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Barn Cats - A Positive Addition To Your Barn

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, March 28, 2013

Our current barn cat is Fire, short for Firecracker. Fire was born on the 4th of July, so he comes by his name honestly. He is a friendly, usually round in body shape, male orange tiger cat. As a working barn cat he falls a bit short of the ideal, but he is cute.

Our standard for barn cat performance developed from our first barn cat here. BC (not a very creative way of naming her Barn Cat) was a brown tiger female who basically ?came with the place.? ?BC was a serious working barn cat. She did not bother with birds ? even the barn swallows who would dive bomb her daily. She stuck to small mammals and the body count some mornings was impressive. Mice, voles, rarely a wood rat ? all of them were victims of BC?s stealth and hunting ability. BC was not a cat to cuddle.

Almost mind-boggling is the fact that she caught and killed three weasels. If you have ever been up close and personal with a weasel, you know how tough they are! But BC would not allow any intruders into ?her? barn. She did accept a fellow barn cat who was dropped off at our farm (Cooper was the sweetest and most handsome cat of all ? a beautiful silver tiger) and she tolerated the dogs, but it was clearly her barn and she ran it.

BC died of kidney failure in her old age and Cooper disappeared one night ? possibly the victim of coyotes or possibly wandering off to happily join another household (we like to think that even if it is unlikely).

Fire is a great cat in many ways. However, he is a typical male cat ? not the best of hunters. My husband claims he is just a really nice guy and hates to kill anything. Of course, that still doesn't justify carrying a live chipmunk INTO the barn and releasing it! Still, our grain bags and bins have no evidence of mouse invasions and our tack is intact. Maybe just his presence is enough to keep the vermin away.

I think where barn cats truly shine, along with their pest control (or not), is being a companion to the other animals. Whenever we have had an animal who had to stay inside for medical reasons, Fire would be nearby. He hangs in the barnyard with Spice the donkey and Frodo the mini horse or strolls through the pastures with the horses or sheep.

In the winter he rarely leaves the barn. Jumping down from his heated sleeping spot on top of the water pump to eat his daily can of cat food, get a quick drink and zip outside for bathroom duties is the extent of his activity some days. Still, we don't see or hear mice anywhere in the lower barn. There may be a few in the hayloft but we can handle those.

In the summer Fire checks the pastures daily and periodically comes up by the fenced yard to torment the dogs. He dodges the barn swallows but has only bothered them once or twice. All in a day?s work of course!

And if you hold a purring cat in your arms as you do late barn chores, it is clear that a barn cat is good for you too.

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Facing Tough Times

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, February 15, 2013

Facing tough times here. My 25-year-old donkey (normal size) is heading to Cornell tonight for colic care/possible surgery. Sugar is a wonderful animal ? and not just our family feels that way. The blacksmith, my colleague who helped with her care, everyone who has met her comments on how great Sugar is.

Sugar has an amazing capacity for spreading ?peace." ?I know that sounds very ?New Agey, but if you are around her or touch her, you truly do feel calm and peaceful. And yes, that is true even for people who boldly announce that they don't really like donkeys ? until they meet Sugar.

Donkeys have many legends surrounding them, but Sugar is a dark brown donkey and doesn't even have ?the markings of the cross? like her gray daughter Spice has. Her bray is fairly melodic but I have heard donkeys with better voices.

Speaking of voices, when a new neighbor moved in down the street a few years ago, I ran into her one day at the local farm stand. She did look a bit tired and asked me ?What fool sets off a fog horn at 5 am every morning'? I was at a total loss until I realized that our donkeys announce the first crack of dawn each morning. There is a male down the street who often returns their calls too.

Having Sugar in a bad way is very difficult for me. It is extremely hard as a vet when you can't fix your own animal. Realistically, if Sugar needs surgery, it is above my skill level. At Cornell she will be in a warm barn, have heated fluids if need be (hard for me in our barn!) and 24 hour observation and care if she needs it. After 5 hours straight in the barn last night, then hourly checks plus 8 hours straight today, I am so cold I can't feel some of my extremities.

Please, if you can spare some positive thoughts our way, send them to Sugar, care of Cornell. I need my peaceful donkey and hope to have her in my life for many more years.

Sugar update for Friday:
Sugar is doing much better. She's quite happy to have the NG (Nasogastric) tube out. She heard the horse in the next stall getting a carrot - apparently someone snapped it in two - and gave Cornell its first full-blown donkey bray :-) A very good sign!

She is passing manure on her own & they are starting feed slowly. I hope to get down to visit her tomorrow.

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The Little Things

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, January 22, 2013

Despite claiming we have gotten 1.5 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, we actually have over a foot now and more coming down. The snow is light and fluffy ? not a problem for the horses or other barn animals (except the ducks who stayed in). However, the temperature will be dropping soon ? into teens, then single digits and even negative numbers ? all prior to wind chill being factored in.

So what can be done to keep the animals comfortable' Little things can make a big difference. When the horses come in, I take a sweat scraper and wipe all the snow off. That saves the horses from using energy to melt the snow and then dry their coats. Yes, gasp, our three horses who circle 30 years of age go without blankets. They are very happy, healthy and hairy. To blanket them I would need to clip them, which simply isn?t going to happen. It would also require an increase in life insurance (mine) and a bit of risk taking to try blanketing the half blind Arab gelding. Monte is a great guy, but he doesn't like changes in his routine and he doesn't like horse clothing ? period.

All the horses had their teeth worked on this fall, but Monte and Sugar, the older donkey, aren?t eating their hay well. So they get some alfalfa pellets added as part of their ration. The barn animals go on three times a day feeding ? morning grain, then hay outside. Suppertime ? grain and hay inside. Bedtime ? more hay inside.

?Along with the two inside feedings, they get warmed water added to their buckets. That goes for all the barn animals ? including sheep and ducks. Everyone drinks more with the water warmed. I sometimes lug down a bucket or two of very hot water to mix in or simply use our bucket warmer to heat up some water to distribute.

The barn cat?s canned food gets moved to the house, so we bring down a warm can twice a day. Fire (for Firecracker - born on the 4th of July) has a warm bed that lies on top of the heated wood box surrounding the water pump.? My kids swear his bed is warmer than theirs on cold winter nights!

A lot of these things are simple, quick and easy adjustments that make life much better for the barn animals. As for me, I love being in the barn on a snowy night. I listen to the horses munching their hay, the ducks quietly muttering among themselves and the sheep rustling around their hayrack. Peaceful and good for the soul.

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This Christmas Season - A Gift in Memory of a Little Girl who Loved Horses

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, December 26, 2012

The horrors of Newtown/Sandy Hook are everywhere. It is hard to feel festive and bubbly over this holiday when the faces of 20 young children are posted alongside funeral notices. And Christmas is, above and beyond the spiritual aspects, a holiday for children.

My children are now grown though not totally off and about on their own yet. Kate is finishing her senior year at Cornell and Tom is a sophomore there. I felt a bit silly at being so happy when they got home ? feeling that now they were ?safe.?

I read about the Newtown survivors and the efforts of so many to help with their healing. Therapy dogs, therapy miniature horses, therapy kittens. I know, from my own experiences that animals will help to heal. Unconditional love, no need to talk things out, a warm body to hug. Animals are good for people.

One of the short background posts about the lost children mentioned a young girl who loved horses. She wanted to have a horse of her own someday. Having been a horse crazy kid, I know what that was like. I feel like I want to do something, somehow to honor and remember these children. And my mind keeps coming back to the girl who loved horses.

So, I have decided that I will get 20 books on horses ? ranging from little kid books to books for older kids and adults. I will donate them to my local library (actually it is called a reading center ? it is not big enough or formal enough to be designated a library). I will do this to honor and remember that little girl who loved horses. I am sure there is a girl somewhere in my semi rural town who is equally infatuated with horses. I hope that she will read and enjoy the books. And in some way, it will make me feel that I have done something positive to fight back against the darkness of this event.
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Social Media - The Pluses and Minuses

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, October 21, 2012

I know, a bit ironic that I am using social media to discuss social media. However, I read things every day that drive me nuts - especially on Facebook. Not to pick on FB but it the main social media that I look at daily.

I see posts like this: Dear FB friends, My 28 year old Quarter Horse gelding Chubby has not eaten for five days. Do you think I should call the vet' Or do you have suggestions'

The suggestions pour in covering everything from Miracle Herb A to hanging chicken feathers outside his stall on the north wall ? preferably white feathers from a young rooster. While you might think those suggestions are a bit off the wall, I see similar ones daily. Meanwhile, only a few brave souls suggest ?perhaps it is time to call the vet.?

The reasons given for not calling the vet include such things as ?too expensive,? though the person runs out to buy Miracle Herb A which is $40 an ounce, or their work schedule is too crazy to consider setting up an appointment yet once again they can drive 50 miles one way to buy Miracle Herb A.

Meanwhile Chubby is still not eating. By the time the person breaks down and actually does call a vet, the horse is often too far-gone to save. Perhaps the problem wasn?t one that could have been successfully treated anyway. Still, by delaying appropriate diagnosis and care, the horse's chances for a resolution go down. The vet is defamed for not saving the horse and the FB authorities all shake their heads saying things like ?Well, the vet blew that case.? It is quickly forgotten that Miracle Herb A didn't work and even the chicken feathers brought Chubby no relief and no appetite.

The other situation is when the vet gives some changes in care for a horse ? maybe a different wormer in the rotation. Immediately, a zillion FB friends have reasons why that change isn?t necessary or that change will cause the immediate demise of your horse. Instead of asking their vet more questions if they feel uncomfortable with a change, people follow the advice of well meaning but often not well-educated friends. Remember what your mother said, ?Free advice is worth what you paid for it.?

So next time your horse has a problem, consider whether you should ask the advice of friends who might love horses dearly but have never even actually owned one or maybe call your veterinarian who has spent years training to be able to help care for ill or injured equines.
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