Monthly Archives: January 2011

  • Protein Nutrition VI: The Growing Horse

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Previously we have discussed important concepts in protein nutrition concerning amino acids, digestibility, site of digestion as well as the requirements for several classes of horses. However, we have not yet looked at the young growing horse. This month we will discuss the protein needs of horses from weaning to two years of age, and examine some typical equine diets to determine if they fulfill a young horse’s protein requirements.

    The protein source used to meet our horse’s amino acid requirement is especially important in the growing animal. Young horses are usually the model used to test protein sources, as researcher’s can monitor the average daily gain of the horses. Ideally, the amount of calories and protein does not different between the horses, only the protein source. These diets are referred to as iso-nitrogenous and iso-caloric. The horses which are able to achieve greater rates of growth are doing so presumably because the amino acid profile of a particular protein source more closely matches the needs of the young horse’s body for protein synthesis. In fact, in 4 month old horses, milk protein supported greater rates of growth than did other sources including linseed meal, soybean meal or barley. This would certainly make sense, as one would expect that the amino acid profile in milk designed to support foal growth would do so better than plant proteins!
    With young horses, it is especially important that we try to eliminate deficiencies of amino acids which limit growth. Again, those amino acids which are deficient in the diet are refereed to as the liming amino acids. For horses (along with many domestic livestock species) the most important limiting amino acid is lysine. For young horses, it is recommended that lysine make up 4.3% of the total protein consumed in the diet, or alternatively, that the young horse between 4-10 mo of age receive 33-42 g of lysine per day. The young horse may even need to consume less total protein, if key amino acids are supplemented in the diet. Threonine has also been shown to limit young horse growth, and supplementation of this amino acids as improved growth rates, as well as lowering serum urea nitrogen. A decrease in serum urea nitrogen indicates that the animal is undergoing less catabolism or breakdown of amino acids, and using them instead for protein synthesis. If an animal is fed a poor quality protein, with a bad amino acid composition, the horse will still be able to use those amino acids, but only for energy or storage as fat. As part of this process, the nitrogen of the amino acid is removed and incorporated into other amino acids, or into urea for later excretion. Thus when an animal has a higher blood urea nitrogen, it indicates poor protein utilization.
     
    In Table 1, the amount of crude protein needed per day is given for horses up until 18 months of age. For simplicity's sake, ages of horses are grouped, rather than each month’s requirements listed. As such the higher value for grams of crude protein is listed for the age range. This was preferred rather than taking an average value, and underfeeding protein. However, you can see that the young growing horses’ protein requirements begins to decrease as it reaches its yearling year. If we relate that to the increase in size of the young horse, the concentration of protein needed in the diet decreases as well. It is the early rapid growth that requires the greatest amount of protein that the horse will ever need through its lifetime. Table 2 illustrates the amount of crude protein necessary in the total diet in order to reach the young horse’s requirements. As the horse matures, the amount of crude protein needed in the diet declines. It is also easy to see that allowing the foal to ingest greater amounts of feed, requires a lower concentration of protein needed in the diet, and a more conservative approach to protein intake.
    Expected mature weight (lbs)
    4-6 mo.
    7-8 mo
    9-10
    11-12 mo.
    13-15 mo
    16-18 mo
    900
    553
    587
    620
    692
    684
    664
    1000
    614
    651
    688
    768
    759
    738
    1100
    676
    717
    758
    846
    836
    820
    1200
    737
    782
    726
    922
    912
    885
    1300
    798
    846
    894
    998
    987
    959
    Table 1. Protein requirements (g/d) for young horses based on their expected mature body weight.
    % of Bwt consumed
    4-6 mo.
    7-8 mo.
    9-10 mo
    11-12 mo
    13-15 mo
    16-18 mo.
    2.0
    20
    15.1
    13.8
    13.8
    12.5
    11
    2.25
    17.8
    13.4
    12.3
    12.3
    11.1
    9.8
    2.5
    16.0
    12.1
    11.0
    11.0
    10
    8.8
    Table 2. The total percent crude protein needed in the diet for a growing horse.
    These values are based from the total intake on a dry matter basis. The change in body weight of the foal is taken into account. For each age grouping, the smaller weight of the foal (i.e., a 4 mo old foal would weigh less than a 6 mo. old foal) is used in order to ensure adequate protein intake.
    When feeding your young horses, it is always important to start with a good quality hay. Ideally you are using a legume hay or at least a legume grass mix. If the young horse has access to good quality, growing pasture, this also supplies an excellent source of protein. However, this does entail pasture maintenance. When a plant is in a younger stage of maturity, or actively growing, its protein content will be higher. If the foal is forced to graze mature stands of grasses, or even weeds, the protein content will be lower. Let’s work through a few examples in order to demonstrate the type of diet the foal will need.
    Let’s begin with a foal that we expect to mature out to 1100 lbs. He is currently 6 months of age, so we know that he should be receiving 676 g of protein per day. At this age, the foal should weigh 473 lbs. We have a grass legume hay mix which supplies 16% crude protein. If we look at table 2, we can see that our foal should receive enough protein if he is fed at 2.5% of his body weight per day, or 11.8 lbs of hay per day. If he eats more, he will definitely meet his protein requirements. But let’s make this a little more complicated. We decide to only feed him 2% of his body weight in hay per day. He now receives 9.5 lbs of hay per day.
    Doing the math, our hay provides: 9.5 lbs /2.2lbs/kg = 4.3 kg
    4.3 kg x 16% = 688 g of crude protein.
    That meets his requirements as listed in the table above. Why is that? Again, for simplicity's sake, the table uses the lowest weight possible for each group of horses. Therefore, the actual total protein needed in the diet is slightly less than for the 4 month of foal. Essentially, if receiving a good quality legume hay, your foal will be adequate in protein. However, what if the hay has a greater proportion of grass, or the hay was cut at a later stage of maturity? To explore this possibility, we will feed a hay that only contains 13.5% crude protein.
    Following the same procedure as above:
    4.3 kg x 13%= 559 g of crude protein.
    We are now deficient in protein. We also might need to be concerned that our amino acid profile may be poor for a young growing horse. So let’s look at two different alternatives.
    We can use a commercial feed that supplies 15% crude protein to our horse on an as-fed basis. Previously we were calculating our feed values on an as-fed basis. We will continue with the concentrate by staying as-fed, as is seen on the feed tag. How much grain will we need to supply the foal as we are only deficient by 120 g of crude protein?
     If we divide the amount of protein needed by the percent protein in the feed :  120g /16% ; we need 750 g of the feed. Converting that to pounds, and our horse needs to eat 1.7 lbs of grain per day. That certainly does not seem like an excessive amount of grain for our young horse per day. In fact, he is still below the total 2.5% of his body weight. So what does this mean overall? Choosing higher protein hays will ensure your foal has the adequate amounts of protein for higher growth. If your hay offers less protein, a commercial feed designed for young horses will typically easily meet the deficiency in that hay. Additionally, when examining these feed tags, you will often see that some of the key amino acids are supplemented in that feed. This ensures that your foal will grow optimally, provided nothing else is going wrong!

     

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  • Science & Technical Advisors

    Douglas Bibus, MS, Ph.D.

    Kristina Hiney, Ph.D.

     

    Dr. Doug Bibus Omega Fields Scientific & Technical Advisor

    Douglas Bibus, MS, Ph.D.

          — Omega Fields® Scientific and Nutrition Consultant

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Dr. Doug Bibus is community faculty member at The Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and a researcher in the area of fatty acid biochemistry and nutrition.  Dr. Bibus is considered one of the top Omega-3 experts in the world.  He stems from the academic lab of Dr. Ralph Holman who standardized Omega-3 terminology and discovered the metabolism and definitive essential nature of Omega-3.  In addition to his work with the Center, Doug is president of, and directs, Lipid Technologies, LLC, an analytical and consulting group that focuses on fatty acid and lipid analysis, and the integration of lipid nutrition in biotech and food applications.

    His research interests include the role of essential fatty acids in human and animal nutrition, the role of Omega-3 fatty acids in the down regulation of the inflammatory response and the application of fatty acids in the treatment of disease.  Other ongoing research is the examination of the role Omega-3 and fatty acid nutrition plays in the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, arthritis, critically injured and adult respiratory distress patients, and in patients with autoimmune disorders.   Dr. Bibus has also developed an Omega-3 blood test (omega3test.com) to identify levels of Omega-3 in the blood and ascribe risk for heart disease and depression.

    Dr. Bibus is a member of several organizations including the American Oil Chemists’ Society (serving as their Awards Chairman), the American Chemical Society, the Society for Critical Care Medicine, and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids.  He has been the recipient of the American Oil Chemists’ Honored Student Award and a two-time winner of the American Chemical Society’s Award in Analytical Chemistry.  Doug is a board member of the Health and Nutrition Division of the American Oil Chemists’ Society and also serves on that society's Foundation board.

    In addition to presenting at numerous professional meetings, Dr. Bibus is a sought-after lecturer and author in the area of human and animal health.

     

     

     Dr. Kris Hiney Omega Fields

     

      Kristina Hiney, Ph.D.

          — Omega Fields® Equine Nutrition Advisor

     

     

     

     

    Omega Fields® is pleased to welcome Dr. Kris Hiney, Equine Nutrition & Exercise Physiology, University of Wisconsin – River Falls, as our Equine Nutrition Advisor.

    Kristina Hiney, Ph.D. brings the benefits of her distinguished academic training and professional career relating to equine nutrition and physiology. "I am pleased to join the Omega Fields® team where I will be able to bring my expertise in equine nutrition and my experience in the horse industry together in a way to benefit horse owners across the country," expressed Dr. Hiney.

    Dr. Hiney's extensive personal knowledge and experience in equine-related business and associations will help Omega Fields expand our connection with you, our customers. Each month, you can look forward to a new feature article concerning equine health and training in Kris's Korner, in Omega Fields' online Health-E-Letter. Click here to sign up for your free Health-E-Letter subscription delivered to your email address!
     

    As Omega Fields' Equine Nutrition Advisor, Kris will also be providing technical expertise for Omega Fields' Animal Nutrition Team concerning new product research and formulation -- developing Omega Fields' products that are nutritionally relevant to current health issues regarding horses and pets.

    "We are excited to have someone of Dr. Hiney's caliber partnering with Omega Fields®,” commented Sean Moriarty, Omega Fields' CEO. "Dr. Hiney's input will help us meet and exceed our customers’ needs and expectations as she shares her equine nutrition and physiology expertise through her monthly articles. She will also be working with our Animal Nutrition Team to expand our premium equine product lineup to meet the more diversified nutritional needs of our customers' treasured breeds and riding disciplines."

    Please click here to read Dr. Hiney’s articles from Kris's Korner.

    Kristina Hiney, Ph.D. - Vitae

    Dr. Hiney’s undergraduate education was at the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana.  She graduated with a 5.0 on a 5.0 scale (University Honors).  She received her Master’s Degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University in the area of equine exercise physiology and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University, also in animal science.  Kris was a Distinguished Graduate fellow at Michigan State University and a Regent’s Fellow at Texas A&M University.  Both of her Master’s Degree and Ph.D. projects focused on bone development of the immature animal.

    Dr. Hiney has authored or co-authored seven peer-reviewed publications as well as numerous abstracts.  She has been an invited speaker at the MN 4-H Leader’s conference, the Wisconsin 4-H Leader’s conference, the 2004 Conference on Equine Nutrition Research and for Cargill Animal Nutrition.

    Currently Kris is a member of the American Society of Animal Science, where she serves as a peer reviewer for publications and their online photo archives; and a member of the Equine Science Society.  In 2006, she was an evaluator for the graduate student paper competition in Exercise Physiology.  She also won the graduate student competition of ESS (formerly known as the Equine Nutrition and Physiology Symposium) in exercise physiology and management in 1999 and in 2001.  At present, she is the Vice-President of the National Horse Judging Team Coaches Association.

    Dr. Kris Hiney Omega Fields

    In the equine world, Kris is a member of the American Quarter Horse Association, the National Reining Horse Association (where she is a carded judged), and the North Central Reining Horse Association.  She trains and shows her own horses in the reining horse industry. In 2008 Dr. Hiney received a grant from the AQHA to do International Horsemanship camps in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, traveling with three students from UWRF.  She also serves frequently as a clinician or horsemanship instructor for many 4-H organizations in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

    At the university, Dr. Hiney serves as the Western Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Coach and as the Horse Judging Team Coach and Horseman’s Advisor.  Her horse judging teams have won the AQHA World title twice (1997 and 1998, Texas A&M), Arabian nationals champion (2000) and reserve champion teams (2001, Michigan State), as well as numerous top five finishes at the NRHA Futurity contest and the NRBC judging contest. She also serves as the breeding manager for the horse farm.

    Dr. Hiney is a member of the Faculty Senate at UWRF, and serves as the Secretary for the Senate as well.

     

     

  • Emergency Preparedness for Your Pet: 8 Things I Learned from 8 State Hurricane Kate

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic
    8 State Hurricane Kate, an old Australian Cattle Dog, was rescued from a rooftop in Louisiana nine days after Hurricane Katrina. I met her in September 2005 in Gonzales, Louisiana, where rescued animals were taken for care and shelter. With no known address or ID, she was running out of options. When Hurricane Rita forced our evacuation, I drove home to Minnesota, through eight states, with Kate in a kennel in the back seat. While fostering Kate, I listed her on Petfinder and searched for her original family, even posting a “Do You Know This Dog?” video on YouTube.com. Yet five years after Hurricane Katrina, I still don’t know what her life was like before August 29th, 2005.
    Kate’s story holds valuable lessons for all animals. My journey with Kate inspired me to write the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book, to organize my dogs’ information in one place, for daily use, travel, and emergencies. This book includes important information from Noah’s Wish(www.NoahsWish.info), a group dedicated to caring for animals in disasters. The following tips will help keep you and your pets safer and happier.
    8 Things I Learned from 8 State Kate
    1. Microchip your pet. Katrina showed us how easily pets can lose their collars and IDs. A microchip implanted under the pet’s skin is the best permanent identification. I recommend a microchip even if your pet never leaves the house. A flood, tornado, hurricane, or even a surprise bolt out the door can separate you. A microchip is a small electronic chip with a unique ID number, in a capsule the size of a grain of rice. When a pet is found, the ID number is read by a hand-held scanner and the microchip company is notified. The company looks up the ID number in their database to find the owner. A microchip will only reunite you with your pet if you’ve registered your current contact information.
    2. Keep good pet records, including a current photo of you with your pet (to verify ownership) and photos of your pet’s unique identifying characteristics. Store your pet’s vet, food and medication records in one place (like the Not Without My Dogbook). Include information on the pet’s daily routine, words the pet knows, and other useful tips for anyone taking care of your pet in an emergency situation. Make sure a designated person knows where your pet’s information is stored, in case something happens to you.
    3. Make a disaster plan for your family and pets. Know the most likely natural disasters in your area. If you must stay home, be prepared to survive without assistance. Assemble a kit to meet your family’s basic needs for at least three days. Store it in easily accessible waterproof containers. If you must evacuate, do not leave your pets behind. Have carriers, leashes, and harnesses for your pets. Know the local evacuation routes, how you’ll transport your pets, and where you’ll take them. Plan alternate destinations because emergency shelters for people often don’t allow pets, and pet-friendly hotels fill quickly.
    4. Make a family communication plan in case a disaster occurs while you’re separated. Know where your family will meet if you can’t reach each other by phone. Identify a neighbor or petsitter who will get to your pets quickly when they need help and your family is away from home.
    5. Make sure your pets are properly vaccinated, treated for fleas and ticks, and on heartworm preventative. Healthy pets are better prepared to survive anything, including displacement and housing with other animals. Accepted vaccination protocols are changing, and some flea and tick treatments are not approved by veterinarians. Do your research and decide what’s best for your pet. 
    6. Socialize and train your pets. Socialize pets to be confident in different situations. Positively trained pets are less likely to get lost. Make sure they know how to walk on a leash/harness and are comfortable riding in their carriers in the car. Teach them to wait before exiting the car by pausing, then giving them a reward.
    7. Tune in to your pets. They’re tuned in to you. Give them opportunities to do what they were bred to do. Help them relax and be confident. Appreciate them for who they are. The more connected you are to your pets, the better you will weather anything together.
    8. Be resilient. An old girl who has lost everything can recover with dignity and grace, and be happy. Kate taught me this too.
    (Photo credit:  LS Originals of Fridley, Minnesota)
    Jenny Pavlovic is the author of the award-winning 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog and the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book (made in Minnesota). Learn more at www.8StateKate.net and http://www.facebook.com/8StateKate. Find out about Jenny’s events in Wisconsin and Minnesota at http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?page_id=186.

  • Protein Nutrition V: Broodmares

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will continue our protein nutrition series with the classes of horses having the most demanding protein needs: the broodmares. It would make sense that this group of horses is the most sensitive to changes in protein nutrition, as they are continually supplying nutrients for the growing fetus or foal. Shortchange your mare and you may be short changing your future generation. But let’s take a look at what these animals need, so that we can avoid any potential pitfalls in our feeding strategies.
    Gestation
    Before we start feeding a mare for gestation, we at least need to get her pregnant first. Therefore proper nutrition of the broodmare does start before conception. As long as the mare is fed adequate amounts of protein (no higher than required by a maintenance horse) there should be no nutritionally related reproductive issues. However, mares which are deficient in protein are slower to begin cycling normally and have a higher rate of early loss of pregnancy. Short changing the mare on the feed bill will definitely not save money in the long run. Always begin the breeding season with a proper feeding program for optimal results.
     After the mare has conceived, her early pregnancy requirements are not much different from when she was open. Just like with her energy needs, her changes in protein requirements are really quite minimal at the beginning of her pregnancy. As the rate of growth of her developing fetus increases, she must have a greater supply of amino acids in her diet. Looking at Table 1, you can see that the greatest increase in her protein requirements occurs in the last two months of pregnancy. Table 2 places these daily requirements into a simpler expression of the total percent protein that your mare will need depending on the amount of feed she is consuming.  Just as you can imagine, the more the mare consumes, the lower the total percentage of crude protein needed in the diet.  In fact, this is usually what happens. Most mares will voluntarily consume more feed as her energy needs go up, thus also meeting her protein requirements.
     
    Shopping for Feeds
    It might be surprising to look at the values in Table 2 compared to the typical amount of protein present in a commercial feeds.  Most feeds designed for broodmares range between 14 and 16% crude protein, yet the overall protein percentages needed in the diet are much lower. So why do feed manufacturer’s offer such high levels of protein in their products?   For one, most of the feeds are really designed to meet the needs of the lactating mare, rather than the gestating mare. Additionally, you may remember from earlier articles that forage protein is not digested as fully as the protein which comes from concentrates. While protein requirements do try to account for some of this variance, an average digestibility value combining both forages and concentrates is used to calculate the total amount needed in the diet. Furthermore, the guidelines for protein intake are based largely from research with horses consuming mixed diets usually offering an equal proportion of concentrates and forages. Thus if more of your horse’s diet is forage, you must consider that when selecting an appropriate concentrate.   Remember as well, that legumes are digested to a further extent than grass hays, thus also offering not only more protein on a concentration basis, but also being absorbed more thoroughly by the horse. A general guideline would be, that if feeding high quality legume hays, the amount of protein required in the concentrate could be much lower (as low as 10-12% CP). If feeding primarily grass hays, then you should select a concentrate closer to 14% CP.
    Wt of horse (lb)
    Early gestation
    5 mo.
    6 mo
    7 mo
    8 mo
    9 mo.
    10 mo.
    11 mo.
    900
    507
    551
    566
    586
    611
    641
    676
    718
    1000
    562
    611
    628
    650
    677
    711
    750
    796
    1100
    619
    673
    691
    715
    746
    782
    826
    877
    1200
    675
    754
    755
    781
    814
    854
    902
    957
    1300
    731
    794
    817
    845
    881
    924
    976
    1036
    Table 1. Protein requirements (g/d) for a gestating mare based off her initial non-pregnant weight.
    % of Bwt consumed
    Early
    5 mo.
    6 mo
    7 mo
    8 mo
    9 mo.
    10 mo.
    11 mo.
    1.5
    9.6
    10.4
    10.7
    11.0
    11.5
    12.1
    12.8
    13.6
    1.75
    8.2
    8.9
    9.1
    9.5
    9.9
    10.3
    10.9
    11.6
    2.0
    7.2
    7.8
    8
    8.3
    8.6
    9.1
    9.6
    10.2
    2.25
    6.4
    6.9
    7.1
    7.4
    7.7
    8.1
    8.5
    9.0
    2.5
    5.7
    6.2
    6.4
    6.6
    6.9
    7.3
    7.7
    8.1
    Table 2. The total percent crude protein needed in the diet for a pregnant mare throughout gestation. These values are based from the total intake on a dry matter basis. However, percent total protein is represented on an as fed basis, as is represented on feed tags.
    Protein requirements for Lactation
    The lactating mare will consume more feed than the typical maintenance horse as her energy demands have increased greatly.   Just like with energy, it is the lactating mares who really have the biggest nutritional demands of any of our horses. Compare the grams of protein needed per day in Table 3 to Table 1. You can see that her protein needs have more than doubled. If mares are deficient in protein, they will be unable to produce as much milk as those at an adequate plane of nutrition, and may end up losing weight. This is certainly undesirable, as this is also the time period when most mares are being rebred as well.   Mares do a fairly good job of producing milk though certainly not equivalent to a Holstein cow! Mare’s milk production usually averages about 3% of her body weight, with that value tapering off to about 1.9% of her body weight during late lactation. The protein concentration in the milk is the highest during the first 22 days of lactation (when foal growth is very rapid) and thereafter plateaus throughout the rest of her lactation.
    Wt of horse (lb)
    Early lactation
    3mo.
    4 mo
    5 mo
    900
    1234
    1180
    1124
    1069
    1000
    1369
    1309
    1247
    1186
    1100
    1507
    1441
    1372
    1306
    1200
    1646
    1573
    1498
    1426
    1300
    1781
    1702
    1621
    1543
    Table 3. Crude protein requirements in grams per day for the lactating mare.
    % of Bwt consumed
    Early Lactation
    3
    4 mo
    5 mo
    1.5
    24.1
    23.0
    22.9
  • The Big Snow

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but I live not more than five miles from the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Her life story is taught in the local schools and I drive by her family’s historic log cabin site every time I head down to Pepin to the little grocery store or the school.

    When I whiz past the tiny cabin at 60 miles an hour I rarely think about what life must have been like for Ma and Pa and little Laura, Mary, Caroline, and Grace. But yesterday as I fought through eight foot snow drifts and the wind bit into my face and tried to freeze my eyelashes together, I thought about it.

    Everyone in the region had been warned about the big snow. The weatherman predicted a snownami, a snowmaggedon, and a snowpocalypse. And, just as it does when he warns us about tornados, it went in one ear and out the other.  They are exaggerating, we Midwesterners say. 20-24 inches of snow? It can’t be that bad. They always say things like that. It will never happen. Life threatening wind chills of -25 to -35 below? We’re tough. We can take it.

    And then we act like we had never even heard the weather guy. Even as the snow started coming down and it snowed for 18 hours straight people continued to try and go about their business. At least the big city and town people did.

    Out here with our mile long driveways and dirt roads that amble and curve up and down the valleys, nobody is going anywhere. At least until the plows come. Our township roadman, Mr. Robert Stein, does a great job of plowing snow. But on days like this we understand that he has to keep the big roads open. And when there are 22 inches of snow and sustained 40 mile per hour winds it makes it a lot harder to get the job done. We are content to sit back and ride out the big storms.

    Living on a farm and knowing that the snow was coming we prepped as best we could. Snow began falling late Friday night. By Saturday morning as we did chores we already had at least six new inches of snow on the ground. We were still able get the tractor out (thank you, John Deere), and we made sure that we fed twice as much hay as we normally feed to the horses so they could eat enough calories to keep warm. We put the older, more vulnerable horses in stalls thickly bedded with shavings and extra hay so they could handle the storm without being harassed by the younger, more dominant ones.

    The sheep and chickens who normally bound joyfully out of the barn each morning, greeted me warily as I opened the door. The lead sheep ran out and, repelled by the blowing horizontal snow, immediately reversed himself and headed back. A few brave chickens who normally don’t mind the snow, stepped gingerly out, and quickly turned tail and fled inside. I put extra feed and hay in the sheep pen and filled the chicken feeders and told them they were on their own. With the door shut, the barn stays pretty warm from the heat generated by the nine sheep, three goats, and the 40+ chickens. Chores took longer than usual as we fought the wind and wet snow. We were happy to finish and go back inside to warm up.

    The rest of the day felt like the snow days we had as kids. My younger boys were disappointed that it wasn’t a real snow day (it was a Saturday) but enjoyed having everyone home together. Even my oldest son, Wes, was home from college for a few days.

    Because I own an animal actors agency and I am also a professional animal lifestyle photographer, I stay pretty focused and try to squeeze the work into every moment I have. But the big snow that had been falling for hours made me want to slow down and just appreciate the beauty of it from the warmth of my cozy farmhouse.

    I didn’t edit any images, and the dishes and the laundry could wait as we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Wes did his best to imitate Jimmy Stewart, changing the dialogue just enough to make us laugh, and the other boys said the all of the familiar lines with the actors.

    As it grew dark, Wes and Warren started preparing dinner. This was a treat for me, as I am usually the chief cook around here. I smiled as I looked back on the relaxing day.

    But being a farmer and an animal lover and responsible for our animals’ welfare, I knew it was time to go out and check on the animals one more time and feed our two recently rescued Morgans their second helping of grain for the day.

    My two youngest sons, William and Walker, and I bundled up in fleece-lined hoodies, our Carhartt bibs and jackets, and double thickness rag wool gloves. Walker wore snow goggles, vestiges of Wes’s army service. William wore a Russian ushanka hat that ties under the chin to keep the wind out.

    We headed out into the storm. The wind and snow hit my face and eyes like a frozen hurricane as I paused for a moment to survey the scene. Over 20 inches had accumulated throughout the day and the wind had whipped up drifts higher than the shed’s rooflines.

    I sloughed through the drifts, making my way to the new barn to check on the mares first.  They seemed surprised to see me; all four were tucked into the shed. Beauty the Morgan, and the two ponies raised their heads and looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing here? It’s snowing out, Dummy. Go back inside!” And Jenny my rescue Morgan mare, snorted impatiently as if to say, “It’s about time you gave me my grain.”

    I fed Jenny in her stall and broke the ice out of her bucket and refilled it so she would have enough to drink during the long night. I turned off their lights, and told them I’d be back in the morning. I didn’t need to climb over the wood fence as I normally do because the snow had drifted over it and most of it was hidden. I waded through the drifts and made my way over to the granary where the geldings can get out of the wind.

    Although they had plenty of hay inside the barn to eat, most of them chose to continue to chew on the round bale I had placed by the granary wall that serves as a wind block. They looked like the bison you sometimes see in National Geographic. They were covered in chunks of snow and frost lined their delicate eyes and nostrils. The geldings don’t seem to mind the cold. As long as they had hay to eat and could keep out of the wind they would be okay. I checked on Jack, my other rescue Morgan, and made sure he was happy in his stall with his new buddy Louis, one of my elderly horses, nearby. I gave them fresh water also.

    I made my way to the chicken coop, which is actually a small gabled barn that houses the chickens, sheep, and goats. It was surprisingly warm inside; their water had not even froze.  I gathered the two eggs that the laying hens had decided to give to me today and closed them up for the night.

    Knowing that everyone was safe and warm, I started walking the 200 yards back to the house. In the distance, the house appeared to be smiling at me, as all the lights were on and I could see that William and Walker had gone in before me.

    It was just me and the three dogs outside in the storm now. As I forced my way through the drifts it occurred to me how lucky I am that I could see where I was going. I glanced up at the powerful yard light that illuminated the farmyard and wondered about the people who owned this farm before electric power came in the 1940s. I remembered tales of farmers dying in their own yards by becoming disoriented in the blizzard and unable to reach the safety of the house.  They weren’t kidding when it was said that farmers would have to tie rope between the barn and the house so as not to lose their way.

    About halfway up a particularly deep drift I got stuck. After working myself out of it by leaning forward and crawling out, I decided to rest for a moment. I began to wonder what it would be like to freeze to death.

    I lay there on my stomach with my face cradled in my arm in an effort to block the wind. I wondered how quickly the cold that was just beginning to seep through my heavy clothes would chill me to the point of hypothermia. The wind howled and raged around me and blasts of snow came off neighboring drifts and hit me square in the face whenever I looked up. I wondered if anybody missed me yet and what would happen if I were truly unable to move for some reason.

    It was the dogs that discovered me. Hawkeye the Border Collie, Apple the Aussie mix, and Lisle the German Shepherd all descended upon me with a flurry of kisses and much jumping back and forth over my prone body as they tried to get me to respond. When I didn’t move, Hawkeye and Apple gave up. But Lisle lay quietly down beside me as if protecting my head and face from the wind. So it is true that dogs will do their best to protect their masters, I thought to myself as I pulled myself up and told Lisle that she was very good girl.

    I caught my breath and made it the rest of the way to the house. Inside, the warm air was a welcome change from the bitter winds outside. I looked around at the comforts of modern life: heat that pours off the radiators, music coming from the iPod® in the kitchen, food in the fridge, the world at our fingertips through our computers, and I smiled, gratefully. I’m glad I’m not Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family in that little log cabin with no electricity. I am happy sitting in my warm house and just imagining what life would have been like five miles and 140 years from here. Where’s my copy of Little House in the Big Woods?

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