Links for Junior Scientists & Curiosity Hogs

We’d like to think that BestHorsePractices can point you to better sources than, say, your average Facebook newsfeed.

Here are several interesting, science-related articles for your consideration. They are not necessarily horse-y, but if you’re a lifelong learner, constantly curious and gravitating to new insights, I think you’ll enjoy them.

Amy Skinner

Amy Skinner, an incoming member of the Best Horse Practices Summit steering committee, said recently:

“I’m currently taking all my beliefs out of their dusty boxes and shaking them out, seeing what’s valuable and examining why I kept them in the first place. I’m willing to toss out anything that is no longer true or doesn’t serve me. Or I may hold onto it while I decide if I know why I believed it in the first place.

I encourage all you to do the same. Don’t believe anything ‘just because.’ Figure out why. If it no longer belongs, toss it out. Don’t rush to fill it back up, but maybe leave it open for a while and watch the world. Imagine the difference in our interactions with others after we clean out.”

Happy reading!

Maddy Butcher, Director, Best Horse Practices Summit

Read this abstract in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science on dominance and leadership.

Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise is based on his research of how horses live in the wild. Check out the concept here. 

Durango vet explores spiritual bonds of animals. A KSJD radio interview. 

Photo by Dr. Karlene Strange

Listen to Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellman on “Defending Science in a Post-Truth Era”

Sheep can recognize human faces. Research at the University of Cambridge.

New brain imaging technology could provide insight for everything from Alzheimer’s detection to mental health concerns. Check out the developments at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Exploring the fascinating inner lives of animals, starting with dogs. In an MRI machine. Really. Read the book review of “What It’s Like to be a Dog”

A quick, compelling bit on Yellowstone research on wolves, trees, and antelope. They’re all connected! From our friends at On Pasture, read more. 

Researcher in Yellowstone

Are Cool Baths a Good Thing for Your Hot Horse?

It’s hot and you’ve just returned from a sweat-inducing ride. Do you hose down your horse?

Believe it or not, almost no research has been done on how to help horses lower their core temperature when we ride them in extremely hot weather. That lack of research, however, hasn’t stopped experts from espousing their professional opinions. Few cite published research in peer-reviewed academic journals (which is something BestHorsePractices tries to do whenever possible).

Here is what we know from common sense and a little science:

Bigger horses have a harder time in the heat. Why? It’s simple math based on the ratio of volume-to-surface-area. Which cools off quicker, a cup of coffee or a kettle of coffee? The cup, of course, because the ratio of the volume-to-surface area is smaller.

We offer some simple observations and suggestions, based on work by D.R. Hodgson, R.E Davis, and F. F. McConaghy and published in the British Veterinary Journal in 1994.

Horses have a greater chance of overheating if:

  • They’re not acclimated to hot weather.
  • They’re overweight and/or inadequately conditioned.
  • In infrequent cases, they suffer from an impairment of the thermoregulatory system like anihidrosis

To cool down your horse properly:

  • Stop exercising
  • Provide shade
  • Make use of fans or cool breezes
  • Give cool water sponge baths or spray with a hose. Many urge that water must be scraped off, so that it doesn’t end up insulating the coat and hindering cooling.

In severe cases, the researchers recommended applying ice packs or towels wet with ice water to the large vessels of the limbs and lateral thorax.

Big Red Flag:

Over-cooling can be dangerous. It may “induce vasoconstriction of the small cutaneous vessels, thereby reducing conduction of heat from core to periphery,” write the researchers.

In other words, too much cooling will inhibit the horse’s own physiological ability to cool off.

Yellow Flags:

  • Don’t ask an unfit horse to exercise in the heat
  • Monitor before, during and after hot weather events
  • Know your individual horse
  • Minimize the risk of heat stress by paying attention to your horse and learning heat stress signs and treatment (see above).

New Research to Measure Range Handling Stress

Over a generation ago, pioneers Bud Williams and Dr. Temple Grandin helped reshape livestock handling and management attitudes. They revolutionized the industry by adopting more humane, less stressful handling. Williams (who died in 2012) and Grandin (age 69 and a professor at Colorado State University) showed that by working with livestock’s natural behaviors, one can reduce animal stress and increase positive outcomes, ie, less sickness, fewer injuries, and better weight gains.

Over the years, ranchers have learned that if you keep cattle stress low, you will have better outcomes. Williams’ and Grandins’ work affected everything from facility, paddock, and pasture design to employee behavior (often slower, quieter movement, recognition of horseback versus pedestrian workers, less use of electric prods, etc.). Pressure is key, of course, but it matters how you apply it.

The days of Yahoo! and Yeehaw! are over.

But what happens as you trace the handling back to these cattles’ early interactions with humans?

Now, a four-man group at Oregon State University and Treasure Valley Community College is designing a research project to quantify which methods are ideal for handling cattle on the range. The project results will undoubtedly interest scores of ranchers who, until now, have had no quantification of how their range treatment leads to outcomes further down the production line.

Chris Schachtschneider, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, OSU Extension Service of Umatilla and Morrow County, is the lead investigator for the new multi-year project that will follow stress on cattle from their first months until they are processed at slaughter.

“There are a lot of claims out there as to what’s more stressful or less stressful, but there is not a lot of research,” said Schachtschneider. “If we can show that handling them a certain way on the range can ultimately put extra pounds on them, then that would be exciting.”

In his proposal to the Agricultural Research Foundation, Schachtschneider identifies distinct livestock handling methods. Citing Whit Hibbard’s book on early cattle handling in this country, Schachtschneider writes that three traditions persist:

— The vaqueros of California were well known for their horsemanship and roping…but cattle were only valued for their hide and tallow and often handled brutally.

— The Texan cowboys are known for the long cattle drives with large herds…cattle were sold by the head and volume was the priority…cattle were ramrodded and driven based on fear and pain to hurry them to the sale yard.

— The Midwestern manner in handling livestock originated in England and mainland Europe where herd size was small and each animal had great value. Methods such as penning animals at night, selective breeding, castration, and feeding stock in the winter were common practice.

Whit Hibbard

In the Great Basin (the Oregon-Nevada-Idaho area where the research will be conducted), stockmen have acquired and blended these methods and generally exhibit, said Schachtschneider, “vaquero horsemanship and roping skills, the cutting horse abilities from the Texans, and the husbandry traits of the mid-westerners.”

Schachtschneider noted that even the title of the research project has challenged them, given some possible prejudices and preconceived notions. “The term ‘low-stress livestock handling’ is similar to ‘natural horsemanship.’.  Many people use this term to market their training program, but has become less meaningful nowadays.  I want to be careful not to label this project in a way that it is instantly dismissed based on the name.  Yes, I do use the term “low-stress,” i, but we realize this may not be the best term.  Something like ‘Williams’ style Stockmanship’ might be better until we can figure out what to call it,” he said.

This year, the group (which includes fellow OSU academic Sergio Arispe, along with Treasure Valley Community College instructors Wade Black and Jared Higby) will focus on bringing ranchers on board and making sure handling is uniform. Ranchers will train in low-stress handling (from teachings of Bud Williams and Steve Cote) to ensure consistency. Animals will be randomly sorted into four groups:

— Traditional handling in the corral

— Traditional handling holding rodear

— Low-stress trained handlers in the corral

— Low-stress handlers holding rodear.

When measuring for handling impact on each individual animal, the group will administer four tests:

Salivary cortisol will be collected.

Heart and respiratory rate will be measured

Aversion tests (evaluating cattle’s willingness to move in the desired direction, the speed at which they move, speed of handlers, and the number of animals, and amount of physical intervention (pats on rump, shouting, flapping of flag/paddle/lariat, or use of electric prod) needed to achieve desired action.

Efficiency of method will assess how long it takes to complete the desired task for one animal and for the herd, as well as how many people are required for each treatment.

Required reading for research participants: Steve Cote’s book on Stockmanship

It’s taken months of planning and a joining of talents to build the project, said Schachtschneider, who previously studied how cattle grazing in certain settings can help deter wild fires. Dr. Arispe excels at the physiological aspects of the study and will focus on test administration. Black (son of Martin Black) and Higby have impressive ranch experience.

“All four of us have joined forces and we want to make sure the findings are rock solid when we put it all together.”

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