to me recently when I was with my eldest son, Wes. Wes, sadly, has been unemployed for the last few months so he has taken to tagging along with me on my errands and photo shoots. So when I needed to go check out some lambs and goat kids that I wanted to use in an upcoming photo shoot, Wes came along for the ride.

    I have a farmer friend that not only has prize winning sheep and goats, but also breeds prize winning chickens and waterfowl. He has every imaginable chicken, duck, goose and swan and they all announced our arrival, loudly clucking, calling, and quacking as we pulled up.

    You would not need an alarm system if you have even a few African Geese.

    The dog ran up, tail between her legs with her ears back in submission, as if to say, “I am so sorry. They make such a racket. Really, I’ve tried to talk to them about it, but they just don’t listen.”

    My friend came out and took us to see the lambs and goats. I picked out the ones I wanted and we about to leave when he said; “Oh, I have something you can take pictures of.” He led us through a series of pens, each one filled with exotic ducks and geese until we came to a pen with a live trap in the middle. I fully expected to see a monster raccoon, as I knew that raccoons are no friends to a chicken-duck-goose-farm.

    What I didn’t expect to see was a very big, very angry crow. My friend told me that the crow must’ve tried getting the bait and now found himself in big trouble. “You can take him home and take pictures of him,” he said excitedly. My mind began to spin at the possibilities. Maybe I could tame him and teach him all sorts of clever tricks like Uncle Billy’s crow in It’s a Wonderful Life. How cool is that?!

    Wes and I watched in amazement as my friend reached into the trap to transfer the crow to a small poultry carrier. We were even more amazed when the crow latched onto my friend’s tender skin between his thumb and forefinger with his incredibly shark beak and refused to let go. Being an elderly fellow, and the victim of, I imagine, many bird bites, my friend didn’t even flinch as he pulled the crow’s beak away and put the bird in the carrier

    He happily loaded the crow into my van, all the while telling me how neat it will be to take the crow’s photograph. I thanked him and drove away, with really cool shots already dancing in my head.

    I had no sooner left the driveway and hit the main road, when Wes, who had remained uncharacteristically silent, during the entire exchange, turned to me and said, “Mom, this is a bad idea.”

    Now when your 22-year-old looks you square in the eye and says, “Mom, this is a bad idea”, one should take notice.

    “I, myself, have had some bad ideas,” he continued,. “Like driving a car in Wisconsin with expired tags — bad Idea. And quitting my job before I had another one — bad Idea. And dating a girl who was still in love with her old boyfriend……Really Bad Idea”.

    He looked me in the eye to make sure I was paying attention. “My bad idea meter is going off the charts on this one,” he warned.

    “What?” I asked. “What’s the big deal?” I’m just gonna bring him home and take his picture and then let him go,” I said.

    “One, its illegal.” he protested. “You know you can’t keep a wild bird. Two, I know you think you are a pretty good trainer but this bird is not going to pose for you. Three, someone is going to get hurt. It’s a really bad idea.”

    “C’m’on, we could make it work at least for a few shots.”

    “Mom,” he said again. “Bad idea. That bird is going to be terrified and he’s going to fly all over the studio breaking things, perhaps even hurting himself trying to escape. He is most certainly going to hurt you. Bad idea,” he said again, turning his head away as if to say, how could his own mother be so dumb.

    I imagined my sweet tame Uncle Billy crow turning into one of the crows from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and had to reluctantly agree that he was right. I played it back and forth in my mind, trying to get around the reality of owning illegal wild crows, and had to concede my son was smarter than I was. We went a little further to a secluded spot on the road and pulled over.

    We set the carrier down and opened the door. The crow, who had been eyeing us with the blackest sharpest eyes, I had ever seen, walked slowly out onto the road. He didn’t even look back as he took flight, not knowing how close he came to being captive to my creativity.

    Wes, put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks, Mom," he said, as we watched the crow fly farther and farther away. It was then I realized, I am not so dumb after all — I raised him, didn’t I?

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Beware Ye All Who Enter Here

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    There really ought to be a sign.

    From the road my farm looks safe enough. Green rolling fields and faded red barns welcome you as you drive up the hill and round the corner. Towering maples shade the lawn and the windows on the house seem to form a giant smile. But, there really ought to be a sign, a big wooden one that warns: BEWARE YE ALL WHO ENTER HERE!

    When you live with something long enough it doesn’t seem at all strange to you, but I have to wonder what people think when they come here.

    I came to this conclusion yesterday, when I looked out the window and saw my three goats walk up and into a visiting contractor’s trailer. I ran out, waving my jacket, trying to shoosh them away before the crew noticed. One was on his hind legs investigating a tool bin and the others were already nibbling on a bag of insulation. Goats do not take direction well and it took me a while to make them vacate the trailer.

    Then, there are the cats. Ok, I admit it. We have a few cats. They are my acting cats. I use them for ads and commercials. All are loved, vaccinated and cared for and have what I think, is the ideal life for a cat. But, you cannot step out of your vehicle without being bombarded by at least 5 or 6 running up to greet you, hoping you will pick them up and give them a pet. If you are not particularly fond of them, they find you all the more interesting. “How could this be?” they muse. “This human doesn’t want us.” and like Spock from Star Trek, they tilt their little heads and say “Fascinating.” The cats then stalk their victim, waiting until the person has settled into, a lawn chair ice tea in hand. It is then they make their move, leaping up on to their laps. The more the poor person flails about and tries to remove the cat, the more the cat struggles to hang on, thinking, “Wow! If this guy is in danger then I surely don’t want to be dropped down into the middle of it!”

    And don’t even think of leaving your car windows open. More than one friend has found this out the hard way. The most recent case was a nice gal who came for her dog’s photo session. When we returned, there were 11 cats in the car. They were all lounging about on the dash and seats contentedly licking their paws as they glanced up, as if to say “What?” In the space of a half hour, they had managed to eat a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies and an entire loaf of sour cream focaccia bread that had been carefully procured from the local artisan bakery.

    Whenever a visiting photographer or contractor tries to work at ground level at least two or three cats try to help him by climbing on his back or rubbing against his hands while he works. I warn film crews and contactors alike that if anybody screws up there is a kitten penalty and they have to take one home.

    The cat problem was never more evident than when the TV show, MONSTERQUEST, used our farm and as a location for an episode about Bigfoot. Dear husband, Kevin, and my brother, Kelton, were recruited to portray two old bachelor farmers who, while playing cards one night, hear the dogs barking like crazy, and look out of their ramshackle old house to investigate. The dogs rush in, tails between their legs, obviously terrified. The bachelor farmers discover that the chicken coop door has been ripped apart by something that is really big and really mean. Tension builds as a light sweeps the darkness. An eerie stillness lies over the land, and then we see…we see…. a small orange cat entering the scene. “Meow?” his little voice questions. “Cut!” yells the director and we have to start again.

    The dogs are worse. Lisle, the German Shepherd, believes that all hats and gloves are fair game if set on the ground, and also believes that keep away is the greatest game ever invented. Apple, the Border Collie, is convinced that every person she meets really wants her to jump up and give them many, many doggie kisses.

    The chickens think that if you are walking towards the barn you must have some scraps for them. They spot a human and the boss hen clucks “Red Alert! Red Alert! Here they come!” They burst out from behind the hen house and from all corners as they race to be the first to grab a chunk of bread or an old bunch of grapes. If the sheep spot you, they will amble up the hill to say hello, in the hopes that you might have some heaven sent grain to give them.

    If the horses are up by the barn, they will hang their heads over the fence and snicker softly. Surely, you must have some apple treats in your pockets.

    Luckily, most of the people who visit me understand that the animals pretty much run the place and that all of this is to be expected. I can’t help feeling sorry, though, for the young woman who stopped by with some friends last summer. She probably didn’t know that she was going to be dragged out to a rundown old farm in the middle of nowhere. She was none too happy when Apple leaped up to greet her and chickens began to circle her. She shrieked when, Marcus, the goat nibbled her sundress and she really didn’t appreciate traipsing through the muddy paddock in her flip flops as we toured the farm.

    The funny thing is, I have four sons and with the exception of the youngest (a born extravert) and unlike the cats, you may never see them. The oldest is in college, and the other two would rather remain anonymous. Look at the bright side; at least if you mess up you won’t have to take one of them home.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • All The Ducks Are Richard And All The Hens Are Gladys: Or, the importance of Being Named

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When you have as many animals as I do in the public eye, the naming of animals becomes of the utmost importance.

    You can’t be on a set and say “Hey, Fluff! Sit…Stay!” It is only fair to name animals with some dignity. Not only does it color how you feel about the animal but I believe it also effects how the animal feels about himself.

    Take for instance, chickens. When I was training chickens for commercials for Gold’n’Plump, a regional brand in the Midwest, I would have as many as 20 white hens at a time. I could not name each one individually, I could hardly tell them apart as it was, so it was easier to name them all Gladys. Of course, certain clever chickens would distinguish themselves and became Gladys 1 or Gladys 2, but in the end they were all still, Gladys. The red hens were all named Ruth and the buff hens were all called Myrtle with the exception of Pretty Peggy, who, after her starring role as the distraught wife of the Perkins Rooster, and becoming the official ambassador for Omega Ultra Egg is a big star in her own right.

    The naming of roosters is a little different from that model. Roosters require names with some flair and presence and to match their appearance and demeanor.

    When I was working on the Perkins commercials and needed a set of Brown Leghorn Roosters I found some through a local chicken fancier and arranged to pick them up. When I asked him their names, he looked at me funny and said, “I don’t name them. They are just roosters.”

    Just roosters! They deserved more than that. They were magnificent birds, with showy feathers of red and black with glints of green and tails that were held proudly as they crowed and talked to each other from their cages.

    I took them home and released them and watched them greet the hens. They strutted around like they owned the place, quickly establishing which hens belonged to whom.

    I decided they needed names with pizzazz. I named the biggest, most assertive one, Raphael, the next Fernando, and the third, Alonzo.

    These names suited them and they were proud of themselves on the set, performing admirably when asked to pose or do a behavior for the commercials.

    All the ducks are named Richard because if you think about it, aren’t most of the Richards you know rather duck like? I mean this with great affection as the Richards I know carry themselves like their namesake king.

    The naming of cats is another matter altogether. Cats are sensitive animals and require names that suit their personality. I do not like giving cats simple names like Kitty or Max. They need names that tell me who they are and so, many of mine are named after famous actors, performers, and politicians. Some of our current cats are named Bullet, after the movie with Steve McQueen. Teddy, after Teddy Roosevelt. Churchill, who came with Teddy. Franklin, after Benjamin. Capra, after the director. The Hepburns, after Kate and Audrey. Cats are embarrassed if you laugh when you say their names, so please be sure to name them correctly. If you laugh and tease them long enough they will go pee on your bed, and then who will be sorry now? Dogs don’t care what you call them. They are just happy you called them at all. Really, it’s true. You can any use words you want and they will still stand there, eyeing you adoringly, because you are… their everything. Unless, of course, you have a naughty dog, (most likely a terrier) that runs away when you call him and delights in checking out the neighborhood while you chase after him in your bathrobe, vainly calling his name.

    That is why I only have herding breeds on my farm. Like good German Shepherds or Border Collies who would rather be with me that anywhere else except for when the sheep are out, and then the Border Collie would rather be with them.

    Horses, I have found, sometimes require renaming so they can begin a new life. You won’t believe how many of my horses arrived with the name, Buddy. A horse can be the best buddy you’ve ever had, but an animal of such size and bearing requires something a little more dignified.

    When my Morgan mare came she was called Bailey, and although it is a fine name, she needed a fresh start with an owner who felt good about her, and so I named her Beauty. By calling her that, I felt that way about her, and over time she blossomed into a great beauty indeed.

    Our most recent addition, a three-year-old Welsh Pony, came with the name Pistol.

    I knew right away that it wouldn’t do. She was spirited and feisty and on her second day here, she opened the paddock gate and let all of her horse friends out to play. I have found that animals live up to your expectations and a horse named Pistol sounded like trouble. I decided to name her Ava, after the beautiful and voluptuous Ava Gardner, who was a strong feisty woman and the perfect namesake for the filly.

    There was no science to naming our three Sannen goat kids. My younger sons happened to be reading up on the Roman Empire at the time and so the goats were named Marcus, Aralias and Tiberius shortly after their arrival last fall.

    Our sheep, being mostly breeds of British origin, are named Nigel, Basil, Beatrice, Victoria, Henry, Feronia, and Fiona.

    I do not have any cattle or pigs here on the farm. If I did, I would have to name them. And if I had to name them, I wouldn’t be able to eat them.

    As for me, personally, you can call me anything you want as long as you call me to dinner.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Horse Math

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I have never been very good at math. In fourth grade, when I drew horses all over my work sheets, my math teacher, Mr. Johanson, warned me that I would never learn how to multiply or do long division if I kept it up. I am sorry to say, he was right. I can draw a darn fine horse, but I cannot do long division if my life depended on it.

    That is why it should come as no surprise that I am a master at what, my dear husband, Kevin, calls horse math.

    Horse math is a thought process behind the logic that goes something like this: If I go and see a horse that really should be worth $2000 and the owner is willing to sell it to me for $500, then I essentially have saved the extra $1500 that the horse should have cost. So, when the next horse I want comes along, and is priced at mere $1000, it is a real deal because I saved $500. Doesn’t that make perfect sense to you?

    Kevin says my eyes go all googley and twitchy when I start talking horses. And, I have to admit, he’s right. A while back, I made the mistake of checking out horse ads on the Internet and saw a seven-year-old Morgan Gelding for sale. I recognized the name of his breeder and knew that he was well bred. I looked at his picture and imagined what our lives would be like together. This behavior is not unlike teenage girls who write the name of their intended, over and over again just to see how it looks.

    I contacted the breeder and the delicate process of negotiations began. She sent more photos and patiently answered questions about pedigree, training level, and ground manners. I asked about bad behaviors (there were none) and with each phone call and email the horse sounded better and better. I thought that I better act soon, or she might sell him before I had a chance to see him. Kevin was less than convinced that we had to go and look at him that very weekend, but being the good sport that he is, he agreed to come with me.

    He has a good reason to be wary of my enthusiasm. The last horse that I felt I just had to have, we drove over 400 miles round trip to go see, and it turned out to not only to be blind in one eye, but chronically lame to boot. Now, to be fair to the seller, she may have told me these things, but in my horse lust I may have not heard them.

    We made arrangements with the breeder and headed out on the 150 mile trip to her place. When we arrived, I could see the horse in a paddock by the barn. He was just as described, old style with broad chest, round barrel and good, hard feet. His black bay coat shone in the sun and he stuck his muzzle out to smell me, just as curious about me as I was about him. There was a kindness about him that completely drew me in.

    We brushed him for a while and then we tacked him up. After a few times around the ring and then up and down the driveway, I could see that he had been started correctly and was willing to please. He was everything I wanted in a horse and so we sealed the deal.

    We paid the asking price, (no horse math here), since it was a fair one for such a fine horse and made arrangements to come and get him the next week. He was registered as Redcliff’s Mannington, but I thought Finnian suited him and that is what I named him.

    That was well over 10 years ago and that little Morgan has done it all. He has been shown, I have used him in movies, and he is one of my best photo models. He is still curious and kind, and he is still my favorite.

    Now, because I paid full price for Finn, I had to curb my horse habit for a while and concentrate on the ones I had. That is until a few years later when cruising Dreamhorse, I spotted a Morgan mare for sale across the river. She was old style foundation bred and only 13 years old. Her asking price was ridiculously low and I told Kevin we had better go and see her that evening.

    We drove across the river to Minnesota and pulled into the small hobby farm driveway. I quickly spotted the mare. The owner’s kids were clambering on and off her back while they led her around the yard. Safety concerns aside, I noticed that the mare had the kindest eye I had ever seen and truly loved the children. I began to feel awful that she was even for sale.

    I rode her bareback with just the halter and lead and I could see that this mare had soul and depth and was a keeper.

    We wrote out a check, which according to horse math was about half of what she was worth. I reassured the family that they could visit her anytime they wanted and I just knew that I had done the right thing.

    So, getting back to the horse math:

    It also applies to the number of horses we are feeding. Right now, we have 12 horses. Two are boarders, and ten are our own. Our horses consist of two old quarter horses, two young Half Arabs, four Morgans and two ponies. So whenever I say I have 10 horses, I clarify that it’s really only nine because the two ponies, who don’t eat as much, count as one, right? And Kevin would say that that is horse math at it’s best.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


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