Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grooming the Giant Bunny

     The Giant Bunny is loosing her fur. Spring is here.

     Sapphire is a French Angora. French Angoras (along with English) shed their fiber about every three months. The fiber then needs "plucked" from the rabbit.

     When I first brought her home, someone asked how I could possibly, being an animal lover, pluck an angora rabbit. A common misconception is that the fiber needs "ripped" off the bunny, that the hair is pulled out by the roots. This is not true at all, the fiber naturally sheds 3-4 times a year, with new hair growing in behind it.

     If you've ever groomed a dog, especially a long haired dog like a Collie or Siberian, you've dealt with undercoat. That fluffy (usually white) stuff that falls out in clumps every spring all over your furniture. Angoras have been bred for years to produce massive amounts of undercoat, and shed it out all at once. They produce minimal guard hair (dogs produce relatively small amounts of undercoat, compared to their guard hair). Some breeds like English, will shed out almost bald! There is one breed, Germans (and their crosses), that don't shed their fiber, but need sheared. 

     When Angoras begin to shed, the fiber needs removed. If not it will matt and tangle, and the rabbit will try to remove it by grooming himself. If the rabbit eats the hair, it can cause a deadly condition known as wool block, because rabbits can't vomit. So plucking is not only for fiber production, but very necessary for the health of the rabbit.

     Sapphire enjoys grooming. I handle her every day, and brush her weekly (daily while she is shedding!). Usually I put in a movie and she sits on my bed with a movie and treat (carrot or broccoli) and gets her hair done. She thinks it's a great time.

     I groom her with a cat slicker brush, and my fingers. Plucking is gently teasing out the loose fiber from the guard hair (like removing hay from your own hair). You can easily pluck a handful in moments, because almost all the hair is falling out!

     Here you can see a plucked area with the guard hair pulled back. The white is new undercoat already growing in. After I pluck an area, I use the cat brush to brush all the guard hair back down and remove any loose fibers. Sapphire loses the most hair around her rump, and loses very little around her face and belly. This is common of French Angoras, who require less grooming then English who loose hair all over their bellies and chests too.

     Sapphire sniffing her bag of fiber. All that in one day off one bunny! You can clearly see the "line" where she has been groomed above, and the rest of her "skirt" below. She'll produce another bag that size in the next grooming.

     Angora fiber, about 4-5" long and sooooofffffttt.

     Right now I am spinning Angora laceweight. That is 2-ply across the dime. The black is regular worsted weight alpaca yarn.

     A better picture showing the color, which is a light grey. This is all spun on a drop spindle, my beautiful turquoise spindle I got from Etsy. It is very lightweight, great for spinning lace.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pocket and Jasper- 2 weeks

     Today Pocket and Jasper have been here two weeks. So far they are doing great, they are happy members of the herd. Uncle Andy is basically in charge of them, they follow him around and do whatever he says. He eats with them their extra meals a day, I estimate he'll weigh roughly 200 lbs. by the time they are healthy. He was a bit on the porky side to begin with, so he'll have to be cut off soon.

     Today was weight day. I don't have a livestock scale, so I pick them up and stand on a bathroom scale. The only hard part of this is actually reading the dial, which is not only way down below, but also obscured by an alpaca. This is also why I tend to stop tracking weight after they hit 100 lbs. 

     So first up was wee Pocket, who weighed 60 lbs. two weeks ago. Last time they both lay limply to be picked up and weighed, then walked off when they were done.

     This time Pocket was way more interested in the scale then anything else. It took quite some doing to get him balanced and both of us onto the scale. He was hanging his head down, twisted as far as he could and wiggling against me, to see this cool white square. 

     "What is that?"
     "Move your head I can't read the dial."
     "I'll read it for you, put me closer."
     "You can't read it, move your head."
     "Of course I can, I used to do this all the time," he pushed against me so he could touch it with his nose and about sent up both tumbling over.
     "You've never seen one before, you don't know what it is, move your head." I leaned back enough to pull him around.
     "It's a dial, duh, put me closer," he pushed forward off me again.
     "It's a scale you liar, you don't know. Stop this, you're going to knock us over."
     "I was being specific, and you are obviously our problem. Lean me closer."
     Thus our conversation went until I managed to wrangle an arm around his head and hold him that way. In the end Pocket weighs between 63-65 lbs. depending where in the wiggle he was so I'm calling it 64 lbs. and being happy.

     Jasper weighed 65 lbs. two weeks ago. He calmly let me lead him to the scale, and pick him up, then began howling and whining in the high-pitched alpaca wail. I quickly jumped on the scale, looked down, and he weighed 95 lbs. I got off the scale, and found Pocket standing proudly behind us. I pushed Pocket off the scale, picked up Jasper, who immediately resumed his screeching, and got back on the scale. I contorted myself to look down, and saw the top of Pockets head, where he began swearing to me who knew exactly how to work one of these things. Added my own screeching at that point.

     Got Pocket off the scale and out the door, picked up Jasper, who continued to wail, and turned to find Jodi and Pixie now standing on the scale. Have I mentioned alpacas are curious to a fault and love novel objects?

     Put all the alpacas in the stall, tracked down Jasper who is now avoiding me and refusing to be led. So I picked him up and carried him across the stall, wailing all the way, and got back on the scale. 71 lbs. 

     Coming next week- How to train alpacas to stand on a bathroom scale.  


Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Article on Website

     I am adding an articles section to my website, http://www.bluedoghoofcare.com/ to hopefully answer some of the really common questions I get.

     One of the most common questions I get asked is, "What is the best way to trim a horse?" The answer to this is a book, and there are many books on the subject. So I wrote an article recently basically on why this is a book-length subject and how to understand it better.

Why Can’t We All Agree?

            Why does one farrier say to rarely trim bars, another says always trim bars, and another says dig our bars aggressively? Why does one say your horse has no thrush, the next say he has touch of it, and the third have a hysterical fit over the horror that is your horses thrush eaten frog? One says a mild roll, one says a bevel, and one says a wicked full-wall roll. To trim sole? Frogs? Proper heel height? What about founder? Navicular? And which boots are the best?

            For a beginner wading through the massive amounts of information available, it is enough to give a major headache. It is no wonder people often read one website or book, and react as though it is the bible and refuse to look farther. Looking farther is confusing! All the contradictions make no sense, they make your brain want to run for cover.

            So in this article I’d like to try and explain why there are 101 Ways to Trim (or Not Trim) a Hoof. I’m not going into the theories behind each, or why they are done, or to which horse, but simply explain why there are 101 of them and why your farrier is using #65 when you’ve read a great magazine article about #31.

            First off, hooves are forged by the terrain they live on. A horse on sand has a different hoof with different needs then a horse on rocks. They both have different needs then a horse on clay, or hard dry dirt. A horse in the desert has vastly different needs then one living in a swamp. A horse in a stall, worked in an arena, is going to need a completely different trim then a horse living on 100 acres and working on rocks. Even horses living on the same style terrain, but one of 2 acres, another on 20, and yet other on 200 will have very different needs.  

            Next, most horse breeds have different feet. Drafts, ponies, Quarter horses, Arabs, Thoroughbreds, all have an anatomical consistency but tend to have basic differences in shape and need. None are better or worse then the others, but often different. What you watch for and work to support in teacup Quarter horse feet, you likely don’t worry about in a Percheron. But what you aggressively work on with the Percheron, you many not worry a bit about in an Arabian.

            To add even more possibilities there are conformational issues, diet, health, age, body condition, and even rider abilities and preferences. 

            So a farrier from Arizona who specializes in endurance Arabians can tell you exactly how to trim endurance Arabians in Arizona with great success, but the same trim is probably not going to help your foundering pony in Kentucky. All the farriers who say, “This is the only trim in the world that works” tend to simply mean their world.

            It’s all confusing and takes a lot of practice and learning to get it straight. Being a farrier means being fully prepared to discover that this horse in this situation has just proven you completely and utterly wrong. Especially once you know you have seen it all and know everything, that horse is going to come along and make you say, “Who’d of ever thought that” and away you go realizing you actually know so little and that’s maddeningly irritating. There is really only one rule in this work, “The horse is always right.” If that horse says he’s happiest with a method you don’t agree with, it is time to change your beliefs, not bang on them harder to make them fit that horse, and certainly not time to make the horse sore to fit your ideas.           

            Everyone wants one trim standard. It would be wonderful, and so easy, to have one trim, one method, that worked for every horse everywhere. That is what everyone is working for, trying to find, is that one magic trim, or shoe, or boot (and then patent it, write the book, start the school, and become a millionaire). But in reality there are 101 methods for a reason, and we actually need many more then that. Each horse, each situation, each problem, is likely going to require something different.

            So reading the website from the farrier in Arizona who does brilliant work with Arabian endurance horses is great, but take it as method #68, not “The One”, no matter who claims what. Understand that asking suggestions from a group of farriers is always educational, and usually very entertaining, but it’s not that 14 are wrong and 1 is right. They are all, from their viewpoint, right; and they are usually arguing so venomously because they have seen great success with their methods and want what is best for the horse, which to them means their method.

            So your farrier is using method #43 and you read in “The Best Guide to Horsey Everything” that trim method #51 was the one and only true way to trim hooves. Before you go beating your idiot farrier with the magazine, think about it a second. Where does trim method #51 come from? What horses are responding so well? Why is it supposed to be the best? Understand your farrier has likely put good thought into how he works your horses hooves, thinking of your terrain, your horse, your uses, your problems. You are getting a specialized custom job, not just a ‘this works the highest percentage of the time’ style trim. Would you rather have a custom made saddle to fit you and your horse, or one that fits the majority of horses and people the majority of the time? Ask your farrier, but do it with the understanding that they are trying to do what is best for your horse. Ask them for education, don’t ask them to defend themselves.

            In the end, deciding who to listen to and who to work with is complicated. It does take a lot of research and understanding. But do it all with an open mind and listing ideas as possibilities, not absolutes. Above all, listen to your horse. He should be, after all, the most important voice in the matter. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trimming Sonny 3/15/11

     Yesterday was Sonny's first trim since coming to my house. He was his usual most perfectly behaved self. He'd been in casts a little over 4 weeks, and the day before had removed one himself. The right cast had come loose in the back, and popped off very easily.

     As is very common with laminetic horses, and usual of him, he'd grown much more heel then toe. This is not an actual slowed rate of growth of the hoof wall at the toe, but because those tubules are not growing straight down and well connected like the heel is. Most of the time once a laminetic horse starts growing well-connected growth, his toes grow like crazy.

     In this picture you can see the lack of connection between the sole at the toe and the hoof wall itself.

     The toe shows some built up sole that I *could* remove. There is a very good chance that would make him sore, but it would also allow me to remove a bit more wall and take the lever forces off his toe, which would make him more comfortable and encourage better growth at the top. Instead I aggressively rolled the wall, and I'll check it again in a week. That's the beauty of having him at home, I can do that.

     Had he not been with me, I would have likely removed it, trimmed the wall, and cast him again. That would have giving him the support and protection to keep him comfortable, while setting him up for good hoof form for 4-6 weeks.

     But since he's with me, I can tweak my trim every week or two and do more good in a shorter period of time. He likes his heels low, and that toe rolled. Right now he is trotting around the pasture, chasing Honey barefoot. Him feeling good is more important then having that *slightly* better looking foot. Especially since as soon as he is ready to loose that 'pad' of sole, I can remove it the same day.

     Here is that picture mapped. The green line is the end of his sole, and the blue line is the hoof wall. There should be no gap between these lines, as you can see the closer to the heels you go the closer they get together. That there is a gap means the hoof wall has disconnected from the internal structures of the foot. The next picture shows the angle change this makes. As the new angle reaches the ground the blue/green lines will get closer and closer together.

     Here you can see better the angle changes he is setting up for. About half way up the hoof wall there is a "crease". Above that is a healthier, better connected wall, while below is a stretched disconnected wall. Right below the hairline, where you can barely see it, is another angle change. This is the best connected growth on his foot, what we want to support and get to the ground. This is why, even though angles are important, they are relative to the hoof, not an absolute measurement. If I tried to trim his foot to that lower, unhealthy angle, I'd have to raise his heels to get a "correct angle". But I'd be basing that "correct angle" on a pathological hoof wall measurement. Sonny likes his low heels, if I jacked those up to "fix his angle", he'd be much more sore then he is now.

     I know from the disconnected wall at the bottom of his hoof, that wall is junk. So I ignore his "low angle" because that's not his true angle, it's just the one I can see. His "correct" angle is now coming in at the top, and will take some time to hit the ground.  

     To better show how this works, here are some of Honey's old pictures.

     She was much worse then Sonny, and someone thought her lameness was apparently from a "low angle" and jacked up her heels for a year before I got her.

     At this point she couldn't stand for more then about 10 minutes. But 'angle' wise she wasn't bad.

     I trimmed Honey while she laid in the pasture over a course for 2-3 days. She responded very well, very quickly to having those heels removed. In one trim she went from laying down all day, to standing most the day. In 4 weeks she was walking and standing all day, in 8 she was trotting in the pasture. This is the same foot about 8 weeks after I got her. You can see the extreme angle change at the top of her hoof. Today I would probably take a straight cut and take the end of that toe off, but this was from a couple years ago.

     To show the angle changes better, here they are mapped. The blue line shows the angle she will have once all the "junk" grows out. If you don't look at anything past the blue line, this would look like a normal foot, because that's what it wants to be. The red line was the change before that, as she was getting better, but wasn't great yet. The rest of the toe is ugly junk, disconnected wall.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Six Alpaca Herd

     A couple weeks ago I went to trim horses for a friend of mine who also raises alpacas. She was looking for homes for 6 thin young males she had taken in for a friend. I found homes for the four older boys, and ended up keeping the two younger. Zak now has 6 alpacas.

     The very short version of the story, is that two alpaca farms went in 50/50 to buy 12 young males. They both later decided to get out of alpacas, but couldn't sell these boys for the money they paid. So farm A decided to blackmail farm B into buying their half of the alpacas by starving all of the alpacas. Basically, "We get our money or you don't get anything."

     Luckily farm B is run by a human being with a soul, and she went and picked them up when she found out Farm A was in fact starving them all. She no longer has a farm to keep them at, so they went to stay with my friend.

     The six youngest boys are just a mess. They are all underweight. Farm B just wanted to find homes for them that would rehab them, because now they aren't worth anything. Four went to friends of mine, who are spoiling them rotten and putting weight on them.

     The two littlest boys were the worst. You can feel their spines, ribs, hips, and all the vertebrae in their necks. They get around, but they are not very strong. It is likely they will never mature to full size and need lots of time, food, and TLC to survive.

     So of course I took them.

     Meet Pocket and Jasper. Pocket is the fellow smiling for the camera and Jasper is more interested in hay.

     Here you can see Jasper's hip bones. Alpacas have extremely fluffy, dense fiber. They should look quite obese in full fleece. They have to be severely underweight before you can see bones through all that fiber. 

     I look at these boys and I know that some people are just not worth the match it would take to light them on fire.       

     Here are Jasper and Andy side by side. Andy weighs 110 lbs. Jasper weighs 65 lbs. His healthy weight is about twice that, he should be around 120 lbs.

     Pocket is smaller, he is 60 lbs. He should weigh about 100-110 lbs. Being this thin will stunt their growth, so it's likely they are smaller then they should be as well.

     Pocket standing next to Snap.

     Pocket is a very ornery little thing. He is smart, and really too clever. He is one of those animals that will force you to double latch gates and grain bins. His mind is always working, he is always up to something. He has his, "I've been up to no good, but isn't it grand" look down pat. He is a class clown, always working everyone. Once he's feeling better I expect him to be a spit fire and a half. 

     I was watching him at my friends house slipping under and around the other alpacas in her herd to steal grain, and if they caught him he'd quickly gave them the whole, "Was that rude? Oh I didn't know, terribly sorry, never again" smile and pop off to go sneak underneath someone else. He also had no problems flashing between the shameful, "I'm a baby, you know how terrible we are" to bigger animals, or a dominant, "I was definitely here first" to ones his size. He snuck about the whole time without getting spit on once, for doing things that would have likely gotten any other animal a good kicking or chasing. He was giving me a good laugh, working over everyone like a little grain-stealing con man. After he arrived and settled in I thought of this, and named him Pocket, after my favorite character in my favorite book, Fool.

     Here he is standing in the middle of a hay pile, eating with Snap and Sonny.

     Jasper is also very smart, but doesn't like to show it. He sits and thinks before he does anything. Everything is calculated twice and then run back for another check. He'd be amazingly good at chess if he got past the lack of thumbs. He spends most of his time laying next to his pile of hay, watching everyone. But when he decides to do something he often has it down perfectly the first time around. For instance, he watched everyone walk across the muddy spot in front of the barn for quite some time, then picked his way across stepping on each solid high spot and never got his feet wet. For this reason he is always last out and last in every night he watches, calculates, and then walks across as the only one to not end up with soggy feet. There are plenty of kinds of clever, and he is definitely one.

     Pocket eating and Jasper watching. Cody knows this is actually a picture of him.

     Pocket says "Hello" to the camera. Both of these boys have fiber that is just insanely fine and soft. This years shearing may not be very good due to weak fiber from lack of nutrition, but next year they should have fiber that is just disgustingly nice. You have to be very careful not to drool on it while you spin.

     So now I have a six alpaca herd. It should be fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friends in High Places

     Alpacas have a rich and varied social life. They are energetic and curious, which always makes them fun to watch. They do not have a rigid social hierarchy like some animals, though they do have one. Snap, for instance, is in charge. But Pixie will not hesitate to knock the stuffing out of him and if it comes down to a split vote between the two of them, Pixie wins. Andy is also Snaps best friend and under his protection, so Pixie is not to beat him up, though she will beat up Snap himself. Jodi often gets the best hay and first grain rights, because everyone loves Jodi. And when there is danger afoot, everyone happily agrees Snap is, in fact, in charge (at least for right then). 

     Alpacas like high places. They take "King of Hill" very seriously. Pixie is always 'king', and you can always tell how she feels toward the world depending on who else she lets share her 'throne'. 

     Yesterday Snap and Andy were being kings, since Pixie had grown bored and abandoned her throne for the day.

     Being high brings out the best in alpacas (most animals in fact). Snap is being his most puffed-up, rough tough self here. He will come off the hill all full of himself, dancing around and telling everyone what to do. This is primarily why Pixie does not let him play on the hill much.  

     Andy is the #4 man on my alpaca totem pole. Everyone tells him what to do, even the chickens. He will flash a submissive posture at anyone, horse, goat, or dog. He was a happy gelding long before he was gelded. But on a hill...

     He is all that and a bag of chips on a hill. He wants to know why on earth Cody is insisting in being in his picture. "I am being ruggedly handsome over here you retched thing, go away!"

     Some months ago, Jodi discovered boys. She was very impressed with a couple males I was boarding for a friend. Snap introduced himself as a boy, and Pixie promptly spit, and kicked the idea out of his head that he may be the gelded husband of two wives. After being chased, bitten, and spat upon for some time, he agreed to never speak to Jodi again. Alpacas are not a monogamous species, but Pixie has decided that Snap is.

     Thus, Jodi is available. Andy has always quite fancied her, but he is not a boy, as far as he knows. But on a hill...

     "Do you see me? Rugged handsomeness up here. See my toughness? My tail says I am totally in charge of this hill."

     She really didn't see it, but she didn't say so. Andy, on a Thursday in May, then decided to flirt.

     He sang her the soft sweet gurglings of alpaca love. Romance is a nice oogle any day. It was heartwarming. Then they came off the hill, and he forgot why on earth he was imitating a pigeon and went to eat hay. Jodi was a bit flabbergasted, but Andy's Andy and you never know about him.

     The secret of training a low-ranking animal  to have "pizazz" or "studliness" is to work him on a hill. Or pedestal. This works for horses, alpacas, dogs, whatever. Let them be up higher then everyone else, put a cue to that "feeling", and put it on the ground level. A world class showman from a beta male, it works every time. Cody got his "brio" on a pedestal, and finally got rid of that hideous ewe neck. When the alpacas go up for the night, he still likes to go stand on their hill and puff himself at the world. Many people who work horses at liberty are heavy users of pedestals. In the natural world horses collect themselves to show off, so if you want natural collection, you put the horse in a state of mind to show off. The easiest way of accomplishing that is to put him in a high place. Natural, flawless collection to that horses ability and body shape, it the most beautiful thing you will ever see. It cannot be attained with gadgets and ropes, simply because it is lacking the 'fire' that will be obvious in even the most gaingly of geldings showing off.

     And because I can't seem to post without a picture of Cody... Some of Cody's very early showing-off, he even shocked the goats!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sonny Makes a Friend

     So far Sonny has basically ignored the other two horses. Occasionally they pass on the way to the water trough, Honey squeals at him, and he returns to a hay pile farthest away from the two of them.

     This morning is he decided he was done with this, and took up the Steve Urkel friendship approach. He placed himself about 2 feet behind Honey and followed her all over the pasture.

     She squealed, she kicked, she ran. He trotted along with a merry smile, stepping sideways to avoid flying hooves now and again. She made hideous faces and tried to bite him, he again side stepped and took up his post at her side. She bucked, farted, squealed some more. He stood and watched, then went right back to his 'spot'. 

     Eventually she couldn't stand it and had to eat some hay, making her ugly faces and spinning to kick at him every few mouthfuls. Luckily for him what she has in sheer strength and stubbornness she lacks in agility and speed, so avoiding her kicks is easy as stepping sideways when she begins bouncing her butt to work up the energy.

     So she took to leading him to a hay pile, waiting until he started to eat, and then taking off in another direction.

     "Wait friend, I'll come with you!"

     This led to much circling of the pasture hay piles. But I am happy, exercise for everyone!

     We also had a sure sign of spring today, the goats came out of the barn for the first time in 2011! Then they saw the camera...

     And then Cody saw the camera and said, "Don't be stupid, she doesn't want pictures of goofy goats, she wants pictures of me!"

     So I had to leave the pasture to get a picture of the goats. Zecilly decided to keep her StormShield on, it's not that warm yet.

    And Cody said just one more shot of cuteness so I'd have more pictures of him then Sonny.

     It's been raining and raining, now we need warmer weather to get rid of the MUD!!!