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Nutritionist Lucy replies:
There are major nutritional differences between these three chaffs.
Lucerne chaff is by far the highest in protein (as lucerne is a legume plant) at around 18%, and contains good levels of the essential amino acid lysine. Lucerne is often used in complete diets to get the levels of this essential nutrient up to spec. Lucerne has good levels of fibre and higher levels of calcium, which can be important for controlling acid production in the stomach, and it has an energy level of around 8 MJ per kilo on a dry matter basis.
Meadow chaff can be very variable as it depends on the mix of grasses in the ‘meadow’ used for harvesting. You would need to ask the supplier what species of grasses are included to get a proper idea of the nutrient levels and balances. There are some standard values quoted for meadow grass globally – but this is a very ‘average’ average – with protein at about 9% and energy about 9 Mj/kg DM.
Oaten chaff is different again and can vary in its straw content, depending on whether it was harvested as the whole crop (including grain) or not.
Pure oat straw chaff has an energy level of just over 6 Mj/kg DM and 4% protein according to standard values, whereas the version including 20% as grain has energy of nearly 8 Mj/kg and 6% protein.
So, the various chaffs can be used for what you’re trying to achieve.
If you need more protein for harder work and topline, then the lucerne chaff is best. If your horse needs fibre, then the oat straw is best. The meadow chaff is more akin to hay in terms of general nutritional uses.
Trainer Cheski replies:
Hi Serena, it’s recommended practice to isolate mares that are about to have foals for safety reasons. Feral mares choose to go off by themselves to have their foals in a quiet environment. They tend to foal at night when lighting is poor so they have their foals in secret. If you can’t separate your mare from other horses, your mare is unlikely to settle properly during foaling. Any delay in the normal progression of labour could lead to complications which jeopardise the life of the mare and/or foal.
However, your mare can and should run with her friends for most of her gestation provided that her paddock mates are not nasty. Horses are social, herd animals and depend on others for companionship.
Ideally, your mare should be paddocked with the same horses that she
will be paddocked with after foaling. This allows all social hierarchy to be established prior to a vulnerable foal being in the mix. In ideal circumstances, paddock companions will be other mares in a similar stage of life, so they are also expecting or have just had foals. However, if your girl has to live in a mixed herd it’s particularly important that the social structure is very friendly and the pecking order firmly established before the foal arrives.
I have to say that often the safest option for your mare is to send her to an experienced stud or horse person about two weeks before the expected foaling date. Most farms that foal a reasonable number of mares provide 24 hours a day monitoring with veterinary assistance only minutes away which ensures the maximum chances of success and the least amount of stress for all concerned.
If you do decide to have her foal down at home, be looking for her to exhibit behaviour changes during the last few weeks of gestation. Expect her to become cranky, restless and as she enters the first stage of labour she’ll usually WANT to be left alone. She may walk continually in her paddock, swish her tail, look at her sides and kick at her abdomen. These signs are also indicative of colic, but if she eats, drinks, defecates and urinates frequently then the first stage of labour is probably in progress.
When your mare starts to look uncomfortable, she should be separated from her paddock mates to allow her some peace and quiet before the foal arrives and then uninterrupted bonding time with the new foal after birth.
Ideally, move her friends to the paddock next to her so she doesn’t feel like she’s been completely deserted.
The foaling area you choose should be isolated and quiet. Safety and cleanliness of the foaling area cannot be stressed enough. Make sure the chosen foaling area is well fenced, free of hazards and easy for you to access. Have experienced veterinary assistance on 24/7 call and close at hand as a vital component to ensuring a successful outcome. If things go wrong during foaling, a matter of minutes can mean the difference between life and death.
The hierarchy should be established well before a foal comes into the mix.”
Vet Dave replies:
Kissing spine is the overlapping of the dorsal spinous processes of the spine. The impingement between the overlapping bony processes during spinal movement causes pain and can present from reluctance to work or poor performance through to extreme avoidance behaviour to any ridden work. You are correct that there is a surgery to release the pressure between the dorsal processes and this helps to remove the inflammation and pain caused by this condition. Prior to contemplating surgery, treating the affected region medically with a steroid injection can help, especially in conjunction with training and physiotherapy to build good core strength, correct posture and correct rider positioning.
As the condition occurs from bending of the spine causing compression of the bony processes, it is quite logical to see how retraining of the surrounding musculature to carry the spine correctly, in combination with good core strength, can reduce this impingement and help to alleviate or solve it, depending on the severity and the number of spinal processes involved.
Saddle fit, rider position and rider ability all play a key role in the forces placed on the spine.
Any exercises that encourage him to stretch and build core strength are a definite must; leaving him in the paddock will likely reduce both his muscle tone and strength.
I would suggest working in with a good equine physiotherapist to create an exercise plan suited to his exact ability and needs – most equine veterinarians will have a physiotherapist with whom they have a good working relationship and are more than happy to recommend.
Any exercises that encourage him to stretch and build core strength are a must.”