Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring preparation!

Over this weekend, Todd and I spent a lot of time working on getting our place ready for spring. We weaned calves (their cows calve in the fall), put up a new fence to set up the lower pasture for our horses, staked out where the round pen and garden will go, started turning sod in a new flowerbed, and planted some seeds in pots to get the growing season started! It was a very therapeutic weekend. I also, of course, had time to love on every one of my horses. They are still shedding, so welcome the itching, brushing and scratching. Kachina follows me everywhere in the pasture. I'm not sure exactly what she wants because she doesn't always want me to brush on her (she'll sometimes move away after I've pet her head and then move to scratch her neck, other times she'll stand forever and let me scratch her). She just has so much spark in her. She's playful, inquisitive, flighty (sometimes), and definitely outgoing (with horses and with people). Griffin tagged along behind her a few times when she was following me, so I'd stop to scratch on him too. I think the scratching was definitely what he wanted. He's not so obvious about asking though...he'll just watch me scratch other horses wait while I approach to scratch on him too. He's a little more reserved with people, but still gets along with the horses well. Oh, and he really hates dogs and does try to stomp them whenever he can. The dogs know, and stay out of his way.

The following pictures were taken by my mom as she was walking down to visit Todd and I while we were fencing. I rarely take pictures that have me in them, so here ya go.

These first couple pictures are the horses in their pasture. They stood up on the hill and watched us across the field as we fenced. My mom calls the two dark ones (Cody and Chico) the twins, since they are always hanging out together and she can't tell them apart (she's not a very horsey person) :) Notice that Kachina and Griffin hang out together quite a bit too, but they are just very social and fit right in with the herd. Notice that Catlow is missing from the picture...

She is still a loner and has not really bonded with any other horse. I feel sort of sorry for her, but she seems perfectly happy that way. She's still in the mix with the others, but she prefers to be off on her own a lot, and had not really bonded strongly with any other, but still needs them to be in her herd.

Todd and I are measuring off our fence. We put a spacer fence alongside our neighbors so that our horses can't contact eachother and potentially get in trouble through the fence. Jasper, my dog, is always there to help me out.

And here I am measuring the auger to figure out how far down Todd needs to go to set the corner posts the correct depth. I look a little poochy in the belly's mostly fluff from my vest, but I am definitely starting to show a little. I'm just over 3.5 months along now! At my next appointment, mid-April, we get to find out the baby's sex!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Equine podiatry - vets and farriers

I had a very short weekend. I had a workshop on Saturday dealing with equine podiatry. And I had 2 exams today, so I spent most of my spare time over the weekend studying. I still managed to visit my horses and pet and brush everyone. They are all doing great. All of our snow is gone now, and the pasture has dried out. Some of the first few blades of grass are trying hard to green up, but they don't last long when there are 5 horses wandering 3.5 acres (winter pasture) in search of spring nibbles. I'm hoping in a week or two, I can get the new fence up so that the horses can access the hay-field-now-turned-pasture. We decided that since we aren't getting good hay on our fields (they are old and need to be reseeded), we are turning them into pasture. It's actually better to buy hay - easier and not that expensive. We had some awesome horse hay this year - large square bales of grass/alfalfa mix. It didn't actually have that much alfalfa, just a smattering, but the horses prefer that hay over the stuff we baled. And we have only gone through half of the hay that we got so far, and the horses are in fat/sassy condition! I'm excited that the amount we purchased will last us pretty much through the whole year! We only got 22 large square bales!

The equine podiatry lab I had this weekend was very interesting. It was sponsored by the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practioners). Its design was to improve communication between veterinarians and farriers in order to ensure that horses are getting the best care they can, and to make sure that the two equine fields are working with one another instead of against (as can sometimes happen in cases of misunderstanding). We had lectures about detailed hoof and lower limb anatomy by an equine foot surgeon, and then we had lectures about farrier basics (how to trim and shoe) by a farrier. I was most interested to hear the perspectives of what is proper trimming/shoeing by both farriers and vets, since my main interest is in barefoot trimming. I listened to the lectures with intense scrutiny, trying to figure out where their philosophies differed or agreed with mine. I was rather pleased to hear that most of what the farrier taught us, I agree with. He obviously didn't get into the controversy about shoeing versus leaving horses barefoot, or say anything about therapeutic shoeing. What I definitely agreed with were his descriptions of proper angles. He even said that not every horse needs shoes! He said horses need shoes when they are wearing their hoof faster than they grow it. My only point of disagreement was when he said that shoes help with concussion. One of the other student's asked him to clarify, since she couldn't understand how a metal shoe would prevent concussion, and he did actually sort of say that they only really help by supporting the hoof. So I felt like even the farrier knew that metal shoes don't cushion feet. He said that the carriage horses he trimmed wore metal shoes with rubber bottoms because they wore their feet so fast, but also needed cushion and traction.

I also learned why farriers carve out that bit of sole on the outside edge of the toes (the part that barefoot trimmers say never to touch). It seems that if the sole contacts the shoe there, it causes bruising because the sole is striking an unyeilding metal edge. I do wonder what that means for all those fancy new shoe designs that do allow some sole pressure - I still have more to learn. The only anti-natural hoof trimming words I heard spoken where by the hoof surgeon, who said he's not sure he buys the natural barefoot philosophy that all hooves need to be modeled after wild horses. His reasoning was that wild horses live on dry hard ground, where as our horses out here (in the midwest) live on moister, softer ground. What he must not understand is that the barefoot trimmers are learning that horse's feet ARE different in different terrains and we need to compensate for that as well. What I did learn is that the vets, farriers, and barefoot trimmers actually have the same ideals as to the perfect hoof shape. What I haven't discerned yet, is how each wants to deal with hoof problems. I really look forward to getting more insight on that. So far what I know suggests that vets and farriers like to micromanage foot issues and possible resort to surgery (cutting nerves and tendons) and specialized shoes, when a barefoot trimmer would rather try trimming as the treatment and see how it helps. Maybe it's just me, but I like the least invasive philosophy. Of course, I don't know how to do the highly specialized treatments, where as I think I could figure out how to trim some of these feet, so maybe I'm biased based on my knowledge level. By no means do I think that ALL shoeing is bad though. I do think that there are some cases where a stabilizing shoe might be necessary. I wish there was a good study out there that compared different methods of treating laminitis, founder, and navicular disease (seem to be the most common hoof ailments) with the different philosophies. It'd be a great study!

The afternoon part of the workshop was devoted to teaching us the proper way to remove a shoe, trim a foot for shoeing, and then to put the shoe back on. We used horse cadaver feet from horses whose bodies where donated for research after euthanasia for various ailments (BIG THANKS TO THOSE WHO DONATE ANIMALS TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION LEARN!) I trimmed a rear hoof and we figured out that the person next to me was trimming a corresponding front hoof to the horse I trimmed (the growth rings corresponded and same color hair). My foot was very overgrown and flared on the outside edge. I say very overgrown compared to my horses, but it wasn't like he'd been completely neglected. I'd say his rear hoof was about like Griffin's rear hoof before his very first trim - long and flared to the outside. This horse's front hoof showed that he must have had some chronic hoof condition - it looked like laminitis and coffin bone rotation to me. The front hoof had a very flat sole and a dished toe shape. The leg had also been clipped, probably for ultrasound evaluation of tendons, so the horse must have been lame on that foot. The rear foot that I had did not show the laminitic conditions of the front hoof. I trimmed my back hoof,and discovered that the three farriers that were there to help us each independently had something different to say about what I needed to do to the hoof I was working on. The last farrier, which is also the farrier at our teaching hospital, gave me the most detailed and best advice about what more to do on my hoof to make it right. I learned that I really respect our school farrier. So, I trimmed my hoof, and put a shoe on (it is hard to get the bottom of the hoof completely flat to fit the shoe properly!). I couldn't get the first three nails to come out of the hoof wall, but then I sort of figured it out. I was glad I wasn't practicing on a live horse! Then I took the shoe back off, and trimmed the hoof how I would do it if it was one of my horses and I was doing a barefoot trim. After I was done, he had no flare and a beautiful hoof shape! Before that, he still had some flare because I was instructed not to take that part of the hoof wall off, otherwise he'd have nothing to nail a shoe to. I did not show the farriers what I did though, because I didn't want to disrespect them. There were some other students that I talked to who also have done barefoot trimming, and one of them was finishing his hooves with a barefoot trim too! We also dug into the sole to look for abscesses and to examine just how far in the corium (lamina) was. My poor horse's front feet had very little sole at the toe area - then we immediately saw the corium. He didn't have any abcesses though. Many of the feet that others were trimming had severe bruising in the soles. It really makes me wonder about their histories. I also wonder about the reason they were euthanized and wonder if there was some alternative method that could have "fixed" them, or it perhaps the reason they were euthanized was simply due to cost and time the treatment takes. Of course, for some, their problems may have had nothing to due with their feet.

And since I trim my own horses, I already had an idea of how hard farriers work! Other students professed a newfound respect for their farriers and said they never want to trim their own horses! I personally find trimming my horses to be a very intimate activity. I feel it makes our relationship closer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring break is over

Well, that was a fast spring break. I was back in classes today.

I did not get any pictures over break because it was so wet, foggy, and muddy. Over the course of the week, ALL of the snow disappeared! That made for a lot of mud!

Kachina was still safe in her pen when I arrived home last weekend. I wanted to trim her, and then turn her out with the others. Then all 5 of my horses would be together! Griffin was doing great with the herd and even let me catch and scratch on him, after he hadn't seen me in a week and a half!

Well, we started out on Kachina, but she was so irritable from being penned up, that it took 3 days to trim her! If I was faster, I could have gotten it done much sooner, but she has a very short time where she's good and patient. After about 10 minutes, she becomes very uncooperative. I'm slow and meticulous, so it takes me longer than 10 minutes. And once she'd reached that irritated point, there was almost nothing I could do except leave her be. Even my fancy rope trick around the leg had minor success. It takes forever to trim a horse that either won't stand still, or keeps taking their foot away from you when you just get situated to trim. And I even had my friend holding her head to keep her still. Well, I did finally get all 4 done. Then we led her out into the pasture and turned her loose. Once loose, she completely let loose! She was galloping, bucking, rearing, doing rollbacks, just being plain silly! We thought for sure she was going to fall because the remaining snow was slushy and icy. But she didn't. And she tried to get Griffin to play with her, but he was not really interested. I was surprised. She was so light on her feet and playful. She made Griffin look like a big clumsy oaf. When she reared up and struck out at his head, he just ducked out of the way and halfheartedly evaded her. She pranced and floated over the ground. Hours later, she was still running and playing. No wonder she was so terrible for me to trim. She had way too much energy. She is a very elegant little horse. I need to find some use to put her tiny flighty frame to! She'd make a very attractive little cart horse (she has the cutest trot), but I worry that she might be too flighty for that profession too.

Griffin and Chico are pretty good friends. They'll stand forever and play gelding games (particularily bitey-face).

The mares, well, they'd rather the newcomers just leave them be. They don't play. They just enforce the order.

We also did manage to trim 1 other horse after we finished Kachina. I did 1 front and 1 back to demonstrate on Chico, and my friend did the other 2.

And my super sweet boy sharpened all my hoof knives and nippers for me. :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'm on spring break!!!!!

Ah! It has been a rough couple of weeks. We've had about 3 exams per week for the last 4 weeks, but now, I'm on vacation! I'm not going to think about school at all this week! Today, I am picking up a friend visiting from far far away, and we are going to spend all week playing with horses! She wants to learn to trim her own horses, so I'm going to show her what I know and let her try her hand at it. I've got 4 horses that need to be trimmed right now, so we have plenty of feet to practice on! AND I get to show her around my home grounds. I just wish the weather was going to be nicer. This is the icky transition time right now. Our nice clean snow is steadily disappearing with the 40 degree weather, and mud and horse manure that piled up over the winter is slowly appearing. And it's supposed to rain this week. Ugh! After a few weeks of sunshine, I'm mad that it will be raining over most of my spring break! I'll probably post some hoof trimming pictures. Wish us luck! I have to trim Kachina too. Griffin is the only one of my horses that is good to go.

Over this last weekend, I participated in a bovine hoof trimming workshop. There are actual hoof trimmers for cows out there! They obviously focus primarily on dairy cattle. Boy, beef cattle would be a handful to try to trim. It was amazing to see the differences between how to trim cows and horses, both in the mechanisms in trimming and in restraint. Obviously, cows are not trained to willingly pick up feet for you and stand nicely so you can trim their feet. They have these specially designed chutes that you load the cow through, her head goes into a head lock, the rear door closes, and then you raise two sling-like straps that she walked over when she came in. These straps go around her thorax and belly and hold her up. Then you attach webbed straps to each leg, around the cannon bone, and two at a time (one back hoof and one front hoof) you raise the leg into working position. And the way the leg is restrained is intesting. You basically crank it up again a bar that holds it perfectly immobile. The rear leg is pulled back, much like like how we do horses, and the front leg is lifted up and to the side a bit (also just like with a horse). Then the trimmers (usually a team of two, from what our instructors were saying) go to town trimming!

Cows hooves need to be at an optimum sloped angle of about 52 degrees (compared to about 45-55 for front and rear on horses). Cows get all the same problems horses do too, especially with their super high concentrate diets that their bodies are not designed to handle. Did you know that ruminants in general (including cows), were actually designed to handle poorer quality forage than horses need? It's because a cow can get most of her protein from the microbes in her rumen (and those microbes can use plant parts that the animals cannot utilized and turn it into protein). Horses, on the other hand, have to get all their protein from their diet. They cannot use the protein in their "fermentation vat" because it is in the hindgut, and all the proteins are absorbed from the digestive tract before then. Proteins cannot be absorbed in large amounts in the colon. In cows, the fermentation vat is the first compartment, so everything that comes out of it can be used by the cow. It's amazing to think about that. I know I thought before that all these high sugar grasses developed for cattle were because they need that and horses don't, but in reality, it's not true. The only reason that we feed cattle such high concentrate diets is to force more milk and meat out of them. And doing that puts cattle always on a metabolic cliff, so to speak. They are so close to being beyond what they can handle metabolically...and we do often see cattle that have problems due to their diet. Anyway, I thought that bit of knowledge I've gained so far in vet school was fascinating. Back to hoof trimming.

So, because of how we manage cattle (feed high concentrate diets, live in manure and muck, standing in it most of the day, in the case of dairy cattle - often living on concrete, which is very hard on their hooves due to lack of cushion, plus we make them carry these huge milk bags between their hind legs), many cattle develop abcesses in their hooves due to irritation of the corium between the pedal bone (coffin bone), and the hoof wall. They also develop hairy warts between their digits, dermatitis, and laminitis, all which can cause them to become lame. A lame dairy cow produces less milk due to the discomfort, so most dairies these days trim. Trimming has helped prevent lameness, as has the installation of water baths containing hoof treatments that the cows much walk through when they are finished milking.

It's hard to describe the difference between the mechanisms of trimming horses and cows. Their hoof shapes are obvously very different and cows have two claws, instead of one on each foot. But other than that, the basics are the same. Cows have a rear cushion area (like a horse's frog), and the front hard digging area with a sole. The sole, hoofwall, and corium are the same as in a horse, but just a different shape due to the shape of the bone underneath. Think of a cow's "coffin" bone as being 1/2 of a horse's...and so two halves make a whole! The "frog" on a cow is not grooved like a horse's. In fact, the whole bottom of the hoof is pretty flat, and the junction between the cushion and the sole is very blended, almost indistinguishable. Pastured cattle will develop a concave sole (concave toward the midline of the hoof, so that with the two toes together, there is a round concave portion in the middle between them such that the outside of each toe contains the hoof wall and bears the weight). Cattle that are kept in free stall barns where the floor contains a lot of areas with concrete, and their feet remain wet from tracking through manure, often have softer soles and hoof walls, so their feet wear more and wear so that they are flat. Because they lack concavity on the inner surface of each hoof, abcesses form easily because the back of the pedal bone is not cushioned. This can also happen in cattle with overgrown hooves.

Trimming a cow involves trimming the toe to the correct length (I think that length was 3.5 inches), scultping the sole to get the desired toe angle (in a long hoof, this involves trimming away the excess sole at the toe, being sure to leave enough for cushion), then scooping out the inner toe area to create the concavity to allow cushioning of the rear part of the pedal bone. Now, here is where it is different from trimming a horse. On the cows there is a weight bearing "sound" toe (which in 95% of the time, this is always true - in the hind limbs, the "sound" toe is the inner toe, in the forelimbs, it is the outer toe). 95% of the abscesses always occur in the "unsound" toe, due to unaccustomed percussion of the bone. So, the hoof shape is trimmed to the "sound" toe, and then the "unsound" toe is trimmed more aggressively, and in most cases you really trim the heel down so that it is shorter on the unsound toe. On the "sound" toe, you don't touch the heel at all because the cow needs that to walk on. Also, on the unsound toe, you really model the concavity on the inner toe. As you do that, you often uncover abcesses that haven't surfaced yet. Modeling like that will relieve the pressure inside the hoof, and shortening the heel will "rest" that toe to give it a chance to heal. In really bad abscesses, they will actually put a 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch wooden block on the "sound" toe to prevent the unsound toe from bearing any weight to give it a chance to heal. And that apparently doesn't hurt the sound toe at all, to be bearing all the weight itself. Crazy. The workshop was so interesting.

So, the first day, we had lectures in the morning, then trimmed cadaver feet to practice. Then the next day, we went out to a dairy barn and ran live cows through chutes and trimmed them up! As vets, it will be very important for us to recognize causes of lameness that might be due to lack of trimming (or bad trimming).

Another interesting thing I learned - a cow's back should be perfectly flat and horizontal with the ground. If you see a cow with a hunched back when she is standing or walking, she is lame, even if she doesn't overtly appear to limp. We trimmed a poor cow with a huge abscess coming out the top of her hoof that was due to an overgrown wart that was invading her hoof. She was so lame and was trying so hard not to put weight on that back hoof, but that is really hard to do when you have that huge milk bag hanging between your legs. She got a block on the healthier toe - the wort was invading the "unsound" toe.

Sorry for the long winded discussion on cows, but I'm learning a lot!