Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not even eating for one!

Along with "he's old because he is skinny," I frequently hear "she is skinny because she is nursing." Never mind that all around the world, fat, shiny mares are nursing their foals. You will still hear that nursing mares "just look like that" from ignorant BYB's, who argue that it's normal for their broodmares to look like the girl from "Intervention" who eats 8 grapes a day.

And it's not necessarily the poor, who can't afford to feed properly, who come up with these arguments. Remember Ernie Paragallo and his argument that they are more fertile when they're skinny? Lame excuses exist at every end of the economic scale and today I have a fine example of that.

These sad broodmares belong to Mike and Brenda Leaverton of Moxee, Washington. Several of Mike and Brenda's neighbors and folks who have to drive by their property every day have about had enough. They have reported this to animal control, but Yakima animal control officer Randy Sutton admits he "doesn't know much about horses," and does not seem to be eagerly jumping at any opportunities to educate himself.

(You know, if I were an A.C. officer, it would occur to me that I needed to obtain training in the care of ALL animals. Like, right now, I don't know much about cows or pigs and what's normal for them and what their health issues are. But if it were my job to protect those animals' welfare, I would learn!)

Now, are Mike and Brenda meth-head losers who can barely remember they have horses, much less scrape up the cash to feed them? Why no. Mike actually owns his own financial consulting firm. This guy's an expert with money. Clearly it is not actually beyond his means to provide proper nutrition and vet care for his broodmares, especially in his part of Washington, where both hay and veterinary care are half the cost they are for those of us on the west side. Why he is failing to take proper care of his horses is anybody's guess. Could be ignorance. Could be arrogance. Could be the always-popular combination of the two!

It sounds like one mare may be unable to produce milk anymore, because her foal has been seen nursing off the other. Oh, great. Because the only thing better than having one foal sucking you dry when you're already skinny is TWO foals sucking you dry!

Here is a good article - scroll down to the part about lactating mares. And I quote: "Nursing makes the greatest nutritional demands on a mare in any phase in the reproductive cycle, and many mares are underfed while nursing. Lactating mares need as much or more energy in their diets as hardworking performance horses."
As the article also notes, lactating mares need THREE TIMES the amount of drinking water they would normally require. Dehydration can also contribute to a thin, tucked-up appearance - not to mention it can cause colic and the next thing you know, you have an orphan foal to deal with.

Lactating mares need much more nutrition than pregnant mares to stay looking good. (Again: Horse breeding. It's expensive. It's not a good way to make money if you're poor.) If you've chosen to breed your mares, you've chosen the responsibility of making sure they get proper nutrition and veterinary care, and neither is going to be nickles and dimes. And yes, when you have bony horses like these standing near the road, don't assume people are going to drive on by and ignore it!

(I swear though...some of these owners really must be blind to it. I just got pictures I hope to post soon - case is being turned in to A.C. so I am waiting - of some horses in just awful, awful condition. Rare breed horses, too. They are in a clean barn and the owner does not seem to realize how bad they look, as she is not in any way trying to hide them. I mean, I'm glad she's not, since now they can get help, but I'm baffled at how you can look at a horse with a BCS of maybe 1.5 - 2 and feet like skis and not know something is wrong.)

It all comes down to the same old stuff - they are not skinny because they are old or because they are nursing or because they have been poisoned (I hear Jason Meduna is still singing that same old, already-disproven, song!). They are skinny for some combination of the same reasons horses all over the world are skinny:

1. Not enough/poor quality feed.
2. Worms
3. Bad teeth
4. Ulcers
5. Sand in their digestive system (yes, it won't just cause colic - it can keep them from gaining weight, too)
6. Pain. A crippled horse who limps around all day is often impossible to keep weight on. The stress/pain combo tends to melt it off. This is, to me, a really good sign that it is time to say goodbye, if the pain is caused by a chronic condition there's little hope of recovery from.
7. (Rare) Thyroid or other medical conditions like severe allergies.

It really IS NOT more complicated than that. There is always a reason, even if you think you have "tried everything." If you dewormed once, it does not mean you have them worm-free. Fecal test if you want to know. And no exact amount or type of feed is one size fits all. You do have to feed a pregnant or nursing mare more. Well, duh. The same is true of humans, so it really shouldn't be this damn hard to figure out. Hence the expression "eating for two." With these poor mares, there is just not enough to go around ... the babies look good but the mares look skinny and drained. It's not fair to them - or their foals.

(And while we're at it, what is that palomino and why exactly are we breeding her other than that she's yellow?