Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We Are the Cold

Snow Buntings of Ravenseyrie, living with us up on the East Bluff for the fourth consecutive winter...when the snow is gone, so are they...

Kevin and I have a special phrase that we affirm to each other as a means of summoning up the motivation, strength and courage to go on about our winter chores here at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve on Manitoulin Island.My wonderful Kevin, fetching firewood on a 10°F morning at Ravenseyrie

This morning, with the calendar showing that it is indeed March the third, but with the thermometer reading -18°F, our special phrase was expressly called for: We are the cold! Sometimes this phrase is accompanied by a double "high-5" and Sumo-wrestler-type grunts and finished with a resonating, "Hoo-waah!" Then we are psyched and ready to take our heavily layered, bulked up forms out into the purple freeze of pre-dawn and bring the herd their breakfast. (A variation of this pep rally--complete with 'burly-man' stretches--takes place when we have to push a new 800lb bale of hay upright in the shed so that it's ready for peeling off layers at feeding time.)

Ever since last Thursday's snow and wind storm, we have been getting frigid temperatures again. Each night it has dropped down to the minus teens (°F) and only rising up to plus 8 to 10°F during the day. Mostly, there hasn't been but a light breeze, though on Sunday, that breeze was strong enough to bite, so we sledded out the herd's meals to the lee-side of the north forest. The sun was warming up this particular windbreak through the entire day, making for a nice place to pass a winter's day eating, sleeping and playing. I took my camera out after the late day hay was laid out and took some photos to share. Before I share them, I'll put in an image taken yesterday afternoon as some of the herd weaved the way up the "Zen Elm" trail to the windbreak where we had fed them the prior day...this will give you a sense of distance...I snapped this photo while looking out to the north while the camera was poised on a tripod inside the house:
And these are the photos taken on Sunday from the comfort of this nicely situated windbreak:


Animado and Jerry

Left to right: Belina, Altamiro, Interessado and Ciente

Left to right: Mistral, Fada and Altamiro


Zeus, who is taking a break from his hay to rub against a tree

I don't have photos of Dee and Doll from this session, but I'll make up for it by showing some of them in the next sequence of photos.

I'd like to take a pause from the photos for a bit though to discuss just how difficult a winter this has been for the herd. I know there are readers of this journal that are devoted to "natural horse-keeping", as are Kevin and I, so what I have to relay may interest you. We expected we would be feeding more hay this year due to having one new mare and three foals added to the herd and we ordered enough hay to compensate for these extra mouths. What we didn't plan for was to begin feeding almost three weeks earlier than usual and then having to feed especially heavy because of prolonged deep-freeze temperatures. We are putting out almost double the amount of hay than what was required last year, and feeding double rations of oats as well. Nearly everyone has lost weight this winter, but none moreso than Mistral and Ciente. Our horses and mules appear to cope very well with the harshness of winter in a semi-wild setting...but I do wonder if they would perish if like truly wild horses, they had to totally fend for themselves? I doubt there is enough forage on the 360 acres open to our herd to supply them with enough to eat during a harsh winter such as this.

Mistral is twenty-nine years old and is typically an "easy-keeper", but obviously the extreme cold has been taxing his energy reserves. He remains robust in spirit, but I want to see him robust in body again.

Ciente is our coming four year old Kiger Mustang mare. With Interessado still nursing off her and a growing foal inside of her, this sweet young mare (who is not an "easy-keeper") has never had opportunity to build up any energy reserves and so like Mistral, is looking much too thin. It's in these times when if not given special assistance the horses' immune systems may become compromised and leave them open to contracting a number of illnesses. We have been sneaking Ciente compressed alfalfa hay cubes and last week have begun providing both her and Mistral a high protein processed feed supplement. Typically I don't like sweetened, highly processed feed, (I like knowing the full ingredients of what I'm eating or what I'm feeding others) but these two horses are obviously requiring more than what we are providing at the usual meal times and we feel a "quick pick-me-up" is called for. If I had a barn, I could separate them from the rest of the herd and provide them extra meals, but that's not an option available just now. No one steals Mistral's supplement, but we do have to stand guard over Ciente in order for her to eat her ration. It's tricky all the way around, and I think some of the other herd members are becoming affronted because they aren't getting these extras. I've been rather beside myself with worry at how thin Mistral and Ciente are...Kevin reminds me that in less than eight weeks I'll be beside myself with worry because everyone will be getting too fat on the new spring grass.

Yesterday, before the late day meal was finished, Dee, Doll and Zorita left their remaining hay to the others and they went out in search of those delicate green shoots that are singing a song of spring from beneath the deep snow.
The half-Sorraia/half Sulphur Mustang mare, Sovina's Zorita digs for grass beneath the snow

Doll and Dee dig through the snow for succulent green grass shoots

Last evening, as the sun quietly slipped lower down the blue dome of the sky, the temperature sank as well, making for some exquisite colors while the herd took their leave from their dinner site and migrated off to the east sector to spend the evening digging for grass shoots and nibbling on twigs and bark. Once again, I had the camera set on the tripod and took these photos from the expansive windows of our house--with views like this, I just think I must be the luckiest gal on Manitoulin Island. Sure it's been damn cold here, and the snowstorms have been especially wicked this year...but it seems like a fair trade for all this magical beauty...at least that's the way Kevin and I feel...after all, "we are the cold!"
Zorita looking very primitive and exquisite in the late day sunglow

The herd slowly crosses over to the east
Good night ponies and mules! See you for breakfast in the morning!


Kris McCormack said...

Hello Lynne,
I'm sorry the winter has been rough on Mistral and Ciente. If you would like to avoid processed sweet feed, you might want to look into feeding them some hulled hempseed -- perhaps mixed with their oats. Lots of good fat (Omega 3s) and protein. Stabilized rice bran is also a good thing to add to their oats. So is a handful of black oil sunflower seeds. THese are all foods that horses seem to enjoy even without a coating of molasses. Meanwhile, I hope the new grass comes quickly... Ours is usually here by the April full moon... That's about 6 weeks away.

Why do snow buntings leave when the snow goes? Does it have something to do with what they eat, or....?

Why do you have to have the bale of hay upright to peel off layers? Or, alternately, why is it not stored in upright position when it's delivered? Just curious --

Lynne Gerard said...

Oh Kris, thank you for your supplement suggestions. Picture me whacking myself on the side of my head...of course, Hemp! We used to feed a bit of hemp meal with oats to Mistral and Phoenix when we were still in Michigan. Even now, Hemp seed oil is a staple oil in our kitchen for drizzling over our meals (much healthier than melted butter over potatoes for example). Why it didn't occur to me to get some hemp seed, or hemp meal pellets for Mistral and Ciente is beyond me--maybe I just panicked and went for a quick fix from the feed store? I dunno, but I sure would feel better feeding hemp and black oil sunflower seed to them instead of a processed feed that includes ambiguous additional ingredients such as "flavorings and an appetite stimulant".

I had never heard of feeding black oil sunflower seed to horses and upon your suggestion did a little research on it. I was surprised that it can be fed "as is" with the hull intact, and we'll be picking up some today or tomorrow to begin feeding to Mistral and Ciente, and we'll be putting in an order for some hemp for them too. I really appreciate your suggestion and reminding me there are other options. I'm not sure how i feel yet about "stabilized rice bran", but will first try these other options.

I haven't read up on the snow buntings [making mental note to self to do so] its just our observation--its as if they come with the first snow fall and leave when the last of it is melted away. They like to pick up grass seed from the areas where we feed the horses their hay. Sometimes they will pick through the manure and they also enjoy the bit of goose food (scratch feed) we fling out over the driveway just for them.

Regarding the big round hay bales. They are moved with a huge prong/poker (fitted onto the tractor that slips through the center. There is just enough room to slip the bale into our rickety shed and set it back down near a wooden palette. Then we push it over onto the palette--the center of the bale is now facing up to the ceiling and the twine wrapped around the other circumfrance can be removed and then the hay is available to be peeled off all the way around, made into armload bundles and stuffed into the toboggan. I'm finding it difficult to explain for some reason...I may have to send you some photos.

Thanks again for the ideas on natural supplements, you made my day!

Kris McCormack said...

Hi Lynne,
I can understand your reservations about stabilized rice bran, but here in the U.S. it is one of the "cleanest" foods readily available for feeding to horses. Many toxins including heavy metals wind up in the chemical fertilizers.. The toxins then wind up concentrated in the hulls of oats and in root vegetables such as beets (beet pulp is a popular horse feed). Rice is, so far, not a genetically engineered food and not, as I understand it, grown with high concentrations of chemical fertilizer. Hence the bran is clean -- though subject to spoilage unless it is stabilized. It is considered a good source of beneficial fat. Here in the US we do not grow industrial hemp, so our best source of hemp seed is Canada. That makes it quite expensive, so feed stores do not typically carry it. It can be bought in bulk (that's bulk in human terms -- around $15 per pound) but that makes it more expensive still. Were that not the case, I'm sure it would be used more.

Anyway I'm glad the suggestions were helpful. I'm sure Mistral and Ciente will be much happier with some nice tasty seeds than with processed feed containing "flavorings" and "appetite stimulants."

eva said...

Hi gals,

i completely agree with Kris on the feed stuff...

You want to avoid simple sugars at all cost. It's addictive and unhealthy. It's a pity with the hemp being outlawed, it's such good stuff. I eat it for protein supplement (in powdered form) occasionally when i feel i need a bit more protein. I feed shadow a cup of freshly ground human grade flax seed, mostly during the summer when there is no green grass here. It mimics the omega3:omega6 profile of fresh grass. he gobbles it up in the summer, but completely looses interest in the winter rain/grass season.

On another note, i find it diffucult to relate to your worries, Lynne, of yor horses being too thin. Well maybe he coat is deceptive, and you know better who is thriving or not. Maybe it's becaaue i've been batteling excess weight with shadow (a super easy keeper) and am always gald when he sheds a bit of weight during the winter and I can feel hs ribs.

The ebb and flow of fat/skinny is a totally natural process with wild horses and other wildlife. Of course with the pregnant mares you want to make sure they have enough to give.

But from the looks of them, they look amazingly well fed and bouncy.

The snow buntings... "When the snow is gone so are they". I was curious and looked up why. They LIKE the cold, and they go north when he snow melts in your neck of the woods and it gets too warm.

Here you can read about these cute birds and listen to their song.


And last (to make this a hodgepodge of a comment): It is endearing to see you go out for firewood every morning. Is this on purpose? To get you up and going and have a motive to go out? Are you using any chain saws at all?

The light and mood of the pictures is terrific.

My resolution for today is to make my own version of the "we are he cold" -- "We are the rain and mud". I got so thoroughly soaked and mudded yesterday when I was out in he pasture that i felt no longer separate from what was engulfing me and it started feeling great.

leah said...

Hi Lynn,

My two cents (for what there worth) are that the sunflower seeds are wonderful. I can speak from experiance on this one. The horses love them, great source of good fats nd Vit.E, I love hemp i buy mine from Hemp For Horses in Canada. Its kind of pricey, but Bonita is thriving on it. You may or may not remeber my little Spanish Barb mare, well she like so many of her kind is a very easy keeper. She is Insulin Resistant in fact and I have to be very careful about the fats she gets. Unfortunatly rice bran is not an option. If your horses are at all prone to IR stick with Flax or Hemp. I make up a combo of sunflower seeds, dried green split peas, and raw pumpkin seeds mixed with different herbs and flowers as treats, or throw them in the bottom of the feed tub and they love it!
I hope things warm up for you guys soon.


Kris McCormack said...

Hi Lynne,
I remembered reading that Fenugreek is one of a horse's very favorite flavors and I thought I remembered that it helped horses who are not thriving. Googled to check my memory, and it's true. So, Fenugreek is another tasty, nutritious "supplement" for Mistral and Ciente. Here's a quote from a web page:

Fenugreek's chemical composition is very similar to that of cod liver oil which makes this herb an excellent conditioner for horses, especially those who are poor doers, run down, or debilitated after illness. Fenugreek will also stimulate appetite, encourage milk production, and soothe gastric disorders. The fenugreek seeds are nutritious being 8% oil and 20% protein, containing vitamins A, B and C as well as Vitamin E, and rich in calcium. Fenugreek has such a pleasant aroma that it will tempt even the shyest feeders and put condition on poor doers. This herb combines well with garlic."

Lynne Gerard said...

This is really terrific to hear from you Kris, Eva and Leah on your experiences with natural supplements for your horses. These will become part of my winter rations from now on. I'm especially intrigued by the Fenugreek and the Black Oil Sunflower seeds.

I'll be sure to report back how Ciente and Mistral do with adding Hemp, Sunflower and Fenugreek to their diets. I may treat the others to some of this occasionally too.

And Leah, I've been meaning to let you know that I have been drinking Cedar leaf tea--its delicious and I feel fortified by it. I use raw pumpkin seeds in the dogs dinners from time to time as a parasite control...Leah do you know if it has a similar effect on horses? I'll have to read up on it--and you also feed dried split peas? So many atypical, intriguing things to add to horses' diets--you gals will have me studying up on these things for the next couple of days.

Eva, no, Kevin doesn't go to the forest for wood every morning, I just put that photo it happened that he did decided to go for a bit of dead timber on one of these recent cold mornings. Typically, farmers grow food in the warmer months and save their logging chores for winter. We had hoped to get most of the winter wood put up in December before the really harsh weather settled in--but winter came early and we weren't adequately prepared, so Kev does work on getting fire wood together most every day--but doesn't have to go to the forest every day. He does use a chainsaw to fell the dead timbers, but prefers to use a Japanese hand saw to remove the limbs.

Mistral and Ciente are pretty thin, you just aren't seeing it in the photos on the blog because the cold air has their hair coats well lofted and fluffed making them appear rounder than they actually are. It really shows on them over their toplines--but thankfully already I notice the extra supplements are helping them to fill in a little again.

Eva wrote: "My resolution for today is to make my own version of the "we are he cold" -- "We are the rain and mud". I got so thoroughly soaked and mudded yesterday when I was out in he pasture that i felt no longer separate from what was engulfing me and it started feeling great."

This is terrific, Eva--now you know the secret to blending in with whatever the day throws at you!

eva said...

"This is terrific, Eva--now you know the secret to blending in with whatever the day throws at you!"

Lynne, this is so true. Embracing what you are up against. Submerge in the element you are resisting. Become it.

Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire writes about the flashlight:

"Again the fire begins to fail. Letting it die. I take my walking stick, and go for a stroll down the road into the thickening darkness. I have a flashlight with me but I will not use it...
...like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it, and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me.; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or defined boundary."

Today it's going to b: I AM THE TRAFFIC JAM!

It's still pouring down; people are bouncing all over the place, it's going to be interesting...

leah said...

Hi Lynn,

Yes, green split peas, wierd I know but the horses love them and they are a source of protein. I feed a mixture of 50% sunflower seed,25% split peas,25% pumpkin seeds. I do believe the pumpkin seeds can help with parasites. I buy an herbal wormer from Earth Song Ranch, and one of the ingredients is pumpkin seeds. Another site you might enjoy is Skodes Horse Treats, even if you don't buy anything from her she has alot of great tips and ideas about natural foods and herbs to feed.


Sue said...

I LOVE reading this blog. It brings back lots of memories of riding on Manitoulin. I grew up on Manitoulin Island and kept a horse there on 300 acres. In the winter he was kept in a large paddock with a shelter barn. We never saw a vet and rarely saw a farrier. I still keep my horses out 24/7 in a large paddock with a shelter here in southern Ontario and I don't have a barn either. Thanks to all for the feed info. I do feed blackoil sunflower seeds, but will look into feeding some of the other seeds mentioned. My mother still lives on the island, so I will hopefully be up to see your beautiful horses sometime this summer.