Country vet Saving orphan Annie
A good day goes bad when a beloved mare gives birth.
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: www.braveart.biz