Thursday, November 12, 2009

Morning Chores

It was another beautiful frosty morning as I walked to the barn. There was frost on the grasses and the paths and buildings, and the sky was a beautiful faint peachy-pink to the north:

Now that we're in dry lot for the winter, my routine changes a little bit, but a lot is still the same. When I first get to the barn, I turn on the stall lights, and turn the lever so the outside water will work. Then I give all the horses some hay, checking to make sure that all the heated water buckets are working. Throughout the time I'm feeding, I observe the horses to see if their behavior in the stall and when eating is normal - if something's wrong it's usually immediately apparent. I rinse out Blackjack's beet pulp bins from the night before - I do this outside because of the mess but once temperatures are below freezing inside the barn at night, I'll do it in the office/kitchen for the hot water. Blackjack's beet pulp gets hot water added so it can soak, and while I'm doing that I give the cats their food and water.

Then I feed the horses their breakfasts, and start making up the feed for that night and the next morning (we use numbered buckets). I make up feed in three steps, and once I start a step I like to finish it as I make fewer errors that way. The first step is the feeds - we use Purina Senior, CPI Equi-Balancer (a vitamin and mineral balancer pellet), oats and Buckeye Ultimate Finish - and I do the daily Strongid for the 5 horses who get it at the same time. Every horse is on an individualized feeding program adjusted for their weight and age, and we make changes over the seasons to make sure they stay in good condition. For example, today I upped Noble's Purina Senior - he now gets 2 pounds morning and evening in addition to 1/2 pound Ultimate Finish and his balancer pellets. The next step is supplements - I counted and there are 18 different supplement containers, some serving more than one horse. The final step is putting a squirt of cocosoya oil in each bucket and mixing, stacking buckets and putting them in the feed cabinet.

Then the horses go out to the dry lots. A view through the barn door:

Someone asked about our dry lot set up. We have two approximately one acre pastures that are close to the barn - which is a big help in the snowy weather, as we don't plow or shovel the approaches to the barn and the dry lots to reduce ice build up and sometimes it's a chore tromping through the deep snow. They share a fence line which has electric on the top, and the two water tanks - we'll be putting heaters in soon - are served by a frost-free hydrant between the dry lots:

As I'm turning out horses, I fill water tanks as needed and make sure the heaters are working if we're using them. After I turned out a few horses, Blackjack's beet pulp was ready to be drained and served - it has to soak for 20 minutes. Then I turned out the rest of the horses, and finished making up and putting away the feed while Blackjack was finishing - it takes him quite a while. When he was ready to go out, he went with a couple of flakes of hay to the small paddock opposite Charisma's paddock - when the horses are in dry lot, we've found that he gets harassed a lot, particularly by Scout, and he is so old now (30s) that he can't defend himself or get away. Here he is enjoying the bits of grass that have grown up in the paddock where Lily lived until she retired to Tennessee in June:

He's a little thinner than I'd like going into winter, but we have several weights of blankets to keep him warm. He likes to chew grass and hay, but can no longer chew them well enough to swallow them as he only has a few teeth left - he spits them out after chewing. He wears a fly mask whenever he's outside, as he has had episodes of uveitis and has cataracts so his vision is poor and he tends to poke his eyes with grass and hay blades.

My final set of chores is to rinse out Blackjack's pulp bins and get his pulp/Purina Senior/balancer pellet mix ready for evening feeding, turn off the heated cat beds and water and the heated buckets if temperatures will be above freezing and then to do a stall check. I go in every stall and look at the amount of manure and its distribution, the amount of urine - we use pelleted bedding so this is easy to see - and I check water consumption. If a horse needs another white salt block, I put one in. I also check feed bins to see that everyone ate a normal amount of breakfast. Every horse has its own normal for all these things, and every stall has a specific "look" - it things aren't quite the same that can be an indication of trouble coming. For example, some horses neatly deposit manure in a pile and others strew it around. If there's a change in the pattern, it may mean something. If a neat horse suddenly gets messy, it can be a sign of agitation or stress. If a messy horse gets neat, it can mean pain - the horse doesn't want to move - or impending illness. Signs of pawing can mean pain. A smaller amount of manure than normal or failure to eat a normal amount is a big red flag - some horses do leave a bit of their morning feed for later. Failure to drink a normal amount can also mean illness or can mean that the water tastes funny or the bucket is too dirty. Usually a horse that is ill will stop eating grain before it stops eating hay, so I'm interested in both. A horse with ulcers will also often not be that interested in its grain. If a water bucket is dirty and needs cleaning, I leave a note on the board for the couple who clean our stalls.

The horses all sampled the new round bales and then mostly moved off to graze. Joe is looking good at 27:

Fred's 23, I think, and his legs tend to swell and he's weak behind due to the effects of Lyme disease, but his body condition is very good, especially compared to what he looked like when he came last February:

I'm a little concerned about Noble - he was doing well over the summer but has started to drop weight, particularly along his top line and hindquarters - note that his sacrum and hips are starting to be more prominent and that there's a slight "dish" developing between his sacrum and hip.

He is 29 - he'll be 30 in May - and I can't expect him to last forever - so far he's happy and healthy but even his sweet face is looking older:

Fritz is looking good - you can see his fallen withers in this picture - at some point in his past he must have fallen over backwards and broken the spinal processes on the vertebrae making up his withers:

Here are Sugar (the nose), Misty and Maisie through the fence line between the dry lots:

Sugar's giving me the eye:

Dawn looks very happy - this expression is common for her these days:

Since we had new round bales, I checked them for quality - our hay supplier is very good and we've only ever had a few moldy bales, but I always check. I look at the bale - color is a good indication - darkish color is a bad sign. This bale, in the geldings' dry lot - looks good: dried but with some nice fresh green:

Then I break some pieces off the bale to expose some layers and smell the hay - it should smell fresh and clean and moldy hay is pretty easy to detect - don't try this one if you're allergic to mold or dust. Also, as you break the hay apart, mold will give off a distinctive "dust" - very fine, almost like smoke - those are mold spores. This bale had some dust, but it appeared to be normal hay dust and the smell was OK - dry but hay-like.

Maisie's coming to see what I'm doing - she certainly doesn't need any extra feed! Misty approves of the bale:

The mares' bale looked and smelled even better:

It's going to be a beautiful day, so I'm hoping to get in some horse work since I'm feeling all well again. Have a great day, and may it include horses!


  1. Noble's top line looks like my 29, going on 30 year old Gelding, Red's topline. Red is full and fat everywhere else--I'm wondering if the more prominent topline isn't from lack of muscle. They're doing good to be alive at 29 and 30 and look as well as they do.

  2. I have a morning routine I follow as well. If I get out of my routine, especially when making feed, it throws off my rhythm for everything!

  3. We have a good deal of musical horses around here since the sale of one or another changes the delicate herd dynamics. Since I only feed once a week I can never remember what everyone gets in detail (1/2 a scoop? the middle container or the one the right?), but I know who to wrestle where...

    Thanks for taking us with you. Cats with heated pads. Wow. Don't tell my cat, she'll be taking the first bus north...

  4. Those are some lucky horses. Especially the senior citizens. It's so nice to see the great care and attention you give them.

  5. More great photos, and thanks for the dry-lot explanation. Just what we'd like for winter!

  6. Somehow missed that you have a blog! oops . Glad I found it now . Yup the smell of good or bad hay is a good way to figure it out , my nose knows!


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