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A Word on Guinea Hen parenting….

Guineas7.27-3Well, its about time I got the Farm Blog going again…so lets talk about birds.

I’ve been raising fowl on the farm for years.  Most would agree they have an idyllic life, free range and plenty of space to enjoy their social life, while providing us with fresh, yummy eggs and controlling insect pests well.  Occasionally, a hen will get broody and sit on a clutch of eggs, then bring new life to the flock.  Chickens, in general, though less likely to get broody, are great mothers and I have had to intervene very little.

This year I have a pretty large flock of adult Guinea hens.  In the past, our guinea population has been small…6 or so, with only one female.  This year, thanks to a neighbor who needed to relocate her flock, we have a larger, more diverse flock.  I’ve enjoyed watching these little, flighty prehistoric creatures and their antics.  I am realizing, though, that they have a pretty interesting social structure.  We’ve had two broody guinea hens this year.  The first one laid her clutch under a prickly black raspberry patch, and hatched out one chick.  I found her and her ‘boyfriend’ showing the new arrival around the barnyard.  They, then seemed to abandon the baby, leaving it to peep loudly in complaint.  I rescued the little tike and then stole the rest of her eggs after finding a dead chick near her nest.  We successfully hatched out three more healthy chicks and they live in the brooder now, until they feather out and can be released to the barnyard proper.  Despite what I thought was an appropriate decision….Guineas are reported as ‘bad’ mothers…the momma Guinea was inconsolable for about 24 hours, looking for her babies.  Maybe I made  a mistake?

The second broody Guinea hen is still on her nest and hatching should start in the next 7-10 days.  She laid her clutch in one of my raised veggie beds and the babies will not be able to get out without help.  So I have decided to leave them with mom…an experiment of sorts…to see if she will, or will not be a good momma.  I have realized over the years that there are often many misunderstandings, people develop about animals, just because they don’t understand their behavior.  Something happened this week that made me rethink all the reports about Guinea’s bad parenting skills…

I have a flock of juvenile Guineas this year.  They are about 2 1/2 months old and have been out of the brooder for about a month.  They stay close to the barn and together.  They are a mix of white and lavenders, so they are a distinctive group, compared to the adults.  My neighbor reported last weekend that the juveniles were out in her meadow, nearly a quarter mile away.  I thought….’That’s crazy!  They never go that far out…”.  Well the other day on my morning rounds I noticed an older male Guinea leading the juveniles around the yard.  As I watched, he would pick up and drop a  worm or large bug, then make a weird noise that brought all the youngsters running to his spot, where they would fight over the prize briefly.  Then he would move on to a new prize.  This went on all morning.   Since then, that male bird has been their inseparable guide.  He is clearly teaching the young birds to forage.  That’s wild and amazing….they aren’t even his kids!  I’ve named him Uncle Morty…

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I’ll post about my findings with the remaining broody Guinea.  Should be interesting and I hope everyone is wrong about their parenting skills.  They are a lot less domesticated than chickens and survival skills may be a more important skill for their youngsters to learn early.  This might change what parenting looks like for them.  I also suspect, now, that the males participate in parenting much more than we might expect….

Equine Nutrition, part 2. Mineral Interactions…

So some good questions have sprung up from my introductory post on minerals for horses.  What do we do about excess iron in well water?  I have excess sulfur in mine…what about that?

There is a highly prevalent idea in recent equine medicine that equine supplements are unnecessary.  I think there is good proof that many supplements are a complete waste of money.  But I also know that our modern horses faces many dietarychallenges in their environment…poor forage options, limited grazing, isolation, static diets of grains and limited quality hay.  Obesity and lameness are common.  Insulin resistance and Cushings disease are epidemic.  I’ve read that excess iron causes laminitis and poor foot health, and excess copper can cause anemia.  Lack of selenium causes tying up.  The list goes on and on.  Its clear that minerals are important and that they need to be provided in an ideal amount….not too much, not to little.  So how do you know what your horse needs?  Is there a mathematical formula?  Nope.

So lets look first at minerals in general.  What are they and how do horses (or people for that matter) assimilate them?

Periodic tableMinerals are rocks, for the most part.  Yup….not fit for eating as they are.  Horses and other mammals (predator and prey animal alike) assimilate minerals through vegetables and for those of us who are omnivores…from meat, who ate the previously mentioned vegetables.  Many, most really, mineral supplements are simply ground up rocks.  Not easy to assimilate and hard on the system.  One of the things that sold me on Dynamite products 15 or so years ago was their practice of chelating their minerals with amino acids.  This is what plants do.  Plants grow in soil, and chelate minerals from the soil to create their green parts, flowers and fruit.  Mammal eats plant or fruit and assimilates minerals.  Simple, right?

Well, it turns out that God or whoever is in charge of mineral biology created interactions that…on the surface….complicates the picture a bit.   Go here to review an article written by Judy Sinner from Dynamite Specialty Products many years ago about mineral interactions.  You can cross check the information via Google if you have that type of mind, but you can also trust me (and Judy) that its accurate.  So, many minerals actually block the absorption of other minerals.  How absurd!  Really?  Why on earth?

OK, here is where it becomes FASCINATING!  Lets take Iron as an example.  Iron blocks the absorption of copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  All of these minerals, by the way, are completely toxic, life-threatening, actually, in excess, but important for normal bodily functions at normal levels.  The reverse is also true…these minerals block the absorption of iron. Interesting, yes?   So I know, nothing in nature is an accident.  Does anyone else see a safe guard here?  Yes, a horse on a limited diet who is drinking iron overloaded well water will develop iron excess and potentially become sick.  That has been documented.  But a horse who has access to phosphorus, copper, zinc and/or potassium, either as a free choice or in their feed, is protected from the iron…and vice versa.

At my own farm, the barn well has a lot of sulfur in it.  It was turned off because of fear of sulfur overload before I moved in.  I turned it back on…happily.  Sulfur is a great adjunct to fly control and is a natural anti-inflammatory.  It DOES, however, block absorption of important mineral in regard to muscle function.  So all I do is provide selenium as a free choice or as an add on in the diet.  Poof…I get the benefit of both minerals…without the worry of overload or deficiency.

So while others worry about interactions and excesses of minerals in their horse’s diets, I see a beautiful checks and balances….as long as the horse has access to what he/she needs to maintain the balance.  Its egotistical and entirely shortsighted for people/feed companies/supplement companies to believe they know what your horse needs….exactly.  I prefer to set it up so the horse chooses and has the opportunity to correct my feeding mistakes and the irregularities in their environment, known or unknown.  So I don’t do water sampling or hay analysis or hair mineral analysis.  Just not necessary…

As a last thought, a word about reading labels.  I would not concentrate on how much of one mineral or another is present in a supplement, and how that affects the mineral bottom line, so to speak.  Focus on the quality of the minerals and their bioavailability and on the philosophy of the company providing it.  Someone asked about excess iron in Dynamite Specialty products main equine supplement.  The ppm of iron has to be considered in the context of how diluted the supplement is in regard to its feeding volume.  So if you have 6000 ppm iron in an ounce of supplement, that gets diluted by whatever the volume of feed your horse eats.  So if your horse eats free choice hay and a small amount of grain/concentrate, that ppm gets diluted to a minuscule amount.  If you find a supplement that has no iron, you are probably buying a purely synthetic (reads not natural) supplement as iron is in everything natural in the world.  As long as you have the balancing minerals, it doesn’t matter.  I plug Dynamite products for a number of reasons, but the foremost is that the products are thought out and produced by people I know, respect and care about.  That’s important to me.  There are lots of good supplement companies out there and I will not denied that.  But choose your horse’s minerals with your heart and intuition, not math.  More on this in my next post…

Equine Nutrition…Minerals, part one

So a friend recently asked me for advice about how to help her older mare with suspected Cushings. So I thought I would take the opportunity to describe my approach to equine rehab.

Leilja.injuryPart one…Equine Nutrition Basics.

Its a huge discussion and I start at the same place for any horse, Cushings or not. The photo attached is of obese Leilja, two years ago. Although not Cushings related, her weight put her at risk for hoof problems and tendon injuries. So an ideal weight is really important for healthy horses. The first thing most people do with obese horses is to withhold food or feed poor quality hay and nothing else. This doesn’t work well and although horses might lose weight (many don’t with this approach), the trade off is mineral deficiencies that cause disease. The truth is completely opposite. Horse are created to instinctively eat for minerals. If they don’t have access to the minerals they need, they will overeat whatever is in front of them…be it hay, wood, rocks, etc. So they simply get fatter and more mineral deficient. That leads to all sorts of medical problems, Cushings, IR, immune deficiencies, etc, etc…

So the very first thing I do for any horse needed rehab, no matter if it is weight loss or an injury, is to pump them full of minerals and probiotics. I generally start by providing free choice minerals and probiotics to get the GI tract back into assimilation mode. I put these out in bins and I keep the bins full allowing the horse fill their tank as they see fit. It can be startling sometimes to see a horse down several pounds of one or the other, but its what they need. Not only does this method replace minerals, it does so without adding calories to the diet. To read more, check out Dynamite’s Blog on the topic:…/

More on minerals later…

Bogie needs a tune up….

So this tuesday, I admit….I got distracted again.  I just HAD to get my veggies planted and build a raised bed and mow the pasture.  Its gonna rain tomorrow after all and this stuff just HAS to get done!

But I stuck to the plan to play with Bogie.  You remember him….he dumped me last week, when his saddle became unpredictable.  Anyway, we warmed up with some hindquarter and forequarter yields….he is soft as butter. Then I tested out our friendly game…which is broken.  Alot of crazy running and drunken sailor behavior from me, only to softly rub him.  He got it pretty quickly, since we have done this before.  Horses need to remember that ‘not everything means do something’.   Then we played around with squeezing over a jump.  Note here:  Bogie has never jumped anything that I am aware of.  I made a gap for him to walk through…after all, it wasn’t about jumping…it was about problem solving.  There are several parts to the squeeze game….send (to the ‘problem’), allow (them to try), turn, face and back a step (to await further instruction).  I was simply looking at the parts to see what was working and what wasn’t.  This was more of an evaluation session.  All lights were green.  Of course….. he jumped the barrel….on his own, bypassing the escape route I had left him.  He was very smug about it.

Next, I added a 22 foot line (along with my lead) and swung the 22 over his neck/back on the off side.  As I asked him to move around, carrying the 22 foot line, it became apparent that he was totally unconfident about simply having a rope over his back.  Duh…no wonder riding him feels like a crap shoot.  So I simply moved him around flipping the 22 around over his back.  He responded by moving his feet, first faster and faster, then he experimented with walking calmly…..hmmm.  Is this a trick?  We ended our session with him carrying the rope over his back at a walk, with his head down.  It seemed such pitiful progress, given I had been roping cattle off this horse last fall, but it IS WHAT IT IS…..he is the horse he is today.

One thing I am really paying attention to this year is his state of mind.  Slowing things way down…..waiting for him to process, by licking and chewing or yawning.  I am really intrigued by Martin Black’s work “Evidence Based Horsemanship”, and I think this might be the key to his long term retention of some of this work.  Its easy to get fast paced with an extroverted horse.  But sometimes they are physically extroverted and mentally introverted, like Bogie…so the feet move before the brain kicks in.  If you don’t wait for the thinking part to show up and process, you miss the learning opportunity (and they just learn to move their feet).  I will continue to work toward driving him, though doubt I would ever hook him to a vehicle.  The stepping stones to driving will, however, make him a safer riding horse and a problem solver….which is all I ever want from my horse partners.

Photo is from last June.   Taken at Ladd Farm, by Coco….I love the picture, as it captures my intent to communicate with this horse.  It takes timing and feel and concentration.  I get it wrong more than I get it right…


Should have stuck to the plan…

Yesterday was to be my first Tuesday Driving Day.  But I got off track.  It was hot and buggy.  I brought the horses into the barn for the afternoon with the plan to trim feet and work on some ground work in preparation for driving.  I got distracted by unpacking some remaining boxes in the barn and moving the wagonette to the arena, where I want to use it with Ripple.  Soon I was hanging hooks and pictures in arena and barn.  Soon after that, it was 4pm…

Disgusted with my distractability, I pulled Bogie out to trim his feet.  He was surprisingly good.  Calm and cooperative.  Not his typical distracted self.  So when my boarder, Pam arrived and asked if I wanted to go for a short ride, I agreed and saddled up Bogie.  I haven’t ridden him since last fall.  I restarted him under saddle last summer and he is a fun ride, but can be alittle tense.  I didn’t have any serious concerns yesterday but did think to grab my helmet.  Well his calm, relaxed manner evaporated when my featherless frizzle chicken popped out of the chicken coop as I was mounting.  The saddle slid over and Bogie proceeded to buck like a bronc.  I had not a hope in the world of staying on, having never really been completely ‘on’ in the first place.  Laying on the ground, I was grateful for the forethought of the helmet. 

I collected my horse, re-evaluated his state of mind, cinched him up and remounted.  We ‘enjoyed’…..I use the word euphimistically….a short trail ride.  Long enough to restore our confidence, but short enough to stay out of trouble… and then I traded him in for a bareback ride on Manny to unscrew my tense back muscles. 

Once I felt my sanity and relaxation return, I dismounted.  Manny followed me out of the arena for some grazing and I went into the barn to prepare dinner for the horses.  As I called Manny in for dinner, Pam commented on the wonderful relationship I have with Manny…how harmonious it is and how we obviously ‘get’ each other.  As often happens when I think about the long road Manny and I have traveled, I sighed and wished Manny and I could stay young forever so we could enjoy this peaceful relationship, now that we had finally acheived it, for longer.  Then returning my attention to Bogie….now pacing his stall looking for his buddy….I sighed again and wondered if I had the stamina to forge another working relationship with this young horse.

I had a plan for the day.  Its hard to know if I erred  by deviated from it.  Sometimes a day just takes on a life of its own.

manny and bogie

Tuesdays are now ‘driving’ days here at the New Resting Heart Farm

We are finally settling into our new home in Danby, Vermont.  Lovely new facility and farm.  I’ve just returned home from Ladd Farm in Bridgewater Farm where we have conducted our fourth driving workshop in two years.  Its always inspiring to see how much progress horses and their humans can achieve in  just a few days.  So inspired I have committed to my own driving goals for the summer…..1.  To get the basic driving foundation on my saddle horses, Beaugart, a ASH/arab cross (who has issues with ropes in zome 4 and 5) and my aging anglo/arab Manny.  2.  To get Ripple, one of my Percheron rehabs comfortable driving as a single (this makes him anxious) and 3. to bring a new horse along…foundation, to ground driving to driving a cart. 


So, Tuesdays are my days off.  Never had one of those before! 

Tuesdays are now driving days at the farm.  I welcome visitors, teamsters, friends, family and anyone interested in learning to drive to come on out to the new farm and get involved.  Our first driving day will be Tuesday, May 21st.  We’ll start around 10am.  Go here for directions.

Learning to walk…

Most of us take walking for granted.  We do it everyday, without a thought.

So when I was challenged on the first day of a clinic with James Shaw to slowly step out to the side with one leg without leaning, I was surprised to find I had trouble with this simple task.  I struggled to keep my balance.  James looked me in the eye and shouted, ‘LEANER!’.  He might as well have spread his thumb and forefinger out and put it on his forehead in the universal sign for a ‘LOSER’, but the twinkle in his eye and his slightly dropped right shoulder reassured me that he was simply welcoming me to the club.  We all lean.

So went the 3 days of self discovery.  Where is my balance?  Where am I leaning?   Why do I stick my ear out to the right when I want to step into my right stirrup?  Why doesn’t my belly button move to the left as easily as to the right.   Where do I short circuit the brilliant functions my body was designed for?  Observation without judgement (but with alot of laughter), experimentation and then feedback.

The feedback was profound.   James took us through several Tai Chi based excercises every morning.  These all start in ‘Standing Meditation’…a position foreign to most of us…..hips back, legs straight, weight on the TOES.   Well after about 10 minutes in standing meditation, your body is screaming at you to lean back, cock a hip…do anything to take the pressure off your achilles and ball of the foot.  Truth be told (and I’ve tested this theory several times since being home), you can do all the exercises in under 30 minutes and I expect, even with the addition of adding a few instructions about how to do them right, they could be done in less than 90 minutes.  But James has an interesting teaching style…humorous, self deprecating, and prone to distraction….so the morning ordeal lasted over 3 hours.  Now ‘ordeal’ might be abit of an exaggeration, as James is delightful and the education was delicious, but my body was screaming at me the whole time.  STOP.  RECONSIDER. DON”T LISTEN TO THAT EVIL MAN.

Well, we all persevered at whatever level we were capable of.  There were two great moments of feedback for me.  To be honest, there were many moments, but these were the bigs ones.  First, there were two exercises in particular that gave me instant feedback.  ‘Bend with an arch’ and ‘Palms on toes’.  You’ll have to get his DVDs or attend a workshop for details, but while doing these two exercises, two things happened to me.  First, my spine literally snapped into better alignment and second, I discovered  a way to move from a bent over position to a standing position without pain.  Those of you, who, like me, trim horses feet or even garden, will understand the excitement I felt when I realized I could straighten up without feeling pain and spasm in my lower back.   The other great epiphany was how I felt the next morning.  I woke without any back pain.  At the end of the clinic I felt better than I had for years.  Typically, a clinic in which I was learning something new and riding, would make me sore, usually in my lower back or between my shoulders.  I felt none of that.  Nothing short of a miracle.

Breathing properly was a basic principle that we practiced over and over, both on the ground and on our horses backs.  We learned to be more perceptive about where our feet were, where our bellybutton was pointing, how our seat bones were weighted and how to move the sternum and shoulders separately from the hips and bellybutton.  The big mental challenge for me was to stop thinking about movement as a gross motor skill, one that occurs using a massive amount of muscle and energy.  Instead, James challenged us to just think about moving the bone…be it the hipbone or the femor bone or the humerus bone or the clavicle bone or the sternum, and allow the body to do what it does naturally to get the job done.  Generally, I found I simply used less muscle and alot less energy to accomplish the task.

I’d like to say I am moving my body better 100% of the time now, but the truth is, my old habits are difficult to change.  I have found though that I am in observation mode alot of the time now.  While interviewing a patient,  I might check my balance and assume the standing meditation stance, which is becoming easier and more natural to me.  Walking down the hallways and around the farm, I find myself checking in with the rhythmic movement of my bellybutton.  Sitting on my horses I check in with my seat bones, breath way down into my stomach and lower back.  I am simply a beginner at moving my body properly and that’s ok.  I’m doing the exercises as often as I can and hope someday, walking will not require so much thought and attention 🙂

Check out ‘Ride From Within’ and James Shaw here.