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|
|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!!