Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Friday, March 4, 2011

At the barn #36 - A public service message, because that's how we roll...

It ain't over 'til it's over.

Some of you might remember that we had a situation with problem weeds in our hay not too long ago. I began treating Val for the condition; sores, swelling, and a bad smell in his mouth, caused by barbs from foxtail barley imbedding themselves in his gums as per my vets instructions, rinsing his mouth and using a soft toothbrush thingy to try to scrape the needles out. I also threw out fifteen bales of otherwise perfectly good hay.

This created hay deficit - what a crappy time to try and find decent hay. A feed / tack store about three hours away, near my trainer, had some beautiful bales of orchard / timothy mix that although outrageously priced ($9.75 for still green 60 lb square), were up to snuff quality wise, or so I thought.

A few days ago Val developed a nasty quarter sized bleeding sore on the flat part of his upper lip, where it meets the lower lip. (I tried to document, but Val drew the line at facilitating lip photos.) He has been so over the top cooperative with his treatments that I didn't push it. He arrives at the tack room door waiting for me to get the dose syringe out, and holds his head low and still while I jet salt water and listerine around in his mouth, finishing off with a swipe of vitamin e on his lip. All of this happens without a halter and lead rope. I love my horse :)

Anyhow - I spent a nervous evening online researching other possible causes / conditions. Boy was that fun. Vesicular stomatitis - a drastic version of hoof and mouth disease - came up over and over. Could eventually occur on the coronary band causing hooves to slough off. Wrong region and time of year thank goodness. Bot fly sores - wrong time of year and I worm against them. Then there's the herpes virus - he hasn't had contact with any other horses for almost four months so that went to the bottom of the list.

On a number of forums, I kept coming back to foxtail barley. Numerous posts about the same symptoms as Val's happening this winter, and they all pointed to hay. Could it be possible for me to get two different types of hay, from two different sources at different times, that both had this noxious weed in them?

Apparently yes. I took a bale that we were currently eating from out into the light, and broke it apart, searching stem by stem... what do you know - it was chock full of foxtail barley. What I thought I had identified previously wasn't correct. The feed store is letting me return the hay thank goodness. I'm taking in a few flakes that are ridden with the weed, as well as some samples so they can identify it in the future.

picking through the needle hay

You throwin that away?

Nuthin wong wth thth hay...

Foxtail barley - run your fingers backwards down the seed head and you feel the needles, very stiff and sharp

Foxtail closeup

Not foxtail - seeds fall off easily when you run your fingers backwards

Not foxtail - closeup

Hay farmers should know that horses cannot eat this type of hay - it is unscrupulous to sell infested hay without disclosing. It may be a case of occurring along the edges of fields so the entire crop is not affected, but nonetheless, I have been assured by my vet and dentist that hay growers should know better. The only way to find it for sure is to cut open a bale.

I'm looking on the bright side as much as I can. Val hasn't gone off of his feed too much. He's not quite as round as when the winter started, but luckily we had some padding to work with. Poop has remained normal - plenty of it. He doesn't seem to be too uncomfortable, although if he relishes picking up contact after all this is healed up again, I'll revise that thought. I do think that eating from the nibblenet exacerbated the situation, and that horses fed on the ground may have the chance to avoid or pick around the foxtails - so the nibblenet is officially retired for now.

I'm very relieved that I've finally gotten to the bottom of this little mystery. Sorry for the long post. I hope that the info and photos can keep anyone else from going through what poor Val has.

Have a great weekend everyone!!


  1. What a PITA. Glad you found the cause. I do think that eating off the floor or the ground lets horses move it around and many will avoid any noxious plant. Our barn had mustard weed in the hay last year and Nina shoved it all in a corner. OTOH, some horses gobbled it up even with the ability to avoid it. You never know.

  2. Well Thank YOU because I really appreciate reading anything that helps prevent problems for my horse(s). I think you have a good point about horses being able to freely forage through their hay. I am wondering if the foxtail is an invasive plant in your region or if it is common/local. Either way I don't think it's unusual that it shows up three hours away.Plants are so persistent! (Still, farmers hopefully have a way to control for it in their hay. I hope your Val heals soon~!

  3. We pay $23 for a 50 lb square bale of orchard. We used to buy Timothy but it is up to $27 for a 50lb bale. Talk about outrageous!

  4. Wow - I'm so impressed with Val and how he lets you 'doctor' him. What a good boy.
    I was worried about getting hay (bringing our horses home unexpectedly) but we got a great supply of timothy for $2.75 / bale (we picked it up). Usually we pay $3.50 delivered. I can't believe what Annette is paying - Yikes!

  5. Good detective work and thank you for sharing!

  6. Okay poor you and poor Val but can I say... Poor ANNETTE!!! Did you read that? Did I read that right? So is this a local thing? I don't think I've ever seen that stuff in general but definitely not in my cultivated, good, paid $$ for hay! That feed store should be ashamed too. Not just for the outrageous amount of money they charged you but for being devious about feed, when they are in the "feed" business.

    Why don't you bring Val to hang out with us in VA.? We'll be happy to share our yummy and plentiful hay! ;)

  7. Great post - thank you for writing it!

  8. i would have thought it was timothy hay by the look of it. i love the fact that slow feeders are becoming more popular with horses, but they have their place and shouldn't be used in all cases.

  9. Glad you got to the bottom of this. We've been lucky enough not to have any bales with this stuff in it. Hope Val is feeling better soon, what a good boy to let you administer his meds with no trouble.

  10. I was going to say good post and thanks for the info (and I just said it!) but whoa!


    I am flabbergasted.

  11. Poor Val. His sweet mouth. I can't believe that these things are lurking in hay. I am going to try not to worry about my future hay, but it sounds like it can just be in there and you never know it. My boys eat on the ground and they leave an awful lot of hay. I have to go check it out.

  12. All-

    I forgot to mention in the post - this seems to be a late season hay issue, third cutting. Especially if the hay stayed in the field a bit longer due to weather. The foxtail heads up in August or September.

    Annette's post got me to do some recalculating - if I pay myself for the lost days work, and factor in fuel for the seven hour round trip to pick it up - then my $9.75 hay comes in at $17. I'd better get back to work!

  13. DUDE! Poor guy! What a sweetie he is, letting you help him..he knows!
    I would have thought that Timothy as well. I will have to go onto the net and see what the diff is now.
    So Glad you caught that quickly~
    THANKS for posting this!

  14. Great post! thanks for sharing your research with us, and glad to hear Val is cooperative about the treatment.


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