Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eating Weeds

We have big pasture problems. It turns out the weeds are no laughing matter. The horses have been eating them. Harley and the new pony, Apache, are covered in hives. Apache’s are pretty bad. Some of them are breaking open and I’m watching to make sure he’s breathing okay. Do you give a horse Benadryl for an allergic reaction like you do a child or a dog? I bought a bottle just in case. Maybe I should have bought ten bottles. Horses are big.

The problem is we never mowed the fields. There was no grass to mow. The grass was iffy when we moved in and then with the drought, what was there, turned to dirt. Except for the weeds. I’ve learned that I’ve got every toxic thing that they make in Virginia. Jimson weed, pigweed, hickory nuts, acorns, cherry trees, red maple. We have beggar’s lice. I don’t know if that one is poisonous but it certainly sounds like trouble. Pokeweed is poisonous when it gets higher than a few inches. Ours is about as tall as the barn. I have an assorted variety of plants in the deadly nightshade family. There might be a persimmons out there but we couldn’t be sure from a distance, and the vet, who pointed it all out to me, didn’t volunteer to go out there and investigate.

The vet was here last week to examine Apache, the pony who was too good to be true. He did a lameness exam and a neurological exam as much as a country doctor in the field, literally, could do an exam, and he and his assistant and the neighbors who came over to watch pronounced this to be a perfectly fine pony. The vet took a vial of blood to hold just in case Apache goes berserk in a month and we need to test it for drugs, but he laughed and assured me, “You just bought yourself a nice pony.” Then they went on to chitchat about the brothers Lester, Darryl and Billy-Bob down the road who are grown men that ride four-wheelers with a big Confederate flag flying off the back of one of them and who are having a fish fry on Labor Day weekend. Everyone’s invited.

I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to get the vet out again until it was time to do the horses’ Coggins tests next year but then they got the hives. It’s always something, no matter where you live; either animal, vegetable or mineral. In New Jersey, it was mud and the people who moved down from Staten Island because they liked the country living and then promptly plowed everything over and complained that the horses drew flies and the chickens made noise. In Oklahoma, it was rattlesnakes and coyotes, almost as bad as the New Yorkers and just as cranky. If there were any poisonous weeds on that property, the horses didn’t zero in any because they had 110 acres of World Class Bermuda grass to dine on.

I don’t know if I have any black walnut trees here like I had a forest of in Ferrum. Black walnut shavings will cause a horse to founder but not the leaves or the bark. There are saplings that look similar. They are either trees-of-heaven or black walnuts. I haven’t gotten around to going over and breaking off a piece to smell it—trees-of-heaven stink to high heaven, hence the nickname stink-trees. Either way, I am sure it will be something toxic.

Normally we would have gotten out there with the tractor even though there was no grass and mowed the weeds down just because they’re an eyesore. But we were busy moving in, doing projects, fixing fence. Mowing weeds was low priority. Now the horses are entertaining themselves with them. Basically having a party out there. Even though I give them plenty of hay to keep them busy, they’re not quite busy enough because there’s no grass and being grazing animals, they’re bored. They’re like a bunch a teenagers slouching on the street corner with their hands in their pockets and too much time on their hands looking for trouble. I’ve seen them take a nibble on all sorts of things. Yesterday Bullet and Minnie were munching on something that looked prehistoric. I chased them away and went to pull it out. As soon as I touched it I jumped back and screamed. It was covered with microscopic thorns like fiberglass. Dumb-asses. That’s what Kurt calls the horses; dumb-asses.

Right now I have the pony locked in the barn so he can’t get to whatever he’s been into. He doesn’t like being cooped up inside by himself so I put Bullet in the stall across from him to keep him company and they whinny now and then—“Hey, have you forgotten us in here?” Sometimes there’s a thump. Someone’s kicked a wall. I hear a bucket clanking around. They are playing with it and so I’ll have to go and make sure they didn’t empty all their water out. I don’t like stalling my horses because it isn’t natural for a horse to be confined but until the vet comes back on Monday, the least I can do is keep Apache away from the weeds.

The other day my friend had me so freaked out about having Jimson weed all over the place that I got out there and pulled it all up by hand. There I was, out in the blazing sun, wearing gloves and plastic goggles because I was afraid the stuff was going to give me hallucinations, tugging and pulling and ripping it out by the roots if at all possible. I was paranoid. I kept thinking, am I feeling something funny? Are my eyes burning? Am I getting heat stroke or am I high? Oh no, I just touched my nose!

I pushed wheelbarrows full of it, piled high, down to the manure pile by the back gully where all the brush is waiting to be burned one day. Now and then I hit a rock and a clump fell off. I ran over it and had to stop and pick it all up. It got caught in the wheel like how a carpet fiber gets tangled around the roller in the vacuum cleaner and you have to stop to unravel it. After I dumped it, black seeds were still in the wheelbarrow. This is the bad part dumb teenagers eat to get high and sometimes die. They should know better. They are the real dumb-asses.

I poured out the seeds. What else was I going to do with them? There was no where else to put them. I know we’re going to have an even bigger problem on our hands next spring since we let everything go to seed this year. According to the internet, I’ll have to get an herbicide. That probably means we’ll need to buy a piece of expensive equipment to distribute it. We’re not talking about backyard garden beds here. I have acres.

I made an appointment with someone from the agricultural extension agency to come over and advise us. An expert in weeds and seeds and animal feed. Whenever you call them, they are eager to help, as if they live for educating city slickers like me about pasture management. And best of all, it’s free. Hopefully she’ll get us all straightened out and this won’t happen again.

On Monday, the vet will be back. I hope that this isn’t an indication of things to come. It reminds me of when we moved to Ferrum and I begged the large animal vet, who wasn’t accepting any new clients, to please take me on. I assured him I had healthy animals and I gave my own shots so I would only need to call him in the rare emergency. I had that vet out so many times in the first year that he claimed we purchased his vacation home. He’d leave and I’d have another sick horse so fast that I’d have to call him back before I even got the bill from the first time. Kurt got to the point where he said, “Just give him a blank check.”

Maybe Lester, Darryl and Billy-Bob have the right idea. Four-wheelers don’t eat things that aren’t good for them and they don’t bang their buckets and kick their stall doors when they’re bored. In fact, you don’t have to do a darn thing with them unless you want to go riding. Maybe we’re the dumb-asses.


Marion said...

Whew! Sounds like SO much hot, dusty, prickly work, Debi. But the pony news sounds good...and maybe the extension agent will prove to be your new best friend.

Becky Mushko said...

The beggar lice must be non-toxic; I used to have a dog who ate them. The covering on black walnuts is as toxic as shavings if the horses stand in (on?) them. If you don't see nuts on the trees, you're probably OK. (The nuts are delicious but hard to crack--and you have to get that icky covering off.)

Usually where black walnut trees grow, other things don't grow.

If you do have lots of mature black walnut trees, the timber is worth a bundle. (I can give you the name of a logger.)

Amy Hanek said...

I am glad your pony WAS healthy. I am sorry to hear about his hives. With rain-dancing goin' on all over the state, I am sure you will be looking at lush green pastures soon enough!

Amy said...

No way, 4-wheelers can't nudge you to say they love you the way a precious 4-legged pony can. 4-wheelers don't smell as good either. I'd take a pony any day! My neighbor mows their pasture every 2 weeks to keep those nasty things down. This has just been a bad year for them. Hang in there!

Karen G said...

Debi, that was FUNNY! I laughed out loud several times reading it.
On a serious note, My champion appaloosa stallion broke out in bad hives 2x now since Ive had him when something starts to grow in late July that he apparently likes but shouldn't be eating.
Anyhoo...a cortisone shot and also a shot of Dexamethazone cleared them up right before our eyes. You should ask the vet if he will let you keep a bottle of each on hand, and write the proper dose on each bottle (usually cc's per 100 lbs) That will help a bunch with how many blank checks you have to write him. lol!
There is also a granular antihistamine (pretty much horse benadryl lol!) called Tri-Hist that you can also keep on hand. Its not expensive, a big container of it is about $15-$18.
Also dont forget to get you a bottle of Banamine. I always keep one in the horse trailer and another in the house. A mild colic ( and almost all are as long as you catch them early in the game) will resolve usually with one shot and rarely you will have to give 2.
I have avoided having to have the vet out in many instances just by having the "cure" on hand. I don't do blood and guts though, NO WAY! THATS what vets are for! ( so I have electric rope fence, and haven't had a cut horse in many years now)
Even with 16 head of horses Im starving my vet most of the time. lol!
Karen G