Let’s talk about foxtail…

I’ve been a little MIA from posting because Steven and I have been scurrying about for the past couple weeks discovering and remedying a hay problem: foxtail.


It’s deceptively fluffy, but those little spines will embed themselves in your horses’ lips, gums and possibly their GI tract.

I had never heard of this one. Probably because I had never had an issue with it. I didn’t read about it in Horse Illustrated as a child and I never saw it plastered on Smartpak or the blogs I follow. Hell, I never read it in any of the ridiculous Encyclopedia of the Horse type books I’ve read. Then, Kricket came up with big ass sores on her mouth.

I am quite the panic-prone mother. I’m going to need a really patient pediatrician when that time comes, because I immediately went straight to “Kricket has a virus and is going to die.” In my defense, when she came up with swollen back legs a year and a half ago it was a virus and she very well could have died. I noticed the sores when I fed before work so my immediate options were Google and Jess my bff in vet school.

Summer sores? No. Too cold for flies, even in Tennessee. Vesicular Stomatis? Maybe, but it didn’t look like it. And, according to Jess, it would just go away anyway. Foxtail in the hay? Surely not. I didn’t notice anything like that in the hay. Then, I looked at the hay.

Now when I say it was lousy with foxtail, I mean that it appeared to be about 10% foxtail heads. Needless to say, I freaked out. We had 15 bales left. Granted, we got them for a great deal, but that was still $50 of hay and it meant we couldn’t go back to our great deal guy for more. Steven contacted him saying there was something in the hay causing sores in Kricket’s mouth and (unsurprisingly) his response was along the lines of “Well there’s nothing wrong with my horses.”

My first instinct (as a monetarily challenged tightwad and noted do-it-yourselfer) was to pick it out. How hard could that be, right? Hard. Too hard. It took hours for us to pick out foxtail of enough hay to equal half the horses’ ration for the day. Not. Happening. So we hightailed it to the local feed store to buy a few bales to hold them over until we could come up with a better solution. Four bales totaling $28 later, the girls were good on hay for a little over a week, but what next?

Starbucks comes through again! To explain, my mother works at Starbucks. She is usually at the drive through window and she makes a lot of connections at that post. Consequently, she has a goat guy. Lo and behold, goats can eat foxtail! They don’t really like the taste (or so I’ve been told) but they will just pick around it with their teeny goat lips. So we are in the process of transporting the hay one truckload at a time to our new goat connection where they are paying us what we originally paid. (Steven says that’s not good farmer-manship but I think it would be mean to make a profit on the hay. I’m also just really jazzed to get rid of it.)

Thanks to Craigslist we also have a new hay guy. The hay wasn’t NEARLY as good a deal as our first load, but this is high quality Tifton 44 and the haynets are completely empty when we get to them in the morning so it is obviously also highly tasty.

I can’t say that I should have done more research before buying hay necessarily, but I wish I had come across this issue before it was my money going directly to the hay. So let my screw-up be a lesson to any of you horsey people who hadn’t heard of foxtail before. (Or am I the only one?)

As a little sidenote, I also learned a lesson about horse behavior. The horses eat out of rubber tubs on the ground. Kricket randomly started pawing at her bucket until she dumped it onto the ground. Every feeding. I was really annoyed because it just looked like a lot of money she was grinding into the dirt and I thought it was quite the bratty behavior. It turns out, that was connected to her sores. A couple days after she was on a foxtail free diet, she didn’t do it anymore. Don’t take your horses’ strange behavior for granted. They might seem like irrational creatures sometimes, but chances are they aren’t going to change their routine for no reason.


About maremother

I am a wife, designer and mother of 4. (Two horses, a dog and a cat.) I am always attempting to find new and better ways to make my family happy and healthy. This usually involves boring the crap out of my husband with information about natural horse care.
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