My Placement on a Clydesdale Farm

I’ve been spending the majority of my summer vacation at home in Canada. It was nice to have my long break over the Christmas period. While at home I have been working full time and am just starting to complete some placements again. This past week I was working on a Clydesdale horse farm. I was very excited for this placement because I have never worked on a horse farm before. Riding is one of my favorite things though! For those who don’t know, Clydesdales are large draft horses used for work such as pulling sleds/sleighs. This farm was training and breaking horses to be sold as work horses or be taken to shows and compete.

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These horses tower above me! Most of the horses on the farm were over 17 hands high.

Each morning started by hooking up a 2 horse team to the sled. We tried to pair a more experienced driving horse with an unbroken horse. The more experienced horse would lead the other. While on the sled we taught the horses to follow commands such as stop, start, step forward one step, back up, stop at the gate, hold head up, etc. I even got to take the reigns into my own hands once or twice!

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Some years the snow is so deep that the sled is harder to pull. Pretty easy pulling for these horses this winter!

 

One very interesting thing we also did was something called ‘donkey-breaking.’ I had heard of this happening with cattle previously but had never had the opportunity to experience it. If an unbroken horse needs to be halter trained (trained to be lead around and walk calmly with a head halter on) they can be harnessed to a donkey. The donkey is very strong and stubborn and will lead the horse around a field and get it used to the sensation.

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This stubborn donkey will begin to teach this filly to be led around by her halter and a lead rope.

On another day I was working with an unbroken filly getting her used to the sensation of touch. I spent some time standing a few feet away from her and literally sweeping her with a broom. This action will get the horse used to touch without putting myself in too much danger from being too close to the horse. After working with this filly she was ready for her vet check in the afternoon; which included a blood draw for Coggins testing. Coggins looks for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) which is needed to be evaluated before horses are taken to shows or exported.

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The filly feeling unsure about the nearby broom.

I spent the rest of my time on the farm helping with other odd farm jobs, mucking out stalls, moving horses, etc. I even visited a nearby elk farm that belong to a family member. This elk farm was very interesting to see after my last placement at a different elk ranch in July.

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Mucking out large Clydesdale stalls is a lot more work than regular sized horses!

 

Thank you so much to my family and friends who have been working their connections and helping to set up these placements and opportunities to me.  Sending endless appreciation to the placements who treat me like family during my time with them.  🙂

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My Placement at an Elk Ranch

As part of the vet program we are required to complete 12 weeks of placements at different animal facilities before the end of our 2nd year. The placements can be at intensive or extensive farms, boarding facilities, zoos, wildlife centers, etc. I was lucky enough to get a plane ticket back home to Canada for my winter break in July. I decided to do some outside farm work while I was home because Albertan summer is so beautiful!!

My absolute favorite Canadian view

My absolute favorite Canadian view

I spent about two weeks working on an elk ranch with about 210 adults (expecting 75 calves at the end of the season). Starting out, I thought I had a decent knowledge about elk from just generally growing up in Canada and spending tons of time in the mountains growing up. Ranching and farming elk is totally different and so interesting! I learned so much from this placement.

 

Elk is commonly used for meat and EVA (elk velvet antler). The ranch I was on was raising elk for EVA which has been used for thousands of years as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.

A lot of people don’t actually know what velveting is… put simply: Velveting is cutting off the antlers at the velvet stage (when they are fuzzy and before they calcify and become hard antlers) and then freezing them in order to retain the blood and useful components before processing. The antlers are then made into pills/capsules or slices which can then be taken or used in teas. EVA is used to treat arthritis pain, enhance immune system, etc. etc. Farms that raise elk for EVA often send the animals for meat as well. During my placement I learned that Canadian produced EVA is in high demand in the international market as well and we are trying to increase our product in both China and Korea.

There has been research conducted on EVA that shows both positive and negative results of the effects. Here is one article which shows that EVA has antioxidative effects and presumed health benefits:

Kim, E., Lee, W., Moon, S., Jeon, Y., Ahn, C., Kim, B., . . . Jeon, B. (2009). FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ACTIVITY BY ESR SPECTROSCOPY AND NEUROPROTECTIVE EFFECT ON H2O2-INDUCED DAMAGE IN PC-12 CELLS OF ENZYMATIC EXTRACTS FROM KOREAN ELK VELVET ANTLER. Journal of Food Biochemistry., 33(6), 895-912. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/46467863?accountid=12372

And here is another article that shows that EVA had no beneficial effect on muscle growth and sports performance:

Syrotuik, D. G., MacFadyen, K. L., Harber, V. J., & Bell, G. J. (2005). Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism., 15(4), 366-385. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/47718499?accountid=12372

I actually really enjoyed my time working on the elk farm and learning about another agriculture industry in Alberta; I hope to work with elk again one day and if I do I’ll be spending more time thumbing through research articles.

During placement I also helped with the moving of elk between fields, rounding up for velveting, and feeding (all on the quad). I was continually surprised how much calmer than cattle the elk appeared to be. I especially noticed this while we were running them through the chute and into the squeeze. An elk squeeze is designed different from a cattle squeeze because elk hold their heads up rather than down (like cows) and so the squeeze must be accommodating to both this and the large antlers they have.

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Towards the end of my time back in Canada I attended part of the 2015 Alberta Elk Expo. The most interesting part for me was helping to score the hard antlers. We measured the length of each tine, the circumference of the beam, assessed the symmetry, identified non-typical tines, and the overall quality of the hard antlers.

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So 2 weeks of placement down and it was great! I’m thinking dairy or pigs next 🙂

P.S.: To my dear Australian friends who I love very much…