Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Managing Dawn's Weight Challenge

Managing Dawn's weight at the new barn has become quite a challenge.  She wasn't fat when she moved there a month ago, but she's been losing weight continuously since.  My girth is now four holes higher than it should be.  All of her ribs are easily visible when she's just standing there, she has big hollows in front of her hips and her rump is no longer round, and she's started to lose along her spine and behind her shoulders.  I'd say she's on the border between 3 and 4 on the body condition scale, which is not a good thing.  She's always tended to get a bit thin at the end of the winter, but she's never looked as thin as this.  She seems to feel fine, though, and has plenty of energy.

There are two primary causes for her weight loss - first, I've got her back in work and she's been expending quite a few calories working with me on a daily basis, and second, despite her alpha status in her old small herd, she's fallen to the bottom of the new herd and gets chased away any time she tries to eat at a round bale.  So basically, she's getting no hay to eat except what she gets in her stall at night, and I've been adding increasing amounts of Buckeye Ultimate Finish, but the maximum amount of that I can feed of that is 3 pounds a day, and it's not a forage substitute, just a good weight-gain/maintenance supplement.  If she were already in good weight or only slightly underweight, and getting access to enough hay, that would work fine to help her hold her weight, but it's not doing the trick.  She's also probably not getting enough hay at night - she gets quite a bit but needs more.  Dawn keeps a very messy stall and tends to spread her hay all over and pee and poop on it and then not eat it all, which has made the barn owner reluctant to give her more as it looks like she's wasting a lot.

I'm making some feeding and management changes.  With the cooperation of our barn owner (thank you, good barn owner), Dawn will be turned out in the morning in a small pen with some hay of her own.  I'll stop by a few hours later - the barn is only a 5-minute drive from my house - and turn her out in the herd for about 6 hours of herd time.  Until her weight starts to pick back up, I'm going to reduce the intensity of our work sessions to conserve her calories. In the evening, the barn owner, who does a nightly bed check (thank you, good barn owner), will give her another flake of hay and I'll also hang her a small mesh hay net so if she's still hungry overnight there'll be more to nibble on and less waste if she doesn't eat it all.

I'll be switching her over the next week to 10 days to a full ration of Purina Ultium.  It's a complete feed - it can replace part of forage as it's both high fat and high fiber and contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals.  She can get at least 6 pounds per day of this feed as a horse in moderate work - perhaps even a bit more if she's doing more strenuous work - and it should do the trick as it provides 2,000 calories per pound of feed.  I have also used Purina Senior as a complete feed before (when Maisie had impaction colic and was taken completely off hay for a period of time), but the NSC value of Purina Senior is considerably higher (reported to be 24%) than Ultium (16%), so for Dawn the Ultium is preferable.

Pie and Drifter can make use of the leftover Ultimate Finish, as they are also in need of some extra calories with all the work they're doing.  They were both pretty plump when they went to the trainer's about two weeks ago, so that should do the trick for them.  And, in other exciting news, I'll be heading up to Wisconsin on Friday to see and work with my trainer and the boys . . .

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