Who are all girls! (or castrated males). Males loose their antlers in early December, at the end of the mating season. Not to worry though! The girls have it, as reindeer are the only deer species in which both genders have antlers. (I always wondered how Santa was able to deliver all those presents without getting lost!)

Picture from www.communicatescience.eu


Horse Vices?


The ‘vices’ I’ll be discussing today are of the equine kind. Specifically, wood chewing, wind sucking, wood licking etc. These are sometimes known as ‘equine oral sterrotypies’. They develop as a means to an end. And here’s news, that end isn’t to reduce boredom.

Those of you that read ‘Something to Digest‘ will know that horses naturally graze most of the day. Their stomachs secrete acid in a continuous fashion, but saliva is only secreted in response to chewing. In this way, the pH in the stomach of a horse at grass is kept under control by the buffering and flushing action of the saliva.

The problem comes when we cut down on the forage portion of the horses diet in favour of concentrates. The acidity in the stomach rises as it is not being capped by saliva production, which is presumably quite uncomfortable and can eventually lead to stomach ulcers.

And so the horse learns these ‘vices’ to reduce its discomfort, as it can mimic the effect of chewing grass on non edible substrates. Over time they become habit, and can be seen in a horse that has been out at grass for some time, but has been fed a high concentrate diet in the past.

So why don’t synthetic pheromones work all the time? We can only speculate, little independent research has been conducted on their efficacy.

Problem 1 : the synthetic products do not mimic the animal’s individual scent that is deposited in conjunction with the pheromone mark. A little like if I was to write in your diary- the handwriting would be different and you would be confused as to why the entries were there.

Problem 2 : the animal may become more fearful as you disrupt its emotional navigation system.

Unfortunately synthetic pheromones are marketed as a ‘fix all’ for behavioural problems. They are used by well meaning owners indiscriminately.

Extra note: The picture demonstrates the flehmen response, performed by all animals that are capable of actively processing pheromonal information. It functions to draw air over the vomeronasal or ‘jacobson’s’ organ, located between the oral and nasal cavities.

Stomachs come in all shapes and sizes, from pigs and dogs, who have simple monogastric stomachs like ourselves, to ruminants with their intricate four chambered stomachs. The gastric structure evolves to suit the usual diet of the species in question.

Grass is a fairly unyielding foodstuff in terms of energy- the animals that subsist upon it have adapted to do so in fascinating ways. For the cow, as an example of a ruminant, one of their chambers functions as a fermentative vat. In the horse, fermentation occurs in the caecum, a large blind ended adjunct to the colon.

Even with the fermentative capacity of the gut, specialised dentition and selective feeding, grazing animals still need to eat for most of their day to obtain enough energy to live. This causes behavioural complications when a grazing animal is fed concentrated food in discrete meals.  See tomorrows post!

If the topic of digestion has you ruminating (excuse the terrible pun, I couldn’t resist!) drop me a line for more information.

Most of us know not leave our dogs in cars, so we open the window a tad, or won’t be away long. Here’s why we shouldn’t take the risk, even if its just for a little while.