Winter is starting on the Blorenge!

Since welcoming Dax into my life back in May, I’ve been on quite a learning journey.  It’s been a fascinating process seeing how the theory that I’ve picked up over the years translates into applied practice – and how it doesn’t always fit the individual as neatly as the books and training might suggest!  This was one of my reasons for getting a horse ‘of my own’: to build a relationship and to learn more about the practicalities of caring for an equine.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see what life on a yard is like – when your horse lives there – compared to the yards that I’d visited through work.  I was very fortunate to be on a lovely yard with fairly like-minded people.  It was a small establishment with only 2 other people and a total of 5 horses, while I was there.  We worked pretty well together, sharing poo picking and happily stepping in when one or other of us went away for a few days.  It was lovely to have others to share and consult or even just chat with, back in those long warm summer evenings.

Now that we’ve moved to Wales and have 2 horses, things are different in many ways.  There’s a lot more poo picking for a start!! Thankfully my husband often steps in to help.  (He nicknamed himself ‘Professor Poo’ back in our yard days, so he has to keep his hand in, so to speak!)

On the plus side, it’s lovely to have the horses here on site with us.  We can’t quite see them from the house, due to the trees and the fact that the fields are further up the hill, but it’s wonderful to be able to just pop up and see them.  It’s also easier to organise my day, now that I don’t have to think about making a trip to the yard.  I just go up first thing every morning to check on them after the night (and at the moment, I’m checking that they’re warm enough), deliver some hay and do the first round of poo picking.  I then go up again in the evening for more of the same.  We’ll soon be getting a field shelter with a hay store which will mean I don’t have to push the barrow up the hill so often, which will be nice – though it has been a good way to build up my core strength!

Sometimes work commitments mean that it’s still dark when I go up in the morning, or the sun has set by the time I get home.  A head-torch is great on these occasions – though I’ve been surprised at how much I can actually see, even in the dark – but I often leave the poo picking until the next day as it’s difficult to spot, even with the beam of the torch.  On these mornings and evenings it’s wonderful to hear the birds and owls calling to each other!  One of the many perks of moving out of the city.

At the moment the main issues I’m dealing with are the weather, whether or not to rug, and managing the grass.  We’re higher up than we were used to, here on the Blorenge, which has meant that we’ve had some very cold nights and frosty starts.  I can sometimes be a cold bod and I like to feel warm, so it can be very tempting to wrap the horses up in a big snuggly rug, however I know that horses are great at making their own inner heat, due to their hind gut fermentation processes.

Dax is a hardy fella, having lived out, without a field shelter, even in the snows earlier this year, but Rika was used to being rugged and stabled, so I was unsure how she would adapt.  She came with 2 rugs – a waterproof and a quilted one – so I kept a close eye on her, and the forecast, in case I would need to use them.  So far, I’ve used each one once but, on reflection, I think it was unnecessary.  It was more a case of me being overly worried for her, particularly as we don’t yet have a field shelter, than of any real need for extra protection for her.  I also ended up just worrying that I was interfering with her body’s natural mechanisms for keeping warm.  A rug can keep the hair from being  able to fluff up to trap air, and also mean that they are too warm in some areas, while in contrast other parts of their body are relatively cool / cold.  In fact that the weather wasn’t as wet as predicted, and even on the really frosty mornings, she has been lovely and warm and hasn’t shown any signs of shivering, or looking miserable or ‘tucked up’.

A big factor is that they have plenty of hay and ad lib access to forage in the fields.  There is grass, hedging and lots of herby things for them to browse on throughout the day and night.  Digesting this, helps to keep their inner heating system ticking over nicely.  They also make good use of the natural shelter provided by the hedges and trees.  It will be interesting to see how much they actually use the shelter when it comes!  Perhaps they will even prefer to be out in the field where they can see in all directions, which is, after all, how horses in the wild keep themselves safe.

Their coats, too, are wonderfully engineered to keep them warm.  The hair forms rivulet patterns when it rains, to help direct the water away from their skin.  It has also thickened up and stands on end to trap air, which forms an extra layer of insulation.  Dax, in particular, often looks very fluffy and has been affectionately nicknamed our Woolly Bear.  Rika’s coat seems to be working differently in that it has become oily and dense, though it too looks fluffier than before.

Rika’s fluffy, dense winter coat

The ‘hole’ is due to a love-bite from Dax when Rika was in season

 

Rain patterns in Dax’s coat forming channels to allow the water to run off

Our muddy, woolly bear!

They’re also both decidedly muddy!  I fondly and amusedly despaired at Dax one morning when I saw just how dirty he was.  At least, I thought, he can’t be cold if he’s rolling in the wet mud.  He assured me that it was good to get muddy!  Now I know that rolling is good for our horses – it’s kinda like a massage for their back muscles – but I wasn’t entirely convinced about the mud…  Dax insisted that it was ‘good’.  When I asked him why, he just said:

It just Is…  Why do you hoomans always need to know a why?!

Trust him to have the last word!

The other issue is the grass.  We’re very fortunate that we have soil that tends towards being sandy, and we’re high up on the side of the hill, so our drainage is good, and we have very little mud.  Long may this last!  I now just need to work out how to best manage the land so that it doesn’t become poached and so that we keep the grass healthy.  The horses currently have access to 2 of the 3 fields.  The third field has longer, richer grass, and I’m hoping to use this, alongside the hay, to feed Dax and Rika as the weather gets colder.  By then, there should be little risk of laminitis – providing we don’t have too much bright, frosty weather which could still result in high sugar levels!

I hope that this lifestyle that provides them with as natural and varied a diet as I can, fewer stresses, plenty of room to run or just mooch around will help to keep them healthy, happy and well.

I’d love to hear from you and your horses:

  • What are your tips for surviving the winter months?
  • How do your horses respond to the weather?

Hoping that you can all manage to stay warm, dry and reasonably mud-free – humans anyway!

 

 

Advertisements

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 5 of 5

In part 4 of this series I looked at the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet.  Some people, however, have voiced concerns about feeding raw food to pets.  The Pet Food Manufacturers Association says:

“There are concerns that feeding raw meat to pets can present a human/animal risk, such as salmonella contamination. In the case where only raw meat and bones are fed, there is an additional concern among vets and animal nutritionists that this exclusive diet may not meet the pet’s needs.”

However if the food is bought from a reputable company they should be happy to provide information on their sources and these should be of very high quality.  If appropriate care is taken with handling, presentation and storage of the food it should not pose significant risk.

Another option is to return to the ‘old fashioned’ method of cooking and preparing food from scratch at home and including enough to feed any animals in the household.  This would also benefit the health of the human members of the family as they too would be eating fewer processed foods.  Cooked meat and vegetables are easier for animals to digest which can support absorption of nutrients and help to avoid upset stomachs.

Whichever option is chosen, for anyone deciding to change their pet’s diet this should be done sensitively.  A dog or cat who has eaten only processed foods up to this point needs time for their digestion and palate to adjust.  Sometimes guardians are put off feeding ‘human’ food to the animals in their care because they become so enthusiastic that they radically alter the diet overnight and then complain that it has made the animal ill when it is sick or has diarrhoea.  This would actually be a ‘normal’ response to such a sudden change.  Instead the new food should be introduced slowly, gradually reducing the amount of tinned food or kibble and replacing it with some meat and vegetables.  Over time the processed foods can be removed entirely if desired.

Hopefully as we become more aware of our own health needs we will in turn be more sensitive to the needs of the animals in our care.  Just as our wellbeing depends on our lifestyle, diet and exercise, so it is with our companion animals.  Many people are becoming more health aware and diet conscious so hopefully this will have knock-on benefits for the animals too.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 3 of 5

As most pet guardians now spend less time preparing food for themselves and their children it is not surprising that they are less likely to give their animals a varied, unprocessed diet.  Many people buy commercial pet food because they honestly belief it is best for their pet, and because it is convenient and affordable.  However processing requires several steps and it only requires a small error at any one stage to result in problems.  Buying processed food takes control further from the consumer.  An article in the Daily Mail stated that “few people are aware of the little publicised concerns about processed pet foods” (“Is the pet food you’re serving up killing your 4-legged friend?”).  Some processed foods have been linked to poor behaviour in dogs, and even cancer.  However people are now becoming more aware thanks to social media.  There are pet-dedicated chatrooms where “increasing numbers of people have been sharing concerns about processed pet food” (ibid).

Many cases of urinary and kidney problems have been linked to dry food.  This is one of the main causes of death in cats and is often caused because they are chronically dehydrated by just eating dry food.  Manufacturers say that cats eating this food should always have plenty of fresh water available, but “even if they drink it is often not enough to ensure optimum urinary health” (Lisa Pierson, pet nutritionist).

One third of household pets is now overweight.  Also, chronic conditions, such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease, heart disease and dental problems (all diet related) are on the increase.  In addition there has been a rise in the number of cases of allergies (particularly skin problems) and digestive issues, despite veterinary advice on specialist foods for these conditions.  Richard Allport, a vet of over 36 years’ experience, based in Hertfordshire, says: “my advice … is always this: switch your pet’s diet to fresh food and often it’s so successful that altering the diet is all that’s needed to ‘cure’ a pet’s health problem.”

In part 4 I’ll look at what an alternative diet for your pet might look like and why you might like to consider making this change.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 2 of 5

In the first part of this series I started to explore the commercial pet food market and why it can be so difficult to get reliable information on what constitutes a good diet for your cat or dog.

Supermarkets now have large sections devoted to selling pet food, but often these are the cheaper brands.  It can be very difficult to trace the source of the ingredients but in order to keep the price low, these must be coming from the cheaper end of the market.  Many pet foods contain what are known as ‘4-D ingredients’. An article entitled “Top Worst Dry Dog Food Brands” on the Holistic and Organix Pet Shoppe website states that:

“4-D chicken is meat and by-products that have been derived from chickens that were rejected by food inspectors who classified the chickens as not fit for human consumption because they were “Dead, Dying, Disabled or Diseased” at the time of inspection. Any chemicals that existed within that animal, would still be in it when dead. Meat by-products are nothing more than slaughterhouse waste; waste that’s been banned for use in human food and then sold to the pet food industry. It’s what’s left over after the slaughter and classified as inedible waste, unfit for human consumption.”

Holistic and Organix Pet Shoppe © 2012-2013

If you study the labels on, for example, dog food, you will see that the main ingredient is usually ‘cereal’ which is used as a bulking and binding agent.  Cereal has little nutritional value for dogs and in fact many can develop allergic reactions to it, however it can help to keep the price down and make the food look more appealing — to the human buyer.  If the cereal is not fully cooked it can be indigestible.  Sometimes there are problems with a particular batch of kibble because it isn’t thoroughly cooked and animals eating it get diarrhoea, even though they might have eaten the same food before with no problems.

dry food

With dry foods, the ingredients are cooked twice.  This results in the ‘ash’ often mentioned in the ingredients list.  This is known to be carcinogenic.  Other problems, too, are much more common than with canned or homemade foods. Altered proteins may contribute to food intolerances, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease.  Some brands of dry food, particularly puppy food, recommend that it should be moistened before being given to the animal to eat, however “bacteria multiply rapidly on moistened dry food” so if the animal only eats a little and the rest is left for them to come back to later “it is a good way for them to get diarrhea”(Donald R Strombeck, ibid).

In part 3 I’ll look at why these processed pet foods have become so popular and some health concerns related to feeding this kind of diet.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.

Dog & Cat Nutrition – part 1

I just shared an article from Dogs Naturally Magazine giving ’10 Simple Rules to Get You Started’ on raw feeding your dog.  This prompted me to repost this article that I wrote a while ago on dog and cat nutrition:

Let’s start by looking at the commercial food market…

The food we feed our pets has changed considerably over the years, as indeed has our own diet.  Years ago, animals were fed on scraps and left-overs from the food that we cooked for ourselves, so essentially they were eating ‘human’ food, however as our lifestyles have become busier and we now eat more ‘convenience food’, so our pets are being given more branded pet food.  But is this a positive step?

Pet foods have become a “multibillion dollar industry” according to Donald R Strombeck, author of “Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative” (quoted in an article in The Bark Issue 42: May/Jun 2007).  The Daily Mail, in January 2010, stated that the “pet food industry is valued at £2 billion and growing.”  Products are advertised as being “the best” and “complete” and in fact they say that human food should not be given to animals, but is this the case?  Unfortunately advertising laws around pet foods are less strict than those for human food and no-one really monitors the truth of what is being said.  Also, there is little redress if the claims turn out to be false.

Veterinary students have often had very little teaching on what constitutes a healthy diet for the animals they will be caring for.  Much of the information they actually receive comes from the pet food industry itself and this is then what the vets tell their patients.  Manufacturers sponsor food displays in vet surgeries.  Hill Science Plan sponsored the British Veterinary Association’s Congress in 2009 and signed a partnership with the British Veterinary Dental Association to sponsor animal tooth care.  Royal Canin has partnerships with leading veterinary schools and Universities and they run Pet Health Counsellor Courses.  Many pet websites are affiliated in some way with pet food corporations, in fact the Pet Health Council, described as an independent website, is sponsored by the Petfood Manufacturers Association.  They claim “that processed food is best”, warning: ‘It would not be possible to feed your pet an adequate home-prepared diet” (“Is the pet food you’re serving up killing your 4-legged friend?”, Daily Mail online, 20 January 2010)

Most of the vets who specialise in nutrition are taught using information from the industry and end up working for them.  Also, most research funding comes from pet food producers which is a conflict of interest.  Even organisations such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are made up of people form the industry.

In part 2 I’ll continue looking at processed pet foods and why these might not actually be as healthy as the advertising claims.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.