Tag Archives: mare

  • A Tale of Two Mares

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    All photography© 2011-2012, Barbara O'Brien

    My most recent horse rescues are two lovely Morgan mares that came from a Pennsylvania horse auction widely known to be attended by large-scale slaughter brokers. Fortunately, a sales broker who works with the group Forever Morgans, purchased them. Forever Morgans' mission is to find good homes for horses that would have most likely ended up on a slaughter truck.
    The first mare, Laurel, arrived in the summer of 2011. She was a 16 year old mare that had been an Amish carthorse. When she arrived, she still had on a full set of driving shoes, which we quickly pulled to let her just be a horse. Although, she had a lovely temperament, she didn’t really understand being a pet. She didn’t know what apples or carrots were and did not understand why we would just come into the pasture and brush her for no particular reason. It took awhile but she soon began to realize that she had a new life here, full of lazy days in the pasture with lots of treats and kind words.
    In December of 2011 we rescued, again through Forever Morgans, a 17 year old mare we call Ivy. She had had some success in the show world and then had been sold to the Amish to be a carthorse and broodmare. She had been run trough the auction with her six month old filly who was sold separately and unfortunately did not make it. She was a flashy big bay with a graceful long neck and big expressive eyes. When I rode her, it felt like I was going like a freight train, but her trot was as smooth as silk. Remembering her early life as a show horse, she was appreciative of the treats and good food and lots of love so she settled quickly into her new life with us.
    The winter of 2012 was mild here in Wisconsin and passed without a fight. Laurel did well all winter. With her heavy winter coat, and 24/7 access to hay she gained weight quickly and was looking good. But, no matter how much grain and hay I fed Ivy she did not seem to be gaining as quickly I would have liked.
    Even though she was ribby, I noticed her belly getting wider and wider. It was then I suspected that she may be pregnant, but no… that couldn’t be. She was sold as open (not bred) so she couldn’t be pregnant… could she? So I increased her feed just in case and kept an eye on her to see how she progressed.
    I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when on April 1st, I noticed the first signs of eminent foaling. She was all bagged up, meaning her udder was developing in order to nurse a foal. I was happy and excited. We had not had a foal around for years. How fun to have a surprise one and most likely a purebred Morgan at that! I prepared a stall for her and began the waiting game.
    After many restless nights spent checking on her every few hours, on April 10 she had a beautiful, healthy bay colt. As a firm believer in imprinting newborn foals (the practice of familiarizing a newborn foal with humans) I spent the next few hours carefully touching every part of his silky soft body and tiny little hooves.
    Ivy proved to be an excellent mother and it was evident that she had done this many times before. She was calm and let me handle the foal with no sign of nervousness or stress. We decided to name the foal Quincy, as it seemed to suit the friendly colt’s exuberant personality.
    Laurel, who was in the paddock with Ivy all along, proved to be an excellent auntie. She gave Ivy plenty of space with the foal but stayed near enough to make her and Quincy feel safe as part of a herd. When Quincy was a little older he naturally, as colts do, began to pester Laurel. She, being the good-natured mare that she was, would gently reprimand him and teach him important horse manners.
    One morning when Quincy was about a month old, I was surprised to find Laurel missing. Ivy and Quincy greeted me like usual, but Laurel was nowhere to be found. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and I checked the fence to see if she was frightened by something and ran off but it was working just fine. It was then I found her behind the barn. She was covered in mud and in obvious pain. She grunted and rolled and I knew right away we were dealing with a bad case of colic. Horses cannot burp or release excess gas through their mouths and so whenever they get a stomachache or a blockage it needs to go through their whole system. I called the vet and then went back and got Laurel up and began to walk her. Walking helps get their systems moving again. There was nothing to do now but wait.
    When our vet, Dr. Tom, arrived he treated her with medication to ease her pain and help her muscles relax. We also tubed her with mineral oil to ease her digestion. We were instructed to keep an eye on her and see if her symptoms and her pain subsided. Laurel's condition turned out to be what was most likely torsion colic or a twisted gut, a much more serious case, where part of the gut gets twisted, like a kink in a garden hose. We planned on giving her the night to allow the mineral oil to work but when I went to check on her about 8:00 that evening she was thrashing in her stall. My heart sank as I realized Laurel was not going to recover, and it became clear to me what I had to do. I called Dr. Tom and asked him to come out and put her down, as she was suffering and I knew she wasn’t gong to recover. I went back out and led her out onto the grass to wait for Dr. Tom. It was then I let out a short sob, which startled Laurel and even in her pain she leaned her head into me as if to say are you ok? Her attention made me cry even harder. She was finding it hard to walk so I just stood with her, and a moment later she lay down in the cool spring grass. She was breathing heavily as I knelt down and stroked her head. “You can go now,” I said. “You can go.” With that, Laurel looked at me one last time, her eyes soft and warm. She heaved a last big sigh, and then she was gone. I wept while I petted her, not wanting to leave her, but I knew I must Tell Dr. Tom that he did not have to come after all. I finally went inside, thinking how courteous she was, saving Tom a trip in the dark night and me an additional vet bill.
    The next morning, I let Ivy and Quincy out into the paddock. They quickly realized that Laurel was gone. Ivy called for her but after awhile, she went back to eating her hay.
    I noticed Laurel’s grooming kit with the extra soft brush for her face and the empty hook where I hung her halter and I began to cry again for my poor mare. As all animal lovers can attest, it is never easy to lose the one you love.
    While I openly wept for my beautiful mare, I tried to console myself that Laurel had a good life here. There was always food, there was always pasture, there was no work or a harsh smack from a whip, and there was plenty of attention from children, who were only too happy to brush her coat and comb her mane. I had to tell myself that at least we did what we could for her and both our lives were better for having found each other.
    At that moment, I felt something come up behind me and nibble on my shirt. It was little Quincy, trying to get my attention. He jumped and snorted as I turned and then came up to me again, cheerfully demanding to be scratched and fussed over.
    Hey, I’m still here. He seemed to be saying. You still have me to love. And that is just what I am going to do.

  • Preparing for the Breeding Season

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
    While breeding season may be the last thing on anyone’s mind at this time of year, it will be coming soon. Now is the time to ensure that your mare or stallion is going to be at their optimal reproductive efficiency. While much of a mare's or stallion's fertility depends on other factors such as age, condition of reproductive organs, etc., there are some basic management steps we can take to ensure that as few cycles of inseminations are needed to get a mare pregnant. Multiple breeding attempts can quickly outstrip the original stallion breeding fee and be a significant cost to the mare owner. Often we forget that every shipment of semen may be an additional cost, followed by extra veterinary fees, mare board, etc. Therefore it is in the mare owner’s best interest to have her in optimal condition before the first breeding attempt ever occurs.
    So how do you prepare your mare and stallion in January to begin breeding anywhere from February to mid-summer? The easiest place to begin is to look at your horse’s body condition score. For a mare, we want her to be at a body condition score of at least 5 or 6 (see "Too Fat, Too Thin, or Just Right"). A mare in this condition would be a moderately fleshy mare whose ribs are covered by fat, has evidence of fat deposition behind her shoulder and over her tailhead, and whose back is level. Mares that are a higher condition score than that may still have no problem getting pregnant, but are unnecessarily obese. This may result in more wear and tear on her joints. Additionally, as there is no increase in reproductive efficiency, maintaining a mare in too high of condition may just be a waste of feed costs. Furthermore, if she has chronically been obese with localized fat deposition, she may even be at risk for metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance (see Equine Carbohydrate Disorders, Part 3: Metabolic Syndrome).  If your mare is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, it is important to correct her metabolic profile and manage her carefully through the breeding season. Altered hormonal profile can impair her ability to become pregnant and certainly extra weight in a laminitic mare may increase her level of pain.
    If we look at the opposite condition and the mare is too thin, she will need more cycles to settle compared to a mare at adequate condition. She also may take longer to return to normal cyclic activity following winter anestrous (when mares cease to cycle due to the shorter day length). Thin mares' conception rates may be lower, and if she foals in a thin condition, she may take longer to begin cycling again. With so many negative effects of trying to breed a thin mare, one of the easiest ways to increase reproductive efficiency is to put weight on your mare!
    Stallions also use more energy in the breeding season due to the increase in their activity levels. Stallions which breed mares in an intensive live cover breeding system will of course need more energy than a stallion which is bred only once every other day. Stallions which are more extensively used would have energy requirements similar to a light to moderately exercising horse, and their maintenance requirements will also be elevated (see "Energy for Work").  Typically, stallions are simply more active during the breeding season as they exhibit their normal sexual behavior. Ideally, stallions should be maintained in a body condition score close to 5 throughout the breeding season.
    Beyond just meeting a stallion's energy requirements, feeding of Omega-3 fatty acids may help improve his reproductive efficiency. In a study by Harris, et al, published in 2005 in Animal Reproduction Science, stallions supplemented with dietary Omega-3 fatty acids increased their daily sperm output.  Furthermore, there was an increase in morphologically normal sperm in the supplemented group.  The greatest response was seen in the stallion with initially the most morphologically abnormal sperm. In this study, one stallion who was considered to be a “poor cooler” improved his post cooling progressive motility from 23 to 38% in a 48 hour test cool. Therefore, supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids may be a valuable tool in improving the reproductive characteristics of sub-fertile stallions.
    Basic guidelines for increasing body weight and condition in horses are really no different for the broodmare or stallion than in other classes of horses. The quicker the gain is needed in the horse, the larger the increase in calories which must be offered daily. If you only have two months to get your mare in condition, you need to increase her energy intake by 30-40% to increase her body condition score by one number. If we have three months, which may be more realistic, the energy requirements increase by 20-30%. Remember, however, if you are trying to accomplish weight gain during the winter, she may also have an increase in energy requirements due to her need to thermoregulate. This will make weight gain more difficult. To add calories quickly to the diet, look for a fat-added feed that will be digested quickly and efficiently.  Remember that fat offers 2.25 x the calories that will be in grains which consist primarily of simple carbohydrates. Fat will also disrupt the metabolic profile of the horse to a lesser extent than a diet high in sugars and starches.
    Of course, beyond caloric intake, always ensure that your breeding horses are consuming a complete balanced diet in respect to all nutrients, have good health care and are suitable candidates for breeding. Breeding horses is a big responsibility in terms of the care and well-being of the mare, stallion and the subsequent offspring.

  • Minimizing the Stress of Weaning

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    The fall season is here and with it often comes the time for weaning our foals. Many successful weaning strategies exist but it is important for the manager to choose the optimal one for their facilities and management style. These decisions are important and can affect the growth, well being and even the future behavior of your foal.
    When is it appropriate to wean?
    Foals can be weaned at any age provided their proper nutrition and socialization skills are ensured. Foals whose dam’s may die at birth are obviously “weaned” from their dam at an extremely young age. While it is preferable to find a willing nurse mare, and it is even possible to induce lactation in a non-pregnant mare, many owners choose to put the foal on a liquid diet of formula designed to match the mare’s own milk.  Specialized milk replacer, goat’s milk and supplemented cow’s milk can all be used successfully.  Prior to doing so, it is important to ensure that the foal has received adequate amounts of high quality colostrum, as the proteins found in the milk replacer may block the later absorption of immunoglobins from colostrum. Colostrum content quickly decreases in post-partum mares and should have been harvested within the first three hours post parturition of the donor mare.
    Orphaned foals must be fed frequently , initially from a bottle, but can then be taught to drink from a pail, similar to calves. Initially the foal should be fed at 5-10% of its body weight in the first day, and then increase to 20-25% of its body weight by day 10. Solid feeds can be introduced early, as the foal would typically begin to ingest feed in imitation of its dam after only one week of being born. Milk replacer pellets are available, and can help supplement the foals’ initial liquid diet.   Foals can be weaned from this liquid diet by 10-12 weeks of age. Most importantly, some sort of companion should be found for the foal. Often orphan foals develop undesirable behaviors as they have no guidance from a mature horse as to what constitutes appropriate social behavior. Typically, orphaned foals view humans as their peers, which may result in some rather inappropriate rough play!
    With the exception of extremely early loss of the dam for a variety of reasons (death, injury, sales, etc.) most managers choose to wean foals between three and six months of age. In the feral state, foals typically are self weaned by 35 weeks of age or between eight and nine months. At five months all foals spend 50-70% of their day consuming solid feed, compared to about 2% of the day suckling. Mare’s milk production also begins to drop off by three months of age, at which time foals are consuming a high percentage of natural feeds through grazing, hay or concentrates.  It is advantageous to introduce the foal to the feeds it will be consuming post-weaning to ensure an easier and more stress-free transition. This will also help prevent fluctuations in growth rates that may place the foal at risk for developing developmental disorders.
    After insuring that the proper diet is being fed (see previously related articles concerning protein, energy and minerals for growth), the management system used is important to consider. Foals weaned in isolation (such as confined in a box stall) show more incidences of stereotypies (such as weaving, cribbing and wood chewing) and are more vigilant (less time standing relaxed) than foals weaned in pairs. Foals weaned in stalls also show more abnormal behaviors such as stall licking, kicking, rearing and pawing than weanlings weaned in a paddock. Even horses stabled for the first time as two year olds exhibited much less aberrant behavior and were more relaxed when stalled in pairs versus singularly.
    Therefore the ideal management system would wean the foals with a counter-part, rather than in isolation. For example, at our facility we wean the foals by removing the dams, with foals remaining in the same pasture and with the same herd mates with which they have been raised. This results in very little stress (at least as exhibited by vocalizations and seeking of their dam) which is frequently resolved within two days post weaning.   Even in this system we wean in pairs, whether or not this actually relieves stress for the weanling. If raising only one foal, it is advisable to seek out an older quiet pasture mate, or even to find another youngster to raise with it. Many horse owners find themselves in a similar situation and may be willing to board another weanling or send theirs as a companion.
    Alternative strategies include gradual weaning, in which the mare and foal are separated, but are allowed all behaviors except nursing. Typically this is done over a fence that the foal simply cannot nurse through. After one week, the mare is removed completely. Foals weaned in this manner, exhibit less stress and have lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) than foals which are weaned abruptly. However, these foals are no different than abruptly-weaned foals after two weeks. The advantages to this system may simply be a lessened possibility for injury or disease.
    Weaning stress may also make the foal more susceptible to diseases. Because of this, be sure that the foal is in good health prior to weaning (we typically have vaccinated the foal and ensured a high immune status prior to weaning) and there are no undo stressors. For instance, plan the time of weaning for when the climate is not too adverse (either too hot or too cold/wet).   Because the mare and foal may show high stress and try to re-unite, check that the facilities used for weaning are extremely safe. Expect that maiden or younger mares may exhibit a longer period of time in which they still call for or seek out their foals. Halter breaking is not advisable right at the time of weaning either, as the foal is already stressed and more reactive. Ideally foals are handled from birth, which can lessen the stress of procedures often introduced at this time (vaccinations, deworming, farrier care, etc).
    Care of the mare is simple, with usually a decrease in ration quality or quantity from that received as a lactating mare. Although her udder will fill initially, it is important to not milk the mare, as this will only further stimulate lactation. The udder should become soft within a week of weaning.   She can then be returned to her pre-foal life, whether that is as a riding horse, a gestating mare, or simply a mare of leisure.

    By thinking through the weaning system and the safety and nutritional needs of both mare and foal, the stress of “growing up” for the foal can be greatly minimized.

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