Coun­try vet Sav­ing or­phan An­nie

A good day goes bad when a beloved mare gives birth.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS TRISHA FISK

Our vil­lage might be a small one, but it boasts a very ac­tive pony and rid­ing club. The Vet was of­ten called in to give talks to the kids on pony care, hoof health and horse nu­tri­tion.

He knew most of the rid­ers and cer­tainly all of the horses. Some of them had done the rou­tines for more than one rider over the years, and the good horses got passed on re­luc­tantly as rid­ers out­grew them.

Serendip­ity was one of the good ones. She had schooled half a dozen kids on how to trot over cav­aletti, how to change lead­ing legs and how to jump. She was a great pony, a dark bay mare, about 13 hands high, with two white hind legs and a clear white blaze down her nose.

Mered­ith was her last owner. By the time she was ready for a larger hack, there were no young pony club­bers com­ing on. Serendip­ity – or Dippy as ev­ery­one called her – was out of a job. That was when Mered­ith de­cided to put her in foal.

It seemed like a good idea. If any off­spring turned out only half as good as their mother, it would still be a cracker.

Eleven months and eleven days af­ter a suc­cess­ful date with a pony stal­lion, Dippy went into labour. Mered­ith gave the Vet a call, to let him know “things are hap­pen­ing” and to be aware in case he was needed. The mare was wax­ing up, drib­bles of creamy fat ap­pear­ing around her teats. She was rest­less and un­com­fort­able.

We didn’t get an­other call un­til the next day. By then, it was all too late. Dis­as­ter had struck. Ab­so­lute, ut­ter dis­as­ter. The mare had foaled dur­ing the night. Mered­ith had checked on her at 2am and there had been no sign of the foal ap­pear­ing, so she had gone back to bed. By 7am, the foal was out. Although look­ing tired and sore, Mered­ith said the lit­tle mare had ap­peared ok. She was moth­er­ing the foal, and it was healthy.

Mered­ith had school, but her par­ents promised faith­fully to check on mum and baby sev­eral times dur­ing the day.

It was Mered­ith’s mum who rang the Vet.

“The horse has gone down. She still hadn’t cleaned this morning, but dam­mit, now I think she has pro­lapsed.”

A pro­lapse in any an­i­mal is se­ri­ous news. The Vet broke all his own speed records get­ting there, but it was too late. Serendip­ity must have been torn in­side, bleed­ing in­ter­nally, be­fore she went into shock and died.

“Ahh, saints pre­serve us. Merry will be gut­ted. And now we have the foal to worry about as well.”

The Vet gave them all the ad­vice he could on rais­ing an or­phan. He helped milk as much colostrum out of the dead mare as they could, and showed them how to feed with a bot­tle and lamb teat.

He sug­gested putting a post on Facebook and look­ing for foal­ing web­sites where they might be able to find a fos­ter mare.

“It is bloody hard and con­stant work to try and feed the or­phan your­selves, only ok if you don’t ever need to sleep. She is go­ing to need a feed ev­ery hour for the first few days, then two hourly for a few more. By about day seven you might get away with feed­ing it ev­ery four hours through the night. But I would re­ally rec­om­mend look­ing for a fos­ter.”

“I know Mered­ith won’t give up on it. But she has ex­ams just now,” said her dad.

“Only two more and then she is fin­ished for the year,” her mum pointed out.

“Yeah, but she’s just a kid. She can’t be up feed­ing a horse all night!” “Well, we can help her…” The Vet left them dis­cussing the lo­gis­tics while he went off to or­der in foal milk re­placer and pel­lets.

Word soon got round the pony club. Dippy was a favourite with ev­ery­one and soon lots of of­fers of help came in.

The hard­est thing was go­ing to be keep­ing the foal warm and fed of­ten enough for the first few days. Mered­ith’s Mum whipped up a tiny po­lar fleece horse rug on her sewing ma­chine.

“It was go­ing to be track pants for Merry but she will be happy to wait for them.”

A part of the tack room was par­ti­tioned off and hay spread out as a tem­po­rary stable. A neigh­bour brought over an old re­clin­ing chair.

“We can take watches,” he said. “Four hours each, then go home. But doze in this be­tween feeds. Just for the first week any­way.”

Then John Maybe turned up with Hen­ri­etta the Saa­nen goat.

“Goat milk is bet­ter for them than cow’s milk. And she is a good girl. Real friendly and easy to milk.”

Op­er­a­tion Or­phan An­nie was un­der­way and she was lively enough, a pretty lit­tle black filly. Af­ter a few days the Vet went to check on progress. By this time Mered­ith had fin­ished her last exam.

“I think it went ok. This sort-of put it all in per­spec­tive a bit, so I wasn’t as wor­ried as I might have been. But I’m glad I have fin­ished for the year. Now I can just fo­cus on An­nie.”

“Is the goat milk work­ing out ok?” the Vet asked.” No di­ar­rhoea?”

“So far, it’s all good. We are mix­ing it half and half with the for­mula you got us. Dad rigged up a milk­ing stool so he doesn’t have to bend over to milk the goat. Yes­ter­day An­nie was pretty in­ter­ested in the goat stand­ing up there and I think it won’t be long be­fore she can feed her­self. Hen­ri­etta is amaz­ing. Just put some food in front of her and she will stand still for any­body to milk her. Even the foal!”

“Well, it looks like you have sorted out the feed regime. Then you just need to think about so­cial­is­ing the foal with other horses. Don’t let it get too pushy or spoiled.” Mered­ith was on it. “All the pony club guys are go­ing to help with that. I have had so many of­fers of com­pan­ion horses, we will end up with a whole herd here. An­nie cer­tainly won’t be lonely. And I cer­tainly won’t be bored these hol­i­days!”

TRISHA FISK is a farmer, au­thor of Prac­ti­cal Small­farm­ing in New Zealand, and long-time as­sis­tant to her hus­band in his vet work. They now live on 4ha near Whangarei and Trisha con­cen­trates on her art:

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