A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The money game

The first thing I had to do when I started my business was to write a business plan.  What did I want to do?  How much would it cost to do it?  How much could I realistically expect to make doing it?

When I wrote my business plan, I was very conservative.  I increased my costs, and expected to make little money.  I mean, how many horses can I sell in a month?  Not as many as I will be feeding and caring for!  And so, I found my "needed" points for utility costs, hay, grain, shavings, mortgage, and such.  I worked backwards, looking at the average cost I would want to pay for boarding or training, or a horse, and making the property expenses fit that.

Many people know, and I'm not ashamed to admit, that we got a steal of a deal on our place.  We bought just a month before the economic meltdown.  The property was about to hit foreclosure, and mortgages were still easy to get.  We had one snag that almost lost us the place though.  My Agricultural loan wouldn't cover a property that is in the city limits.  Uh oh!  A few days of freaking out found us a local bank that would cover it, especially after evaluating the property value compared to the sales price.  We were paying about 1/3rd of the tax value.  That makes getting the mortgage MUCH easier.

And so, I have low over head, and plenty of acres of land.  This means I have a lot more freedom to implement my "Walmart" mentality, because losing one client doesn't mean I'm in dire financial straits.  I currently am producing about 4 foals a year, and expecting to sell those horses when they are about 4 years of age.  With my low bills, the cost of making one of these horses is about $500/year (plus $1008 while in utero).  I am able to reduce the cost per horse, by increasing the income of the herd.

So, lets talk about how much a horse costs to get all grown up.  For most people, they look at the expenses THAT horse cost them.  This is a mistake.  Sure, you might spend $20 on dewormer, and $150 on vaccines, and such, but what about the whole herd?  If you're in business, your goal is to make a PROFIT, not to pay off one horse.

So, for me, I currently have 8 brood mares.  I have 4 foals a year, so that each mare gets time off. In some years, I have less foals then that (market matters, if I have horses that aren't selling, then I make less new babies).  So, this means to make a profit, I have to pay for the mares, the stallions, the babies, all their vet needs, and consider the lesson horses and property costs too.  Each foal has to be able to bring in that value, other wise, I might as well buy people horses and give them away. If my babies can't pay for themselves, then I have no business making them.  If the public is not willing to pay for what it costs to make them, then there isn't enough of a market for them.

Now, horse buyers are wondering why they should pay for me to keep up with my other horses, right?  It's because good ethics say that I don't breed my mares back to back and make them nothing but baby factories!  These horses get time off, they get training, and they get love.  You can't expect me to keep my horses in the most desirable fashion, and then only support the cheap crappy pony mill breeders, and THEN wonder why no one is doing it "right".  People cut corners because buyers want to be cheap.

If you get a horse in need (rescue, rehab, or upgrade) then sure, go cheap.  You don't want to pay someone money for doing it WRONG.  But if you want a good solid horse, understand that you have to pay for the quality care those horses get.  If you don't, then we ethical breeders close our doors, and just have our "pets".

So, the cost of my foals is set by their age, and what they have to pay back to the farm.  It costs me $1008 dollars per foal to get a foal crop on the ground.  This means I can sell weanlings for $1500, if I have a crop of 4 babies.  If I keep the foals, then I pay their share, and do not pass that cost onto buyers.  That's what I did this year.  My other mares, who have done their time and no longer are useful to my program (Such as Dove here) are being offered for sale at lower prices, to get them into good homes.  Those lower prices then roll back into upgrades for the business.  These mares are already paid off, hence their value is that of a high quality home (and my profit from them pays off the baby costs).  It's complicated, but it keeps the prices low and fair.

So, by the time a horse is 3, and starting under saddle, it's worth about $2500 to me.  I charge $100/month of training (since care costs are taken out elsewhere) with an expected 6 months to get the horse ready for sale.  This means that for $3000 you can get a nice, solid, consistent, novice friendly young show prospect.  Not bad at all in this market, I'd think.

And I'm able to get those prices.  So far, I've been breaking even.  Some years are bad (we have savings for that) and some years are good (money goes into savings) but we end up writing a lot of low numbers on the IRS forms - but positive numbers.

The thing that many people don't understand though, is that if Iron Ridge Sport Horses makes no money (according to the IRS) then we've covered ALL of our bills.  This means care, mortgage, utilities, advertising, new tack, etc.  Most months we pay the bills just fine, but don't have the money to spontaneously go out to the movies.  Some months, we have enough to buy new computers (a business expense by the way).  So if you're thinking about getting into horses, don't expect to live the same way you did BEFORE you start a horse business.

Besides, you won't have the time for it.

I am NOT a morning person, but I'm awake by 6am, and in the saddle by 8am.  I have to be.  I spend 6 hours inside working with the SDHR and doing my Iron Ridge (IRSH) paper work.  I then head out again by 7pm, and am at the barn until about 9 or 10 pm.  That's a 14 hour day, and I do that 6 days each week.  On my "day off" I simply wake up at 8am, feed horses, and goof off until the next feeding time.  I still feed 4 times a day, I still have to water and clean stalls and move horses around.  I can't leave a pale skinned horse outside just because it's my "day off".  So when do I head to the pool?  When do I go out of town?  Uh... never.

For me, I like living like this.  I'm a home body.  I traveled when I was in my teens and twenties, and I've seen the world.  Now, I can be happy with sitting at home, making dinner with Jae (he cooks, I do dishes) and splurging on a $1 video.  For anyone else, well, a day away from the farm means you have to pay for help.  The cost of a pet sitter is about $25/day/horse.  I have 34 horses on the property.  You figure out what a day away from the farm costs me!

But now, I'm trying to fit in time with the SDHR as well as IRSH.  That's like working 2 full time jobs, during the same hours, all week long.  I've come to the decision that I need to slow down (I'm tired of not getting to see Jae, even though we work together!) and so I'm looking at ways to keep the property making money, while doing less.

Naturally, this means less horses.  The less animals I care for, the less money I spend.  If I have more outside horses and less of my own horses, then that means more profit.  Here's the kicker though, how can I do it all, with less horses?

I refuse to sell off my older horses.   I have some retired oldies but goodies that have places here.  Keeley and Ash are 23.  Both had hard lives, so it's a LONG 23 years for them.  Keeley has arthritis in her lower back, hips, hocks, and pasterns.  She's foundered on the fores.  That old lady can pack around a kid at the walk, but that's about it.  Besides that, she "earns her keep" by baby sitting the weanling fillies, and making the pasture look nice.  Ash is still riding a bit, but she's got cancer.  She has a tumor on her neck the size of a grape fruit (melanoma) and there's really nothing we can do about it.  Removing it will only result in another tumor growing to fill the space.  She's happy, but she's not as zippy as she once was.  I goof off with her on the weekends, and it helps to keep her old joints from creaking.

Then there's the boys.  Quagga here is in his late teens.  He's still looking good, but he has old injuries that limit what he can do.  Basically, due to a broken stifle in the past, Q can breed mares, and get love.  With the way my program is going, he'll be doing less breeding, but he's Jae's personal horse, so he gets pretty spoiled.

Spot is the same.  An old fetlock injury resulted in him not being show sound, but he's trail sound.  He has a hitch in his gait from a fused (but pain free) joint.  Because Spot is no longer what I need as a stallion, he will be gelded this fall, and retired to pasture and trail riding.  That's 4 horses who aren't making me money, but who I owe it to them to keep up their way of life.  I can not even imagine doing any less though, so they are just budgeted for.

But, with a planned brood mare herd of 10 mares, and 4 stallions (to keep genetic diversity because the SDHR is pretty line locked) That's still 14 horses who do nothing but make more horses.  My stallions can not be lesson horses.  Showing is a great way to advertise horses, but it does not make money.  The foals produced from those show horses is where the money comes from.  Stud fees are not the money maker that most people think.  I rarely sell outside breedings, but do sell a lot of foals.  I then need a group of horses for riding lessons.  Some of these horses do double duty.

Midnight is a good example of this.  She is a tentative brood mare for a future SDHR foal (she is older, so won't be having a ton of babies for me) but she is priceless as a lesson horse.  This mare can pack around the largest riders, and the youngest riders, and does all that is asked of her.

I have a few other horses coming up into my lesson program from the breeding string as well.  Shadow is a top quality Appaloosa, and has the sweetest personality of any of my horses.  She's always forgiving, and will do anything for love.  When she's done, she will be one of the best lesson horses I have.  And she'll be able to add some refinement into the SDHR lines if it's ever needed.

So all total, I keep about 25 - 30 head of horses here.  My brood mare herd is very young though (most under the age of 6) and so they just can't be ready for working in lessons.  I don't think a horse is ready for a novice rider until it has more then 3 years of regular riding.  This lets the horse see the crazy things that happen (like those evil plastic baggies that are always flying on the wind) and learn to ignore it.  As my breeding herd gets more experience, I will have less need of non breeding horses to work in the lesson program.

Now, some of these horses are "pets".  I have enough time, space, and money to keep a few just because I can't imagine life with out them.  Cayenne is one of those.  We've tried to sell her, and it didn't work so good.  She's back now, and came back with an injury to her back that took over a year to work out.  This little horse (she's 14.0 hands with her shoes on) will ride out lovely with just a lead around her neck. She's small enough I can climb on her out in the pasture, and she's sweet enough that I feel "ok" doing it.  She's also the first baby Jae and I raised.

We got Cayenne as an orphan, and we joke that she's our "first child".  She's spoiled rotten!  She's also a boring bay AQHA mare of moderate breeding (2 gens back is the first horse of any name) but she's great for anything.  Why sell her, when I'd have to pay 10 times what I'd get to have a kid's horse this predictable?  Since she costs me about $50 per month to keep, I figure it's an acceptable rare for a small lesson horse.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

But that just shows you how easy it is to get in over your head.  Cayenne will likely be listed for sale, but listed at the price it would cost me to get a horse this good.  If she doesn't sell, I won't cry.  If she does sell, then it will be into a home that is going to use her for what she's good at (uh, not breeding) and love her.  But I can make almost the same argument about most of my horses I have here.  I need to keep this one because.... I need to keep that one because....

And then I'd have a ton of horses, and no way to pay for them.  If I want to stay in business, and do this for a living, then I have to limit my pets.  I allow 2 pets per person.  Jae has Dee and Cayenne, and I have Ash and Oops.  Those horses are allowed to be "not for sale" if the person chooses, even if the horse is "useless".  I figure, most families have a horse or 2, and they don't expect to make money with them, so we get the same luxury.

And the more I type, the more I realize that slimming down my herd is just something that is going to take time.  I can't cull the lesson horses yet, because my girls aren't old enough to hold down that job.  I can't sell some of the mares yet, because they still have babies at their sides.  I currently have only 2 horses that are "for sale" right now, even though I own 29, because I'm in a weird transition phase.  By this winter, I will have a total of 8 horses for sale, but I can't move some until others are ready.

I think that for what I'm doing, a herd of about 20 horses is perfect.  That's 14 breeding horses, some doubling as lesson horses, and 6 to 8 young horses growing up to sell.  I don't want more then 8 horses in my riding string at any one time (including tune ups for lesson horses) because it's just me doing all the riding.

Yes, I know, I'm taking the long way to get around to making a decision, and pretty much vomiting on my blog about it, but it IS helping.  I feel a bit over horsed, or like I WILL be over horsed soon.  My goal is to be able to love what I do, be good at it (profit and ethics) and be able to keep the business running for many MANY years to come.  To do that, some times I have to think out loud a bit.

What is it really like to "be in the business"?

I don't know why, but recently there has been a subtle topic around about those of us in the horse industry.  From comments on Facebook about "morons" who try to get into the business, to other blogs and news articles about the horrors of breeding your horses, it seems like there's this mentality that the 'average' person will never ever be able to make a living in horses.

I'm here to tell you that is NOT the case.

Now, hold up, and don't go rushing out to make your millions in horses.  There's more to it then meets the eye, and many people are shocked to learn what all I have put into this, but let me explain, and if you really want to live your life this way, I'm always happy to help anyone do it the best they can.

You see, I pay all my bills with money earned through horses.  Am I rich?  OH NO!  In fact, we live on a shoe string, work 18 hour days, 6 to 12 days a week (what do you mean there aren't 12 days in a week... come visit, I'll show you!).  But seriously, it's LONG hours, it's hard work, it's emotionally devastating and rewarding, and you are guaranteed to be broke most days.  So why do I do it?

Well, Jae has a saying that sums it up pretty well:  "I'd rather be busting my ass like this, then selling my soul for a few dollars".

We honestly love what we do.  We feel like we're making a difference, and we're happy with that.  It's hard work, but it's good honest work.  Instead of waking up, rushing away to do someone else's bidding all day, and trying to steal a few hours for my own pleasures, well, I have all day for my pleasures, and try to scrape up a few dollars to pay my bills.

My horses though, they are covered.  I'm the person who writes a $1200 check for feed, and thinks it's a good deal, but $11 bucks at Subway is highway robbery!  I also have never wanted to be rich.  It's just not in my plans.

Most of my work is done sitting right here, at a computer, mashing on keys.  I get up in the morning, "commute" all of 10 feet to my desk, and sit my butt down.  Email is answered with my first cup of coffee.  While I do that, Jae heads to the barn and throws out the morning grain and water.  From there, I check Facebook (yes, it actually is a part of my job) update my farm page, check on the breed page, and then head outside.  Some days it's lessons, others it's saddle time, and still others it's just ground work, or working on the property.  But I get my butt out there while the weather is decent, and try to get some real work done.  When temperatures hit "oh my god it's hot" then we pack it in, feed the horses again, more water, and head back inside.  At this point I sit down at the computer while Jae makes lunch (often Gator-aid is my lunch, I'm a cheap date) and get into the SDHR work.  I do conformational reviews of horses, I work on the web pages (both my farm and the SDHR) and other non horsey work.  I usually hit up Facebook a few more times through out the day, occasionally even chatting with friends, but I always have something going on in the back ground at the same time.

 Usually, this paper work requires me to do some research.  Whether that is genetics based (checking up on modern science, which seems to pass me by more often then I like to admit) or business based (tax laws, contracts, etc) there's always something I need to do, and often a need for a better way to do it.

I have a written business plan, and I do my best to keep it up to date.  It's a hassle, but I have to say, it's the most eye opening hassle I have ever done.  I thought "oh, a horse business, that will be EASY".  Uh, no.  When I did the business plan, I had to research and write out the numbers.  How much I would make, how much I would spend... and I ended up broke!  I adjusted the numbers, and adjusted again, until I was scraping by.  With out that business plan, I can honestly say I never would have made it this far.

But that business plan told me that breeding horses would NOT make me money.  I'd be lucky to pay for what I did.  I added boarding, training, lessons, and sales, and now I can live decently.  Not poshly, not wealthy, just decently.  Going to the movies is something we budget for!

And before I started boarding, training, or giving lessons, I had to have those skills myself.  Luckily, I had a few of them.  Boarding I am more then qualified to do.  Lessons, well, I will not overstate my own skills.  I can teach a rider to be safe, and start them in the right direction, and I know when to tell them I can't help them anymore!  That is a skill that many people refuse to learn - the whole thing of taking the money offered to you.

For me, no one income stream is the one I need to keep the business afloat.  Each sale means I worry less about lessons.  Each boarder means I worry less about sales, each riding student means I worry less about boarders.  And then I have my "feel good" Second Chance program.  I take in horses that need homes, and they do good things for me.  Those Second Chance horses bring me new friends, clients, and such.  Each of those is an income stream potentially.  I rarely make any money FROM the Second Chance horses, but I usually make money because of them.  Even better, I also know that I did good for the horse world while I am at it.

But how do I keep the income going in THIS economy?  I don't overdo it.  I don't have the nicest barn in the world, but I might have the cheapest.  I have my own property repair guy (Jae) so I don't have to pay a welder, a mower, a fence repair/builder.  Jae does all of that, plus he keeps the cars, trucks, tractors, and trailers in working order.  As a side benefit, he also knows "geek" and helps me with the technical problems I always make.

Another thing I did, was I seriously looked at my market.  I simply do not have the skills or the accolades to make it in the top level sport horses.  Now, I love the Olympic caliber horses, but I don't have the investment dollars to get there while doing it right.  I also don't care for that scene.

I stopped and looked at the type of people I actually LIKE working with.  For me, it's adults, typically novices or amateurs, with limited interest in making a career of horses.  I lovingly refer to my market as the "middle market".  Middle aged, middle income, middle of experience, middle weight, middle.... well you get the idea.   Most of my clients are not the bottom of the barrel, nor the top - nor do they want to be.  These are people who want a horse to love, want to play with some fun horsey things, and want to have a good time (not a good income) doing it.  They spend fairly, but not exorbitantly.

And, to keep with that market, I had to make sure that I can produce what they want (a good all around sport horse, with the mind to work with a novice, and the conformation to go all the way) within their price range (under $3000).  My research gave me all this data too (Tx department of agriculture keeps some amazing information on averages).  My market is the largest market of horse owners, and interestingly enough, still growing.

But now, this market isn't looking for babies!  This means the horses I breed will usually be sold about the time they are doing a nice walk, trot, and canter under saddle.  So, how to get a horse to about 4 years of age for under $3000?

Yeah, I bought a cheap place.  My over head is LOW.  From mortgage through utilities, I keep my own costs down, which leaves more room for profit.  I do this by making wise and well informed choices (remember all that research?) and by buying a LOT of things in bulk.  Bulk grain, bulk chaffhaye, bulk everything.  I do business kinda like Wal-mart.  I sell more, work more hours, and keep costs in a range that real people can pay.

My riding lessons are only $25/hour.  In my area, that's just about half price of what most people charge, but I make sure to tell students that I can only take them so far, and I do my best to be upfront about all that.  My boarding is cheaper, because it costs me less.  So I have a handful of students and a handful of boarders, all thinking they have a great deal.

AND, this is the most important part, I don't loose sight of the forest because of the trees.  One rotten apple can ruin the whole thing.  No one likes to be the meanie, but it's what I get paid to do. I have NO problem kicking out a boarder, or telling a student I can't offer them lessons anymore, if that person is going to disrupt the harmony we have here.  Our little barn (and it is OURS, not just mine) is a haven where we all go to have a good time.  That whiny nag of a person who kills the mood is also a great way to kill my income!  Loose one client to keep 9?  Yeah, that's a pretty good deal to me.  So far, I've only had to do it once, but I know that I can kick out a person when I have to.

My point is, that you can make money doing the horse thing.  It's a wonderful life to live, but a hard one.  I probably work harder then most of my friends with a 'real' job, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  I love what I do, and I love that I am able to do this.  I've talked before about all the skills I never knew I'd need to have in order to run a horse farm (web design, photo editing, videography, typing and grammar, etc) but improving myself to improve my business is so worth it.

Before I run off at the mouth, I'll stop here (I have lessons in a few hours and really should sleep) but I'm on a roll with this line of thinking.  It's also helping me make a few decisions about the direction my own business is taking, and how I plan to get there.  I want to downsize, and focus my work a bit, but I'm not sure how to do that yet.  I hope that by blogging about what I need to do, I can find out what I am wasting my own time with.  So, hopefully my readers will enjoy the ride, and those who always dreamed of getting into this type of work can see what it takes to get here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Transparency Ain't Easy

First off, if you think this is about politics - you're wrong.  Instead, I'm talking about making my own farm operations public.

When you get involved with a rare breed of horse, people tend to learn the horses.  When you happen to have the largest "collection" of those horses in one place, you kinda end up in some enthusiast's spot light.  No, I'm not special - but my horses are. 

But here's the rub.  I'm also not perfect, and I know it!  I own 2 mares from Everett Smith's lines, KatyDid and Sweetie.  I own 3 Foundation SDHR mares, Jinx, Nazar, and Midnight.  I co-own one Foundation Stallion, own 2 Stonewall Sport Horse stallions, 2 Appaloosa stallions, and now I have a semi-rescued Percheron stallion.  I have a total of 29 horses that I own, and a full time farm operation to manage them.  We're not a "large" operation by any means, but for most people, this set up is mind boggling.

This also means that I'm always making plans, changes to those plans, and evaluating my herd.  Our current plans include reducing the number of stallions (My senior boys will be gelded and retired to the life of pasture with the old mares) and of course next year's foals.  There's training, and farm renovations, and more that we have in the works.  There are good days, and bad ones, sales and retirements, and always a few client horses hanging around to keep things exciting.

But how much of this is, or should be, public information?  Think about it for a second.  Do you tell the world when your puppy has an accident on the floor?  What about when your horse decides to make a mess of something?  Do you tell the world about farrier day or vaccinations, or dewormings? 

Would you do that if you had more horses, and each was on its own schedule?  And telling your friends is much different then posting information to your business website, or registry facebook page.  There's a line that we humans tend to keep between our private lives, and our professional ones, but in my situation that line gets very blurry.

This is something that I think about every day.  You see, the more information I put out there, the more chances there are that someone will take that information, twist it around, and make it into something negative.  This could be anything from taking my herd of horses and morphing me into a "hoarder" to dubbing me unsafe because I have 6 large "aggressive breed" dogs, including Pit Bull mixes.  Maybe my style of training is "bad" because I use a bit (aka torture device) or a photo of a horse shows it ducking behind the vertical for a second and now I'm guilty of rolkur.  Rarely is it the case of one person being hateful, but usually it's due to the downside of the information exchange.  We've all played the game "telephone" or "grapevine" and giggle at how different things are at the end of the line.

None of those things have happened to me, but I know that they could.  Like anyone, I have feelings, I love my "babies" (those with 4 feet and hair, plus Jae) and I really do want to do the best I can.  I rescue horses when possible, I sell my horses only into the BEST homes I can find for them, and I have a financial plan that is secure.

So recently, I announced that one of my mares shows every sign of having slipped her foal.  Midnight is teasing, and appears to be open, but we are waiting on the vet to confirm that (and postponing that until payday to be honest).  Two other farms had mares end up open, or suspected of being open (one confirmed, the other also scheduled with the vet).  We know that many fans are excited about the upcoming foals next year, and so we feel an obligation to the people who have helped this breed become so much more public.  We announced the sad news on the SDHR Facebook page.

With humans being human (I know, novel though, right?) the public began to try to help us figure out what is going on.  That's wonderful, and we really do appreciate it, but naturally some negative accusations got thrown around. 

Was it that Sugarbush Harley's Classic O was having problems settling mares?

Seems like an innocent question, and probably was supposed to be, right?  But, this accusation could potentially make people wary of breeding to that stallion.  Who wants to breed to a stallion that might have trouble settling mares?  All that time, effort, and money wasted!  But, the mares in question were not all bred to this stallion.  One mare, a known "hard breeder" was, but "O" also has other mares still in foal.  The other 2 mares were bred to different stallions.

Was it that the daughters of "O's" line were having problems conceiving or maintaining the pregnancy?

This could make buyers nervous about investing in a potential breeding horse of that line, thus reducing sales and the popularity of the breed as a whole.  Again though, this is not the case.  The only daughter of "O" in foal this year, is still very safely in foal. All 3 mares who came up open are Foundation SDHR mares, and all are being bred for either their first foal, or first foal after a long break (known to be problematic).

Of course other information came out, such as stories of mares being harder to breed this year across the country.  Many fans offered well-wishes,  or kind thoughts to the mare owners.  So, I'm not saying that announcing this was bad, just pointing out where potential hazards to us, the farm owners,lie because we try to be transparent.

And of course, there's always the problem of our breed's transparency.  The Sugarbush Draft Horse started as a cross between a Percheron and an Appaloosa.  We admit that!  From there, the breed grew, expanded, and was carefully crafted to be something very different then just a Percheron/Appaloosa cross.  Belgians, Clydesdales, Friesians, and more breeds were used to get the desired traits, and Appaloosas, Knabstruppers and Mustangs have been used to add the color back in as needed.  Each breeder brought something to the breed in the past, and Everett Smith took the sum of the parts, and made it into an amazing whole.  He always bred for color, but never shunned those horses without it.  Having talked to Mr. Smith many times, he was adamant about the use of "solid" or solid appearing horses to bring back the dramatic color of the breed.  Genetically he's right, and science supports his theories.

But, the more we share about our knowledge of the breed's early days, the more we have someone come in and say "those are just mutts".  You can't blame any of us for getting a bit annoyed at that!  We could have said "oh look at what we found" and used that horse as the start of a breed, never admitting that this horse was bred to be "different".  None of us thinks that is right though, simply because it lacks the transparency and honesty we so desire in the SDHR. 

Look at the history of other breeds, and the romanticized backgrounds they share.  AQHA doesn't mention that most of their horses were Thoroughbreds or mutts.  ApHC doesn't talk about the influence of any known breed under the sun (hyperbole for those who don't know) during the early years.  The Rocky Mountain Horse doesn't talk about how the first horses were found at a ranch that bred grades with a gait.  Why?  Because it doesn't really matter.  The horses who resulted from those programs are truly different.

The Gypsy Vanners are the perfect example.  They have a story that is very romanticized about how the horses were treasured and bred to perfection by a subset of people, and pedigrees were kept by the breeders.  In reality, that sounds a lot like what any grade horse breeder here does too.  "I crossed Bob to Fancy, and they gave me Dotty.  She was such a nice horse that I spent the money to breed to that stallion down the street, "Doc".  Their colt was then bred to ..."  And yet, you can not look at a Gypsy Vanner (or Cob) and say that it's just a {insert breed of choice here}.  They look like no other type of horse, they breed true, and they have a following of people who like them.  Isn't that all that a breed is?  Isn't that exactly what the SDHR is?

And so every day I am forced to debate what information to put out to the world.  Do I talk about Darwin's rehabilitation?  Do I mention my training program with Katy?  Do I discuss the injury to Doodles?  How much do I owe my fans, and the fans of my breed, and how much do I keep to myself because it could be twisted into something damaging?  And what happens when I do make a mistake?  Do I share that and allow people to learn from it?  Do I just keep that private?

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to know the right answer to all of that, but I do want to be transparent.  I am not ashamed of what I do, how I do it, or the goals I am working toward.  I always hope that I can help to shape the horse industry into something better, even in a small way.  I propose rules to the SDHR that no other breed has supported before, simply because I think they make sense for the betterment of all horses and horse owners.  I donate time (and lots of it) to offering free conformational evaluations for the Foundation horses, and I share any knowledge I have gained over the years - including financial planning and business advice - that I think could be useful to someone else.  I do all of this because someone else once did it for me.  I hope that those I share with will also pay it forward, and in a few years, the horse industry will be a better place for it.

At some point, this will bite me.  I know it.  But is the risk of being honest and open about what I do greater then the consequences?  Will I make a mistake?  Of course!  I'm only human after all.  I only hope that I will never regret being so open and honest about what I do, and how we do it.

Yet for me, none of that makes it any easier.  It's hard to remember to inform the public.  It's easy to celebrate with friends and family, and to mourn with them as well.  It's never as easy to share the bad news. 

People often forget that when a farm announces a tragedy, that the people involved are devastated.  In the past few years, I've had more then my own share of it.  For every loss I've had, I've been heart broken.  I don't want to tell the world, for fear that saying it will make it real.  I remember my loss each time I read the condolences.  Months later, I still shed tears over those who are no longer with me.  From my aged dogs through the sudden and shocking loss of Indira to a snake bite, I always wish I could just roll back the clock.  Yet, I do my best to share what I can, so that maybe, just maybe, someone else can learn from what happened to me.  If telling the world about Anvil's death from eating onions and garlic helps to save a dog, then my own pain will be worth it.  If sharing the news of how fast my horse was lost from a snake bite gets a vet to a horse faster, then it will be worth it.

And what brought this up you might ask?

Last night, my darling puppy Jango (right) woke me up crying.  He was cuddled beside me, not moving, but whimpering as if in pain.  Jango doesn't usually cry when he's hurt, so this was even more terrifying for me.  The boys have been doing their best to kill themselves on a daily basis, because, well, they are puppies, and I was sure that this time, it was going to be the bad one.  I was wrong, thank goodness.

After checking him, trying to get him to cry again, I decided it must not be too bad.  Just as I was about to sleep, he whimpered.  For an hour I was a mess.  He whined when I petted him, he whined when I kissed him on the head, and he yelped when I tried to pick him up - otherwise, he seemed completely normal.  No palpable pain along his neck or back, he liked me rubbing on his belly, his legs all seemed pain free.  Finally, he crawled next to me, and fell into what seemed a quiet sleep.  Me, I slept poorly.  Through out the night I thought about anything from what it could be, to dreading the worst, and how I would tell everyone what happened.  That naturally made me think of this topic.

This morning I believe I know what Jango's problem was.  Before I hauled him to the vet, I checked him over one last time myself.  My poor baby is teething.  His left top canine tooth is discolored, and loose.  When I touch it, he whimpers.  Yesterday, he had been playing tug o' war with his brother (using everything they could get their mouths on, allowed or not!) and I think he may have damaged the root of that tooth.  A few ice cubes, and some watered puppy food later, and he's again acting like a very happy, and quite normal, puppy.

Thank goodness!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Melody has found her a home!

Back in 2005, I tried a test breeding to an Anglo Arabian mare I owned.  The resulting foal, born on April 28th, 2006, was Melody, a cute little chestnut blanket filly.  She was put together decently, but had some traits that were not what I was going for (lighter bone, smaller size, etc) and so I planned to sell her.

But, that year, the 18 month drought started, and horse sales all but stopped.  Naturally, I decided to put more training on her, and wait until she matured a bit, so that I could make sure she would have a great home.

Mel' was always kind, very interested in people, and so easy to train.  She never had a true "halter" lesson, she just "got it".  Clipping took her a total of 5 seconds to figure out it was a silly human thing, and to stand for it.  Loading, well she looked at the monster, looked at me, and then loaded right up.  That's just how she was.

When she turned 3, we began training her.  First ground work, which is aced.  I could ask Mel to make a circle around me, at any gait, and she'd do it, and judge her own distance.  I could walk up and down the arena, and she'd adjust her distance from me, to keep the line draped easily, but not dragging.  She never changed gaits until I asked, and then nailed it perfectly more often then not.  Driving her was a 2 day ordeal.  She figured out what I was asking, and again, aced the lesson.

So then it came time to ride her.  I always expected a bit of spookiness from her (her mother was rather reactive) but Mel never gave it to me.  I started out leaning on her, expecting that "bearing weight" would be a lesson on its own, but Mel again made me eat my words.

I leaned, she stood, I laid across her, and she took a nap.  I had Jae walk her off while laying across her, and she never flinched, and so, I broke my own rules.

I swung up and sat on her.

Mel paused there for a second, and then reached around - not to sniff my leg mind you, but to look at ME - and basically said 'what took you so long?'

We made a lap around, and Mel listened more to me then to her ground handler, so I asked for reins.  From there, I started giving the commands, while Jae just reinforced them from the ground a second later, and she never even acted nervous.  I had to make myself call it a day.  No reason to punish the kid for being so absolutely perfect!

From there, we began riding regularly.  2 days a week to start, and then up to 4 days a week.  Mel loved it.  I could walk out to the barn, grab a halter, and yell her name, and she'd be right there saying "pick ME".  She walked out easily, and after a few weeks, she began her trot work.  She tried hard to balance me at first, but then decided that was MY job, and she just needed to be smooth.  Perfect!  She kept progressing, and kept shocking me with how great she was.

I always have to talk about the time Jae dropped the kennel.  You see, it was one of her first solo rides, 2nd or 3rd, I can't recall exactly.  Mel and I were doing out normal thing - walk, halt, walk, left, etc, while Jae was moving the dog kennel we use for the goats.  He had it on the bucket of the tractor, to make moving it easier, and was just outside the arena.  Then he dropped it.

There was a loud clatter and bang, the sound of chain link springing, and metal slapping against metal.  We were within 20 feet of the 'crash' and I was on a very green horse.

Melody flicked an ear, and just kept working.

From that point on, I knew she would be amazing for someone.  The horses in the barn spooked, the horses in the pens spooked, even the horses in the pasture spooked, but Mel just was focused on her work. 

And so, when a young girl fell in love with her, I didn't think twice about selling her as a kid's horse with "needs more hours".  The owners were knowledgeable horse people that I know and trust.  The child was smitten, and Melody LOVED the attention she was getting.  We got her moved, and I of course kept in touch with her. 

Life happened though, and Mel didn't get all those hours before the kid was ready to ride.  She got fat, she got spoiled, and she still needed some hours.  The child came, started taking lessons on a "packer" and her owners tried to get things in line so they could put those last hours on Mel, but luck just wasn't there.  And then the drought hit, and with it came catastrophe.

One of the past owners of the property Melody lived on had thought it was a great idea to cut off pipe posts, and just bury them.  When the ground dried and the top soil became powder, the sharp edges of the pipe was no longer safely under feet of dirt, but merely just out of sight.  Melody stepped right on it, lacerating her heel bulb and hoof.  Her owner took action, cleaned the wound, and did all of the right things.  I was notified within minutes of the injury, and offered moral support.

But things didn't go well.  The injury got infected, the infection spread to the joint.  For most horses this is a death sentence, and Mel was no different.  We tried all of the treatments the vet could think of, and options were running out.  Mel was brought back to Iron Ridge, where I could change her bandages, and clean/treat her wounds through out the day, but 2 weeks into healing, she was only getting worse.  The vet came out again, and said the one thing no horse owner wants to hear.

Euthanasia is an option at this point.

 Every one talked, everyone cried, and we couldn't see any way to stop the infection once it had reached the joint.  The appointment was scheduled to give the young girl a chance to say good bye first (but none of us thought a young child should have to see the euthanasia).  That evening, the vet called, and said, "I wonder... would you be willing to try something?  It likely won't work, and could result in needing to put her down, but I have a feeling."

With her euthanasia already scheduled, and the "hopeful" treatment being cheap, we all thought "why not?" and so we tried it.

We used a drawing agent for white line, to try and pull the infection out of the joint capsule.

It worked!

I'm not sure who was more shocked, us or the vet!  She wasn't cured, but the infection was at a point where a surgical procedure could be done with a high chance of success.  I loaded Melody up, hauled her to the clinic, and kissed her nose before saying "good-bye".  The chance of death was still there, and I wanted to be sure I said it while I could.  Who knew what the vet would find when he got in there.

Lucky for us, he found nothing bad.  She was treated, medicated, and put on a litany of antibiotics, and sent home.  The whole time, the only complaint Mel ever made was to wiggle her leg as I performed painful cleanings and bandage changes.  She never kicked out, never walked off, just wiggled, or maybe tried to put her leg back down.

She healed. 

It took over 18 months to do it, but she healed nicely.  Her support hoof had changes to it, and hre injured hoof grew funny.  For months I changed her bandage daily, then every 3 days, then weekly, and finally, she only wore support wraps.  She went from stall rest only to light turn out, to in hand work, to full pasture rest.  her hooves grew, her muscles atrophied and rebuilt, and she healed.

A few weeks ago, my farrier said the words I had longed to hear, "You can put her back into training now".  The vet confirmed it.  Melody is sound.  She is expected to only have a small scar from her ordeal, and no lasting lameness issues.  She had gone from about to die, to having a long life ahead of her.

But naturally things are never perfect.

The young girl who had loved this horse a few years before had fallen out of love with horses - as kids do.  Her interest was dogs now, and she preferred her lesson horse to the horse she couldn't ride and play with.  The horse's owner (the girl's aunt) liked the horse, but did not love her, and so she returned her to us.

At Iron Ridge, we always take our horses back.  We always have a stall open, for any reason, and we believe that since we brought them into this world, we will always be the most responsible for them.  Since Melody was already here during her recovery, the change was very minimal to us.

Once Mel was able to start training though, I had a big decision to make.  With 8 horses needing work this year, and the SDHR booming, I'm short on one thing.... time.  Did I try to get her trained, and take the risk of shorting her on attention, or did I list her for sale as she was?

I couldn't be sure if this horse remembered any of her early training.  She'd been out of work now longer then she had been under saddle.  I decided to simply advertise her as honestly as I could.  "I don't know what if any of her training she remembers, but we are selling her as unbroke and in need of training".

Naturally, while I waited, I squeaked her into some sessions.  She seemed to remember her ground work.  I mean, she made mistakes, but she tried so hard, and was right more often then she was wrong.  I watched her back line start to build up, her legs get some muscling, and her movement improved.  Then, I got a call.

"i'm interested in the horse you have for sale".

I admit, I really didn't expect any one to call about her.  The people sounded nice, asked the right questions, and had plans to have her spend time with a trainer.  Their expectations were perfect for her (trail riding, lightly), so we made a time to meet and let them see her.

Melody was on her best behavior (she usually is) and the woman fell in love.  The husband seemed to feel that what ever his wife wanted, was what they would get.  We made arrangements, I caught up her coggins (I had postponed that because I really didn't think any one would call!) and the date was set.

Well, yesterday was that day.  Her new owners arrived, and picked her up.  Melody loaded into the trailer perfectly (I had already spent the morning kissing her nose and making sure to say good-bye) and promised to let me know about how she was doing.  The new owners are just what I would have hoped for her, and I think she's going to be one very spoiled horse.

I can't wait to hear how she does with the cows they own - Melody has never really seen cattle, but I have a feeling she will do fine.  I am excited to hear how her training goes, and even more excited to hear how much her owner loves riding her.  She has the most amazing gaits - nice and smooth.

I miss her a bit, but I'm so happy for her, that I can't be sad.  I do love it when a horse finds the home that it's meant to have.  With all that this poor kid has been through, she really deserves it.

So, good luck with her Velta!  I hope she does great for you, and please, if you ever need me - just call.  As always, my babies have a home with me for life if they ever need it.  You got one hell of a nice horse here, and I think you will be shocked at just how perfect she will be for you.

Congratulations Melody.  Girl, you hit the jackpot.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chaffhaye, and what makes it so good

from http://www.chaffhaye.com/
As many of you know, here in Texas we've had droughts, we've had hay shortages, and we've had to be creative to keep our horses healthy.  Well, before the last drought I discussed some of the many options for how to keep your horses healthy on alternative forages.  From alfalfa cubes to beet pulp and complete feeds, there are many ways to deal with a lack of hay.  Some are better then others, and others are cheaper then some.  But regardless, a drought does not mean that you have to lose your beloved friends.  So, today I want to talk about one that tends to be a bit controversial.


Haylage (pronounced "hay - ledge") is not something that horse owners hear about very often.  Many of us have heard the term silage, but don't really understand what it is.  Well, haylage is just a type of silage, that's made of grasses and legumes (hay stuffs) and ensiled.  Most often, people associate the term silage with a "wetter" product, while haylage is the step between silage and hay (in terms of drying). 

The problem with haylage is that if not ensiled correctly, the product can spoil, and carry bacteria that is very bad for your horse (or other livestock, since this is a horse blog, I'll jut talk about horses).  This is why we're always told not to feed our horses lawn clippings.  Once they wilt (the first part of the haylage process) the forage is susceptible to bacterial growth.

The benefits of haylage though, is that the product contains many of the amino acids, proteins, and other "good stuff" that makes our horses look so amazing on a fresh green grass pasture, and the act of partial fermentation (the wilting process) tends to have some nutritional benefits.  So there's the conundrum: do you go for the amazing nutrition and risk the possibility of food poisoning? 

The answer for me, is yes.  You see, haylage is no longer an "art" but rather a science.  This means that a company who invests in the proper tools can consistently produce haylage that is safe for horses.  Things like cutting the hay no shorter then 2.5 inches, and preventing mole infestations can prevent botulism, and owning the proper (and expensive) equipment to handle the bales with out disturbing the plastic wrapping (thus preventing spoilage) are relatively simple to do.  Basically, if the farm is set up to specifically make haylage, then the chances are that the product is good.

And so, I use Chaffhaye.  Because the haylage is produced in 50 pound bags, it allows the company to easily handle and control the product.  The time from cut to wrap is quick, and their packaging is strong, which helps prevent accidental punctures.  After knowing someone else who had used it, I felt safe in offering it to my horses.

Now, there are other companies that offer haylage products, but since I have no experience with their products, I can't testify as to their quality, but Chaffhaye is good stuff! (For those of you wondering, no, I was not paid to write this, I just happen to like sharing knowledge about products that can make a horse owner's life easier.)

Low Sugar content:

So lets get down to the important part.  What is it that makes haylage so good?  Well, as I mentioned before, you know how great your horses look when they have access to rich lush grass?  You know how much you worry about them foundering on it?  Imagine if you could have the best of both!  Yep, that's what haylage gives you.

The problem with lush spring grasses is that they are rich in sugars.  Oh yeah, there's plenty of vitamins and minerals in there too, but the sugars can lead to so many problems.  From joint issues in growing babies to founder, sugar really isn't a horse's best friend.  The process of fermentation requires sugars to feed the bacteria and yeast which do the fermenting, though, which means that haylage has less sugar.

Chaffhaye spritzes the forage with molasses (and yep, you can smell it) in order to start the fermentation process.  Now, with a few tablespoons of molasses per 50 pound bag, the amount of sugar is negligible (it's similar to using molasses to get your horse to take medicines).  But here's the kicker, that bacteria needs "go juice' in order to divide, multiple, and ferment.  That "go juice' is sugar.  The molasses starts it, and the sugars in the grass continue the process.

Think of this like starting a fire.  Sure, wood burns, but getting it to light isn't always that easy.  You have to reach a certain point before the wood actually catches, so many people go the easy route and add lighter fluid.  The lighter fluid catches, burns quickly, but also allows the temperature to get hot enough to ignite the wood, and thus that camp fire burns merrily.  The same thing works with Chaffhaye's molasses.  The molasses jump starts the bacteria, which allows it to get going in high gear, and when it runs out, it turns to the plant matter for it's food/fuel source, thus "eating" the sugar before the horse can have an issue with it.


But wait, didn't I just say bacteria?  Isn't bacteria bad?

Well yes I did, and no it isn't.  You see, here's a little known fact, cellulose is not digestible by animals.  No known vertebrate has the natural enzymes to break it down into something useful.  Yet horses eat plant matter, which has a cell wall made of cellulose!

This is because horses have a symbiotic relationship with many beneficial bacteria in their guts.  The bacteria gets an easy life (the horse has to find all the food!) and plenty to eat, and the horse gets to use the plant matter it's just snarfed up. We're starting to realize this, and most horse owners have heard about "probiotics" and how good they are for a horse.  Many feeds now have probiotics included.

These probiotics are basically just colonies of live beneficial bacteria kept in a substrate (paste, powder) that keeps the bacteria alive.  Think of it like a petri dish in a tube or powder.

Unfortunately, because of the way many horses are fed and kept in this modern world (limited turn out, grain multiple times a day, work loads that cause stress and alter the internal pH, etc) horses don't always keep their own guts healthy.  Now, many of you are thinking, "well I don't have to worry about that, my horse is on pasture all year long!" but sadly, you're still affected.

You see, even on a nice sized pasture, horses are still limited.  They can't just meander over to the next county for some good munchies.  They have a fence around them, and that does limit what they have access to.  Our grain products, while they keep the weight up, many alter the pH of the intestines ever so slightly.  Our hay is sprayed and fertilized, and that too alters the pH.  Our enjoyment of riding takes the horse off it's diet for a period of time, and then sloshes stomach acids around in their guts.  Now, none of this is BAD (it's actually rather good for them in the long run) but it does cause some changes on their insides that we don't always think about.

And so, we add good bacteria back into their guts to help them break down the food matter we provide them with.  All those pH changes kill some bacteria, all those restrictions inhibit others, and a nice influx of healthy vibrant bacteria helps the horse use what we pay to feed them.  In the end, it works out.

But haylage is already partially broken down.  The initial job of that bacteria is to crack the cell walls and allow the horse's intestines to digest the good stuff inside.  Well, if it's already broken when it enters their mouths (or fermented, depending upon what mental image you prefer) then the good bacteria can just eat the broken bits, while the horse has ready access to the internal bits.  Both parts of the symbiotic relationship win out.  And, the bacteria that just broke down the cellulose in the bag... yeah, it's ingested too, replenishing the intestinal population of beneficial bacteria.


So what about the important nutrients, like protein?  Well, chaffhaye shines here too.  While there's some debate about the amount of protein a horse should have, there's no debate that protein is necessary for building good strong muscles.

In the 1970s, it was believed that protein should be limited in a growing horse's diet to prevent joint issues.  Well, we have now learned that it's not the protein which is at fault, but certain carbohydrates.  Instead, feeding young horses between 16-18% protein is a good thing, and makes for good bones.  But those protein numbers are so confusing!

Chaffhaye has 9% protein, which seems low, until you realize that all the moisture reduces that number.  If it were a dry grain, it would have about 19% protein!  Now, that's on the high side for protein, but we're back to the water reducing the effects.  What does this mean for the horse owner though?  Good strong healthy horses.  The horse has enough protein to build muscles (including the ever elusive top line) and joints, and even keep all the internal organs functioning properly.

Chaffhaye also is made of alfalfa, so it has plenty of calcium for good strong bones (and calcium also happens to act as a buffering agent on the stomach acids, thus reducing ulcer problems).  Alfalfa happens to have more "bang" per pound, which is why so many modern feeds are made with an alfalfa base.  Plus, horses happen to like the taste of it. 

And then there are the minerals!


I have to admit that I cheated here.  I had started typing up a long list that made even my dorky eyes bleed, and then I stumbled upon this image from the horse feeding blog.  A big delete, copy, paste, and citation (see that link there, yeah, check out that page, it rocks) and my darling readers don't have to deal with quite as much educational spam from me.

Now to also prevent your eyes from bleeding, here's the nutritional information for Chaffhaye.

So, many of our horses end up deficient in some areas.  Growing foals mostly have a problem with lysine (a limiting factor in growth) while aged horses often have problems with calcium uptake (not using all they are fed).  Depending upon where the horse lives, other minerals can be big issues as well. 

One thing that is often overlooked in a horse's diet are the essential fatty acids.  Things like the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are just naturally taken up by horses in their plant based diets.  This hit home to me with the 2011 droughts.  I had my horses' nutritional numbers all worked out, and by the books it should have worked great, and yet my horses all looked kinda "bleh".  Their coats just weren't shiny, and that last bit of weight would never stick.  After 10 months on "drought rations" I was pulling my hair out trying to figure it out, and then I read a study on fats in a horse's diet.  A single line about the use of omega fatty acids for skin and hair jumped out at me.  So I was off to the research, and it turns out, hay alternatives are normally weak in fatty acids.

This is because the act of drying out plant matter also destroys those fatty acids.  While it makes the nutrient more readily available for the horses, they end up missing a small but crucial thing in their diets, and their overall condition shows it.  Omega fatty acids come from green wet plants.  Hay has some fatty acids in it, but it's very minimal, and processed feeds have almost none.  So, living on a diet of beet pulp, alfalfa cubes, and complete (alfalfa based) feed pellets, my horses were deficient.  I ran to the grocery store, and must have looked like I had a strange fetish, and purchased multiple gallons of soy oil.  1/4 cup per horse, per day, was enough to replenish the natural oils my horses needed (and it's a nice caloric boost as well).  Of course, I figured this out just as the fall rains began again.  The new grasses growing in my pasture helped replace the deficiency.

But chaffhaye and other haylage has those essential oils in it.  Because it is still high in moisture, and is made from a green plant product, it's high in omega fatty acids.  If I ever get caught in a drought again, I won't have to worry about oils in the diet, because my hay source (chaffhaye) will have more then enough to keep the horses shiny, and their coats vibrant.

Replacing Hay:

Having dealt with the droughts here in Texas last year (2011) I learned a few things.  Now, for those who don't remember, let me explain what happened.  Around March, the rains stopped.  This was before most farmers got a good first cutting, so naturally panic ensued.  The North East was getting rained on so badly they had trouble harvesting, and other parts of the country were alternately experiencing drought and overly wet conditions.  This means that hay just didn't exist.  My own farm turned into a sand box, and IF I could find hay, I wasn't really sure I wanted to risk feeding it to my horses.  The sides of roads were being baled - weeds, garbage, and all - and those round bales were sold for the lovely price of $130 each. 

So naturally, I went to the alternatives.  Beet pulp was my friend (it was hot, I soaked it to help with hydration).  The long stem fibers also help keep the gut moving, and push out sand.  It wasn't perfect though, because you can't give horses beet pulp free choice in 110 degree heat.  The stuff ferments, and drunk hot ponies are no fun.  And so I added in a complete feed.

Now, while complete feeds are supposed to be complete, they aren't perfect.  The ideal "long stem fiber" length is 12mm, and you just can't fit that in a pellet.  This means that the horses want to chew on things, and so often times trees and wood gets chewed on.  Chaffhaye has fibers that length or longer, and of a consistency similar to grass.  This means that not only do your horses get the satisfaction of actually chewing their meals, but the longer fibers also help to push out sand from their guts.

Sand is one of the things that people overlook so often.  Living on sandy loam soil, it's a constant worry for me.  We add Sand Clear to the horses every month to help, but the best way to keep a horse from a sand colic is with plenty of long stem forage.  Now, this is one place where Chaffhaye takes a bit of a hit.

Since the haylage is chopped up to increase the fermentation process and create a more consistent product, the fibers aren't as long as they are in conventional dried hay.  The longer the fibers, the more it works like a broom in the horse's guts to push out sand.  Because there are many lumps, bumps, and wonky bends in an intestine, the sand has many places to hide.  The longer the fibers, the more crevaces it can reach into.

So, I deal with that by offering the horses some hay each week.  It doesn't take much, just a flake of good grass hay with nice long blades, and the sand goes away.  Because the chaffhaye has all those probiotics in it, the horses don't have gas issues from the change in diet (hence few if any colic problems).  I also don't have to worry about the nutrition in the hay nearly as much, since it's just being used as a "gut sweeper".  Of course, clean and weed free is important, but protein levels and such aren't as big of a concern.

How it looks on a horse:

Now, if you're wondering what got me started on this, well lets just say that I have some horses that are harder keepers, and I have been doing some rehabilitation of a few horses.  Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I want to show a comparison.

Here's Moon, a lovely paint mare that we took in during the drought of 2011.  She was fed on alfalfa based complete feeds(15 pounds of 12% protein, 8% fat), and 10 pounds of beet pulp with 2 ounces of mineral salt a day. (split into 4 feedings)

When we picked her up:
 And 2 weeks later:

Now you can see that she was improving, but still has a long way to go.  (For the record, this mare is a bit fat today, and recovered very nicely).

Compare that progress to Darwin, the Percheron stallion we just picked up.  Here he is a day after we got him:
And 2 weeks and 1 day later:
Look at the changes on his ribs and near his withers, not to mention the fleshing out of his neck.  Considering that Darwin should weight almost twice as much as Moon, that's an even more impressive result.

Darwin's diet?  1/3rd bag of Chaffehaye, and 6 pounds of a 12% protein, 8% fat alflafa based pellet, plus mineral salt (2 ounces per day).  That's less the half the grain that Moon got, in fewer feedings (Darwin gets grain twice a day, and Chaffhaye for "lunch").  The cost of the diet is less too.  While the Chaffhaye does cost more then beet pulp (less feedings per bag) the reduction in grain makes the overall cost of his diet much lower.


Here's a break down of the cost.  Chaffhaye costs between $12.00 and $14.00 (USD) per bag (depending upon the dealer).  So lets use an average of $13.00.  My grain costs $0.24 per pound.  The cost of the minerals is negligible, and equivalent between the 2, so I won't even make my head hurt trying to do that math!

So Darwin gets 6 pounds of grain.  In one week, that's 42 pounds of grain.  Total cost: $10.08 per week.

Moon got 15 pounds of grain per day.  In a week that's 105 pounds, which costs $25.20.

Darwin gets 1/3rd bag of Chaffhaye, at 13 dollars per bag, for 7 days: $30.35

Moon got 10 pounds of beet pulp, at 16 dollars per (40 pound) bag, for 7 days: $28.00.

Total cost to refeed a skinny horse -
Darwin (Percheron on grain and Chaffhaye): $40.43
Moon (Paint mare on grain and beet pulp):   $53.20

Total cost per month -
Darwin: $161.72
Moon:  $212.80

Now, for much of my herd, I don't need to add any grain to their diets at all.  Truth be told, I'm even able to get away with pasture grazing only for much of the year.  But when the pasture goes away, I have a LOT of horses to feed (34 to be exact). 

Those horses that live on pasture much of the year don't really need grains.  They do best on forage only diets, but the pasture doesn't always provide me with low cost food for them.  In the summer we have a period where the grass goes dormant from the heat, and another in the middle of winter where the cold prevents growth.  During those times, I can either put every one on hay and grain (because hay rarely has enough nutrients to support pregnant mares, growing foals, and horses in work) or I can simply put out chaffhaye.

See, that's another benefit.  Chaffhaye, or any haylage, is safe to feed free choice, because it's a true forage.  In some rare cases it may be too rich (such as my foundered mare) for free choice feeding, and other horses refuse to stop eating it, so have to be moderated, but pulling off a handful of horses in a herd this size is pretty much to be expected for any type of feed program.  Sadly, there is no "one feed fits all" out there.

I have 2 young colts, Scorch and Rico, who are currently eating nothing but chaffhaye with a mineral/salt lick.  These boys are packing on the muscle (and growing again even though they are 3 and 5 years old).  And how much do they eat in a day?  Less then 1 bag for the pair.  In 24 hours, they eat about 2/3rds of a bag, and the best part is that they will actually walk away from the feeder.  When offered a round bale, these boys do nothing but eat and eat, and didn't have the same condition that they do now, so I had to add grain to their diets. 

Mental Health:

And their personalities!  They have what I can only describe as a quiet energy.  While they are draft crosses, so not exactly hot blooded by nature, both boys were bred for performance, and so tend to be responsive.  Rico used to come out of his stall every morning like a bullet, requiring a correction.  Now, he calmly steps out, and walks with me at a nice march, neither dragging behind nor forging ahead.  Scorch, the older of the 2, is more responsive to my requests and aids, but less overly sensitive.  So a tap in the side gets me motion immediately, but not a bolt, buck, or spook.  There's less head shaking, pawing, and fidgeting, and more healthy play time.

This is because of the reduction of Non Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) in their diet.  NSCs are basically the flowers and fruits of the plant while SCs (Structural Carbohydrates) are the stems and leaves.  Horses are meant to eat the SCs, and not the NSCs naturally, but there's more calories (and less money) in feeding NSC type feeds (think oats, corn, etc).  The horses feel content, and not stuffed, and so when asked to work they are happy to do so.  Just think about Thanksgiving dinner.  How much do YOU want to get out and run a lap around the property when you're that stuffed.  You might get cranky?  horses are no different.

Now, add to it, that the nutrients from SCs are more easily used by the body.  So think about a child on a sugar high after Halloween.  Oh sure, they have plenty of energy, but it's not exactly controllable.  They run and scream and overreact to just about everything, until they wear out.  Once the sugar high is gone, they are wasted, and have no additional energy to use.  This is how horses feel when fed NSCs.  The quick and easy calories they have are mostly from carbs, and while they burn hotter, they also are used up faster.  Proteins and fats offer a most lasting energy, with less exhaustion afterward. 

So overall, after just over a month on Chaffhaye, I'm seeing dramatic differences in my horses minds, as well as their bodies.

So why does it matter what I think?

Well, I went to school for my BSc in Biology, and while my main studies were in genetics, physiology and nutrition are a basic part of the curriculum.  When I had options to finish out my studies, I chose to look at animal nutrition, because I had just gotten involved in my own horse business.  The more I knew about nutrition, and it's effects on the body (physiology) the better I could care for my "babies".  This puts me in the unique position of having a "resume" that's dedicated to my career in horses, not only my work experience, but also my education.

So, knowing what I know, and seeing what people feed their horses - usually thinking they are doing the best they can - when my Chaffhaye dealer asked for my professional opinion of the product, I told her "It's good".  She asked "yeah, but how good" and I said that wasn't a simple answer.  Rather then making her eyes glaze over, and listening to her brain explode (the usual response I get when I dork out on something I'm passionate about) I decided it was a worthy topic for my blog.

And so here we are!

I'm not some out of touch scientist sitting in a lab looking at just the numbers.  I'm a horse breeder, trainer, saleswoman, and lover.  I am hands on with the horses every day, and my personal goals are to pay forward to kindnesses that I was shown when I started out in horses.  Who knows, maybe this simple blog will help out some family in a drought stricken area, or someone whose best friend just won't keep the weight on, or someone looking for a way to get more for their horses, but fighting the economy and pinching pennies....

I have the education to actually "get" what all those weird numbers mean.  I know how this stuff works on the inside of the horse.  If I can make it make sense in some small way, and maybe dispel a few myths and help a few horses?  Why wouldn't I?

Needless to say, I probably won't be buying a whole lot of "real" hay anymore.  Since Chaffhaye has the production abilities to keep this product flowing consistently, and the cost is equivalent or less (depending upon the season) to that of "real" hay, and I can get it locally, plus I know that my horses are getting consistent nutrition that I can count on, well, I just think that's a better deal then I can get anywhere else.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July to everyone! 

While most people will be sitting outside enjoying the summer days, sharing BBQ with friends and family, I have other plans.

As many of you know, horses don't always like fireworks.  Last night started the big booms, and so far the horses are doing great with it all, but being the paranoid type that I am, I just can't leave them to it.

I have visions of nightblind horses running wild into trees.  Of babies trampled in the panic.  Of gaping flesh wounds requiring immediate vet attention.

But... it's a holiday, right?  We should have fun!

And so, I plan to.  I have some clients invited over for "hang out at the barn while I try not to be too worried" time.  A few adult beverages, some giggles, and a nice humid evening all means good time with friends.

My horsey friends understand my worries.  Granted, half of them get the benefits of it too (since many have horses here) so it all works out, and my strange foibles are forgiven.  (I really am a bit paranoid about strange things, even if I do it in a calm and mild mannered type of freaking out).

So forgive me if I'm an "old stick in the mud" and spend more time thinking about ways to put out grass fires, and who will need to be stalled overnight, and how well stocked my medical cabinet is!  This is probably one of my least favorite holidays because of it.  Oh sure, I understand the reasons, I just wish we celebrated a bit less "Boomy"!

So enjoy your holiday time, have a great day off (if you're one of the lucky ones) and remember to be safe with the fireworks.  My bonkered hand seems to be working (a nice post for another day for those who haven't heard about my latest opps) and I have some wonderful blogs planned for the very near future.