How We’re Addressing Systemic Racism and Social Injustice
The brutal death of George Perry Floyd Jr. and the ensuing protests and social unrest is forcing all of us to confront some terrible, heartbreaking truths that exist in our society. Oxbow Animal Health unequivocally stands in solidarity with the courageous voices calling for an end to systemic racism and injustice. This reckoning in America has driven us to do some soul-searching and truth-seeking about diversity and inclusion at Oxbow. As a company, we have always striven to do the right thing. To treat everyone with respect and dignity. To act with integrity. To ensure that everyone can enjoy the journey. All employees deserve this – without regard to the color of their skin, their ethnic heritage, their gender, their age, where they worship, or whom they love. As a member of the Oxbow family, every employee deserves equal respect, dignity, resources, and love. That’s what we believe in. We are committed to creating a workforce that is welcoming, inclusive and equitable for every employee. Oxbow is making donations to local and national organizations that promote social justice and provide services to the most vulnerable members of our society. We will be supporting the National Urban League, the NAACP, the African American Empowerment Network, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. While these donations are important, we know that meaningful social change requires much more than money. By participating, advocating, learning, and improving, we are committed to being the social change our nation needs.
Get To Know Our Hay Experts - Jaren Rief, Forage Research & Sourcing Manager
Describe what you do as Oxbow’s Forage Research & Sourcing Manager.
As the title implies, there are two main parts of my job. The forage research side of my job puts focus on the science behind the hay that we source. We are constantly trying to better understand the hay through physical quality characteristics and nutritional characteristics. The sourcing management part of my job focuses on the allocation of the hay that we source at Oxbow by managing the various processes and partner relationships involved. Sourcing of our premium hay involves a team of members here at Oxbow, but most of the direct interaction with our producers is performed by myself, Oxbow’s Founder, John Miller, and Dr. Kohles.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
That’s easy - it’s the people. I obviously get to work with great people here at Oxbow, but I also get to work with some amazing individuals when I travel to see our producers. I grew up on a farm, so I feel I have a natural connection with many of the farmers we work with and can say they are not only great at what they do but are also some of the greatest human beings I have met. In many ways I don’t just consider these men and woman business partners; I consider many to be my friends.
How important are relationships in your line of work?
Relationships are essential to what we do every day. We ask a lot of our grower partners, as we have the highest standard of quality in the industry and a simple phone call just isn’t enough. It sometimes takes years to develop the level of mutual trust we have with our partners. I personally believe there is a big difference between making a business transaction over the phone or through email as opposed to standing across from somebody in the field and shaking their hand. I prefer the latter every day of the week.
What makes Oxbow hay special?
I don’t think there is just one thing that I can point to and say that’s the key. It’s a number of different factors. It may sound cliché, but it takes good people first. Our team here at Oxbow has put a lot of thought and years of development and refinement into the processes we have in place to ensure a premium quality product is grown, harvested, and packaged. Even still, we are never complacent and are always looking for ways to improve on a daily basis.
What do you look for when it comes to sourcing premium hay?
We are looking for a hay that isn’t common to find. Only a very small percentage of the hay we are looking for meets our specifications - 1% or less. There is a lot of hay grown in the United States (~129 million tons in 2019 according to the USDA NASS) but we are looking for hay that was grown in the perfect conditions by producers who put the utmost care and attention to detail into their crop. In a way, we are looking for producers that have the right philosophies, values, and work ethic first, and that the quality of hay will follow.
What are the challenges farmers face when aspiring to produce high quality hay?
With all farmers who produce crops, their best friend and worst enemy is typically weather. This is especially true for hay producers, as the hay is naturally dried in the sun for a period of up to 5 days, so all of the hard work and financial inputs these farmers have invested can hinge on what the weather does for one week. Weather isn’t the only challenge these producers encounter as they deal with many of the same issues many of us deal with such as rising costs in fuel, equipment, and taxes. They must also contend with large fluctuations in the market for what they sell their crops for which is nerve-racking compared to having the assurances of an hourly wage or salary.
How does Oxbow ensure its hay is consistently premium from bag to bag?
We control as much of the process as we possibly can. From the point of working with producers and selecting the hay to the point of the hay being packaged and shipped to our distributors, we have full control. Quality processes throughout are constantly checking to ensure packaging of a premium product is always the foremost focus.
What’s something that most customers might not realize about the hay they purchase for their small pets?
Most hay is grown in circular shaped fields which follow the path of the water irrigation systems used called center pivots. The next time you’re flying over an area of the country with an agricultural focus, look down and there’s a good chance you’ll see large, green circles. Those are the irrigated fields.
Congratulations to our Pet of the Week, Lana! This one-year-old rat loves Essentials Adult Rat Food and exploring in her pet parents’ closets! Thanks for being a fan, Lana.
Would you like your pet to be considered for Pet of the Week? Follow Oxbow on Instagram or Facebook and follow the instructions on our Pet of the Week posts to submit your photos! We select our Pets of the Month from our Pets of the Week submissions.
The Inside Scoop on Guinea Pig and Chinchilla Poops
Did you know that guinea pigs and chinchillas produce two different types of poops? Have you ever wondered how these poops are made? Join Oxbow's Vice President of Technical Services & Research, Dr. Micah Kohles, for a fascinating animated exploration of hindgut fermentation in these favorite small pet species.
In a safe environment, small mammals are naturally quite inquisitive. Pair that instinctual curiosity with a set of continuously growing teeth and it’s a recipe for chewing on everything they can reach. Whether indoors or out, any environment you introduce your pet to should first be thoroughly inspected and free from any items you don’t want them getting into, especially things that could cause harm like toxic plants.
What Makes a Plant Unsafe?
Not unlike our small companions, plants are consistently at risk of being eaten, with one key distinction – our beloved pets ARE the predators in this scenario. Because plants cannot scurry away and hide (a favorite predator avoidance technique of small mammals), numerous plant species have developed poisonous chemicals, or other nasty attributes (such as thorns or nettles), to avoid being eaten by herbivores. The type of toxin and severity of impact to the animal can vary significantly between different plant species. Ingestion or contact with a toxic plant can result in anything from skin irritation, to gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract), to organ damage. There are even a few plant species whose toxins can actually lead to death. It is important to also remember that every animal can react differently, and some animals are more sensitive to certain plant toxins than others. Regardless of the potentially toxic effects, it is important to ensure your furry friend only has access to environments that are free from all potential risks. Even a run-in with a plant that is considered “mildly toxic” can cause your little one enough discomfort to affect their overall health.
In the House
With a seemingly endless list of possible house plants, it is futile (and impossible) to list every variety. It is easiest and safest to assume any and all house plants may be toxic to your little one. There are several great references of toxic plant lists to look at listed below, but even they don’t cover all species. Unless you’ve specifically purchased a house plant that is known to be safe for your fur baby’s enjoyment, take all precautions to keep them away from plants in your home. Keeping your plants up off the ground and well-trimmed can also help avoid accidental ingestion.
The list of house plants is long, but it’s nowhere near the length of list necessary to name every possible plant you might encounter outside. Like indoor plants, it is safest to assume any wild plant is toxic until proven otherwise. Ensuring a plant is safe for your little one includes both identifying the plant and determining if any chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides) have been used on it (either directly or indirectly). Before letting your small friend consume any plant you should be 100% sure of its species, safety, and chemical applications. If you’re interested in learning more about safe outdoor excursions with your small pet, check out the following blog: Spending Time Outdoors with Your Small Mammal.
If your furry companion does get into a plant, be it indoors or out, first try to identify the species of plant, if you don’t already know. Once you’ve identified the plant, or at least narrowed it down, you can conduct your own research online (there are several reliable resources listed at the end of this article) or reach out to your trusted exotics veterinarian for their input. Though not an exhaustive list, below you will find some common plants that are well-known to be toxic to small mammals. If you have any of these plants in your home or yard, it is best to either remove them, or ensure they are in an area your small friend never has access to:
Anything growing from a bulb (hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, iris)
There are many, many more varieties of plant life that can be toxic, so it is very important to know the exact specie(s) of plant you’re looking at. Don’t forget you can also reach out to a poison helpline for more advice and we’ve listed a few below. When in doubt about the plant species or potential toxicity it is always best to contact your veterinarian to determine the best course of action.
What CAN They Eat?
With so many plant species worldwide, the list of known edible plants is likely much shorter than the list of hazardous varieties. A few of these safer options are as follows:
In addition to these, there are many garden herbs and greens your fur baby can enjoy both in and out of the garden. Lists of appropriate greens and veggies can be found in previously posted blogsand it can be enriching to let your little friend enjoy these straight from the garden once in a while. Growing your own greens and veggies can also put you at ease that no chemicals have been used in the growing process. While the flesh of the fruits and veggies are great treats, be cautious to avoid feeding seeds found in many plants, such as bell peppers and apples. Like all tasty things, be sure to let them enjoy these safe plants in moderation.
It is important to educate yourself about toxic plants before a critical circumstance arises. Knowing what is safe and what is toxic can help you avoid a stressful and potentially very unhealthy situation for everyone. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate the uncertainty and only expose your beloved pet to identified plants you are certain won’t cause any harm. Setting the proper stage for your pet both indoors and outside will allow you to truly enjoy your time together without the worry.
Join Dr. Micah Kohles of Oxbow Animal Health for an animated exploration of hindgut fermentation in rabbits.
Domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are herbivores, concentrate selectors, and are classified as hindgut (cecum) fermenters. They are mostly crepuscular and nocturnal feeders. They are anatomically and physiologically adapted to handle significant amounts of low-energy density fibrous food and to effectively utilize the nutrients found in a high-fiber diet. However, due to their small body size, they are unable to store large amounts of food material and therefore utilize a unique process to rapidly eliminate fiber for the gastrointestinal system.
Get to Know the Rabbit's GI System
A rabbit's gastrointestinal system allows for the intake of large amounts of low-energy density, high-fiber food that is separated based on particle size. The easily fermentable component of the diet is retained, while the slowly fermentable components of the diet (preeminently cellulose based plant fiber) are rapidly eliminated. This colonic separation mechanism (CSM) allows for the production of two types of stool: a dry, hard, high-fiber fecal pellet and an enlarged, soft fecal pellet that is covered in mucous and referred to as a cecotroph (cecal, night stool, etc.). In rabbits it is commonly referred to as the “Wash back” CSM.
Rabbits, like all herbivores, have a symbiotic microbe relationship with a diversity of gut flora (primarily Bacteroides), as they produce limited mammalian enzymes to break down the cellulose components of their plant based diets. Some of the most common issues with domestic rabbits, both in companion and commercial animals, are related to the gastrointestinal system. The symbiotic relationship rabbits have with the micro flora in the cecum allows them to effectively ferment plant structural-carbohydrates which provide their main energy source.
The rabbit cecum is very large and has a capacity roughly ten times that of the stomach, making up around 40% of the total gastrointestinal tract. It is a thin-walled organ that folds on itself multiple times and has an internal surface made up of a long spiral fold (sometime referred to as spiral valve) that is continued into the beginning of the colon, an area known as the ampulla coli. The distal tip of the cecum is known as the vermiform appendix. This tube-like area is narrow and thickened compared to the cecum and contains significant amounts of lymphoid aggregates which secrete bicarbonate ions into the cecum. The bicarbonate ions act as a buffering agent for the volatile fatty acids formed during cecal fermentation.
Sections of the Colon Explained
The colon is divided into three sections, the ascending, transverse, and descending colon. Because the fusus coli (located anatomically at what is referred to as the transverse colon) forms such a natural division between the morphologically and functionally distinct ascending and descending sections of the rabbit colon, many physiology texts have abandoned the three-section description and simply use the terms proximal and distal colon. The colon is a very functional component of the hindgut and is characterized by sacculations (haustra) and bands (taeniae). The ascending colon has four sections that contain small protrusions, approximately 0.5 mm in diameter, that are commonly referred to as warzens. These wart-like protrusions are believed to be unique to rabbits. They potentially represent an increase in the surface area of the colon that would favor absorption and also may assist in mechanical separation of gut contents.
The Colonic Separation aka "Wash Back" Mechanism
The fusus coli has a mucosa that is four to five times thicker than the descending colon and contains ganglion aggregates. The fusus coli is commonly referred to as the “pacemaker” of the hindgut and controls the retrograde and normograde peristaltic activities that occur during the formation of soft and hard feces. This is the Colonic separation mechanism which in rabbits is known as the wash back CSM. The descending colon mucosa is smooth, and while it contains numerous goblet cells, does not contain obvious specialization and usually contains hard fecal pellets.
There is an almost continuous flux of material between the cecum and the proximal colon. The mixture of fluid and nutrients is moved through vigorous peristalsis in both normo- and retrograde directions. These contractions result in large indigestible fibrous particles accumulating in the center of the colon where they are rapidly transported along the colon to the rectum for defecation, usually within four hours of ingestion. Conversely, smaller, more fermentable fibrous particles accumulate at the periphery of the colon where through retrograde peristaltic contractions of the haustra, they are returned to the cecum for further fermentation.
Cecotroph Formation Explained
Periodically there is a dramatic change in the peristaltic activity of the cecum and colon as the retrograde movement of smaller fiber particles ceases and a large quantity of the cecal content is expelled into the colon. These contents are excreted, usually once to twice daily, as soft, mucous covered cecotrophs. This process is controlled by the fusus coli. Because rabbits do not completely ferment fiber the ability of the colon to rapidly eliminate large indigestible fiber particles and retain smaller, more digestible fiber for further fermentation, makes the rabbit an extremely efficient herbivore, capable of surviving on very low-quality forage.
The Role of Resident Bacteria
The cecotroph fermentation process depends heavily on an appropriate diet and the action of resident bacteria (especially Bacteroides and Clostridial spp) and protozoa which are vital to the gastrointestinal health of the rabbit. The diversity of bacterial flora and other organisms within the cecum is substantial and includes many bacterial species dependent on location within the cecum lumen or wall, unidentified anaerobic species, ciliated and flagellate protozoa, and a rabbit specific yeast. The effects of bacterial fermentation include the production of volatile fatty acids (VFA) including acetic, formic, propionic, and butyric acids. These are a major energy source for rabbits. A portion of these VFAs are contained in cecotrophs and utilized upon re-ingestion, while another portion is absorbed directly across the cecal mucosa.
There is still much to learn and understand about the microbial populations of the rabbit hindgut. Fermentation produces volatile fatty acids, vitamins B, C, and K, and proteins which are eventually digested in the small intestine after cecotrophy, which occurs once or twice a day, usually at night. Over 100 additional strains of anaerobic bacteria have been isolated from the cecum mucosa of rabbits, and of those, very few have been identified.
Cecotroph Ingestion - aka "The Midnight Snack"
In healthy and physically able rabbits, the large, soft mucous covered cecotrophs are ingested directly from the rectum (“midnight snack”). Multiple factors, including stimulation of rectal mechanoreceptors, perception of the cecotroph odor, and the blood concentrations of various metabolites and hormones, all stimulate the rabbit to directly ingest the cecotrophs. Higher fiber diets increase cecophagy, whereas high-protein and low-fiber diets decrease cecophagy. Once eaten, the acidity of the stomach breaks down the protective mucous covering of the cecotroph. Continued digestion occurs in the small intestine where cecotrophs represent an important component of the diet providing protein, water and vitamins.