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April 28, 2012: Drama in Real Life: The Foxtail Episode

On Friday afternoon, Pete and I went to get some hay that had come down our way from Delta Junction. We both checked it out – it was leafy, green brome. We commended ourselves for having had the foresight to check it out, then loaded 26 bales into Fish Habitat, our truck. (We call our 74 Dodge Power Wagon Fish Habitat because its previous owner recommended that the vehicle be turned into a breeding ground for fish.)

We got home, unloaded the hay into the trailer, and called it good.

http://www.plants.usda.gov/ Rusty Russell

Yesterday morning I checked Signy at 8 a.m. I immediately noticed that she wasn’t eating the hay that Pete had set out for her at 6 a.m. I figured that she was full, and went to give Siggi, Raudi, and Tinni their morning ration. As I was leaving the pen, I saw a sprig of foxtail on the ground. “Bad stuff,” I said to myself.

My mind immediately went into overdrive. I ran up to our cabin, and told Pete that I’d found foxtail in the hay. Together, we sprang into action. We removed Siggi, Raudi, and Tinni’s feed bowls, and cleared out the overhang feed trough. I then went into Signy’s pen, and removed her breakfast away from her. As I did so, I noticed that she had left a few chewed wads on the ground. I looked at them more closely, and saw they were comprised of Foxtail.

The horses were all in a dither about having their breakfast taken away. Pete, working fast, removed the plywood from the shed door, pulled out a bale of previously purchased hay, and fed it to all the horses. I next raked the front area – and Pete called our neighbor, who the day before had been our quasi-broker.

After, I raked the two pens and front area, and Pete moved the hay from our trailer back into Fish Habitat. He then transported it to the place where we’d picked it up, and unloaded it. All this took approximately four hours. We both grumbled because we had (we thought) better things to do with our time.

After, the question that I repeatedly asked myself was, was I overreacting? I had heard, but did not have definitive proof, that Foxtail was bad for horses. Because I had doubts about this, I went to the University of Minnesota website. (www.extension.umn.edu).

My suspicions were immediately confirmed. Foxtail (Seteria series) is an invasive species. It originated in Europe and Asia. It’s an annual. It resembles the top portion of a bottle brush, and is light green in color. It’s found in recently disturbed soils and sandy areas. It’s common in pastures and hay fields.

The primary symptoms of consumption are ulcerated lesions in the mouth. More specifically, they can appear on the upper and lower lips, and inside the mouth. These lesions range in size from dime-size to a quarter, and when on the lips, produce swelling. There may be drool, and clear discharge from the nostrils. Quite often, the mouth has a foul odor.

The gastrointestinal tract may also be affected. Other symptoms include pain, hindered performance when under saddle, a reluctance to eat, and possible weight loss.

Treatment includes the application of antibiotics. It’s also suggested that horse owners flush the mouth out with salt water and antiseptic mouthwash. The extension specialists and other site sources strongly recommend returning the hay to the supplier.

I later realized that accepting hay with foxtail in it can lead to yet another, more indirect problem. Foxtail is an invasive species, and as such, can easily be introduced to other, weed free areas.

I felt like Pete and I had done the right thing by taking the hay back to our supplier. I, of course, did feel some remorse, because this did not bode well for neighborly relations. But I would have felt far worse if one of my horses had suffered the consequences of my deciding that this was just a trifling matter.

Next: 142. 4/29/12: Alaska Equine Rescue Auction