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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.”

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