What are Essential Amino Acids in Protein, and Why Do They Matter?

Nutrition articles frequently refer to protein quality and essential amino acids. When we use the term crude protein, we are essentially talking about a calculation based on measured nitrogen. Protein is about 16% nitrogen by weight, so if we measure the amount of nitrogen and multiply it by 6.25, this gives us a measurement of crude protein. It does not tell us anything about the quality of the protein. If you tested pure nitrogen this way, it would be 625% protein!

Digestible protein is that amount of the protein that is actually digested by the animal. In an over simplified example, if you fed 100 grams of protein and measured 50 grams in the feces, the protein would be 50% digestible.

What is really important to simple stomached animals (horses included) is the content of essential amino acids in the protein. We commonly talk about 10 essential amino acids (EAA), the amino acids that must be in the diet as the animal cannot synthesize them. These are:

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Arginine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

A common memory aid in many nutrition texts books is to use the first letters of these 10 as PVT TIM HALL. (All of you who had a non-ruminant nutrition course still remember this acronym!)

The other 12 amino acids can generally be synthesized in the body and do not need to be in the diet, although there must be a supply of appropriate substrate to produce them. Animal nutrition text books cover this topic in excellent detail.

Limiting Amino Acids

Limiting Amino Acids

When we talk about limiting amino acids, these are the essential amino acids most likely to be restricting the use of the total amount of amino acids present. In most species, lysine is the first limiting amino acid, with methionine and threonine close behind. We commonly talk about amino acids as the building blocks of protein. If you are once you run out of an essential amino acid, you cannot build any more animal protein and the rest of the amino acids are used inefficiently for energy.

If you have a horse on a diet that is calculated to have adequate “crude protein”, but essential amino acids are not present, the horse simply cannot use the protein to build and maintain muscle, hair, hoof and skin and you will see changes in the appearance of the horse, such as loss of muscle mass, rough hair, scaly hoof surface.

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Posted in Horse Nutrition, Ingredients in Horse Feed
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First Aid Horse Essentials

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Photo Credit: Dover Saddlery (www.DoverSaddlery.com)

Being prepared to immediately give your horse first aid in the event of an illness or injury might make a big difference in the outcome of the situation. It’s wise to be prepared in case something happens, and an equine first-aid kit helps to ensure that you can care for your horse while waiting for an equine veterinarian to arrive. Start creating a basic first-aid kit with these helpful items.

Equine First-Aid Kit Basics

  • Flashlight. During the early morning hours, as sunset approaches or even in dark, tree-covered areas, a flashlight can be useful when assessing the problem.
  • Thermometer. Having a thermometer on hand lets you determine if your horse has a normal temperature. Typically this is between 99 and 101.5 Fahrenheit, but taking your horse’s temperature regularly when he is healthy will help determine what is normal for your particular horse.
  • Stethoscope. A horse’s heartbeat can be heard loudest behind its left elbow. A stethoscope also comes in handy for listening to the gut.
  • Antibiotic ointment. Superficial wounds and scrapes can be treated with antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.
  • Diluted iodine. Any cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds can be flushed out with diluted iodine and covered to keep them from drying until the vet comes to treat them.
  • Electrolytes. Help protect your horse from dehydration and lethargy by carrying a powder or paste form of electrolytes in your first-aid kit.
  • Scissors or knife. It’s important to have something for cutting bandaging material, or for freeing a horse caught in a rope or other entanglement. Always exercise caution when using scissors around your horse.
  • Bandaging materials. A variety of bandaging materials are good to have on hand. Include some of the following in your first aid kit: nonstick gauze and cotton padding, duct tape and disposable diapers, sterile gauze and elastoplast, white adhesive medical tape, plastic wrap and cotton leg wraps.
  • Fly repellant. Keep pesty flies away from an open wound that can’t be covered with a bandage by applying fly repellant around the wound, but not directly on it.
  • Cooling packs. Ice packs that become cold when you bend or twist them could be useful when cold therapy is recommended by the equine veterinarian.

When First Aid is Needed

Before you consider administering any type of first aid to your horse, there are several things to consider. Start by calming yourself; your horse might already be scared and excited, and being in a panic yourself will only exacerbate the situation. Collect your thoughts and proceed by caring for your horse in a calm, slow manner. At that time, you should assess your horse’s attitude and behavior. If you’re not 100 percent sure that it’s OK to approach him safely and check the injury or problem, then wait until professional help arrives. Should you be able to safely approach your horse, it can be helpful to talk to him quietly and gently rub his neck for reassurance. Move the horse to a quiet location, if possible.

Once you have your horse secure, call your veterinarian so they can assess the injury or illness. Having a first-aid kit on hand allows you to administer initial care to your horse if needed while waiting for the vet. In addition to having a first-aid kit in the barn, it’s also helpful to have a travel kit that you can bring with you each time you take your horse off your property. While the list above can serve as a base to help you get started  as you put together an effective kit, always make sure that you consult your veterinarian on what other items will complete your first-aid kit so you are never left stranded.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

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Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

hand feeding red sizeThere are some common questions come up when we talk about what happens to horses as they age and why their bodies change shape:

  • Does my good old horse need more calories (energy) or more protein?
  • He is out on good pasture and is holding his weight, but his hair coat looks dull and he has lost muscle mass.
  • She looks a little thin, should I add some fat/oil to her diet?

These are all apparently simple questions, but actually we need to look at the nutrient supply and purpose a little closer.

Calories from fat/oil, digestible fiber (structural carbohydrates and starch & sugar (non-structural carbohydrates) are the key energy sources for horses. If a horse is thin, that tells us that the horse needs more Calories to maintain fat cover measured by Body Condition Score system. Those Calories can be added from extra fat/oil, extra digestible fiber or additional starch and sugar. Vegetable oil contains 2.25 x the Calories per pound of carbohydrates and is a safe way to add Calories. Switching to a highly digestible fiber source (better quality forage, added beet pulp etc.) can also add Calories of digestible energy (DE). It takes 2-3+ pounds of added feed to add 1 pound of gain, depending on the feed.

Adding Calories alone will not bring back the muscle mass. This will require added protein (really added essential amino acids, particularly lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids). If a horse is getting adequate crude protein, but the protein is of limited quality and is low in one or more essential amino acids, the horse will not be able to utilize it fully to maintain or restore muscle mass. This is why it is essential to know the quality of the protein in feeds, particularly these first 3 limiting amino acids.

A common situation is an old horse retired to a grass pasture. It may be difficult for the horse to consume enough to maintain body condition, thus the horse loses weight. The grass pasture may also be low in crude protein and certainly low in essential amino acids, so the horse also loses muscle mass. Tough combination for an old friend!

The good news is that this can be reversed with the use of a well-designed senior horse feed providing both Calories and essential amino acids!

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Summer Barn Room Makeover

Horseshoe on BarnSummertime is an excellent time to give the inside of your barn a fresher, more organized look. If you’re short on space or your barn interior is looking old and tired, these ideas can help you revamp your barn room for summer. To get started and make the most of your efforts, determine the needs and wishes that are most important to fulfill. Ask yourself questions such as: Does my barn need to be organized? Does it need a functional makeover or an eye-appealing makeover? Once you’ve decided the driving force behind your barn revamp, you’ll be able to easily guide yourself through the renovation or redecoration process.

Ideas to Organize and Rearrange Your Barn Room

  • Make the Most of Wall Space. Use mounted shelves, hooks and other creative fixtures to store your horse tack and other items in a tidy manner. Add to the aesthetic appeal by thinking outside the box and using alternative items, such as bent horseshoes for wall hooks.
  • Floor-Based Organization. Not everything can be hung up. Floor bins and lockers are ideal for blankets and items that you use seasonally. Label each bin with the season so you can tuck away the items you won’t need for a while and position the current season’s bin in an easy-to-access location.
  • Saddles and Their Accessories. Saddles and saddle pads must be carefully stored to prevent damage to the leather or fiber. Prolong the life of these investments in your riding experience by using a saddle form and a storage rack. Your horse saddle will be easier to access and will add a beauty of its own to your barn.
  • Don’t Overlook Health and Safety in the Process. As you clean, organize and repurpose barn space, do so with health and safety in mind. One of the most important components of a high-functioning barn environment is proper air ventilation and circulation. Ensure that open windows, during nice weather, allow fresh air to enter the barn. Circulate it with fans, and get rid of stale air with an exhaust system. In addition to keeping the air inside fresh, proper ventilation helps get rid of warm air and moisture, while keeping the barn cool and dry.

Barn Repurposing Ideas

  • Create a Go-To Space for Relaxation. Who says you can’t have a comfortable sofa or armchair in the barn? Turn unused space into a haven for relaxation. A nice place to sit, some natural light and a few other provisions that mean “comfort” to you will provide you with a place near your horses where you can rest and relax after a ride or any other time.
  • A Place for Productivity. Office space in your barn will allow you to be productive while remaining close to your horses. Use this space for horse-related work or your telecommuting career. If you need quiet while you work, choose a space farther away from the location where people and animals will be coming and going throughout your workday.

Give Your Barn a Fresh New Look

Use these ideas to get more out of your barn and put unused and inefficient space to work for you. Start out with organization so you have a clearer picture of the space you have available to work with. Once the mess and clutter has been taken care of, you’ll be free to make changes to the appearance of your barn or revamp unused space.

Give the interior or exterior a fresh coat of paint, and don’t be afraid to use colors that aren’t traditional. Colors that appeal to you are going to make the barn feel more inviting to you. This is especially important if your barn is serving multiple purposes. Use vibrant colors to create a fun atmosphere or subdued and neutral colors for a location where you’ll come to relax.

The changes you make to organize, revamp and refresh your barn this summer can carry over to other seasons, increasing the function and enjoyment of your barn. As a horse-lover who spends a great deal of time there, it’s vital to have a space you look forward to coming to. These ideas can help you get started on the barn space you’ve been dreaming of.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Living the Horse Life
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Feeding Sunflower Seeds to Horses

Sunflower Seeds_Snack and Black Oil_BRSunflower seeds come in 2 basic classifications with some specialized varieties in each. Black oil sunflower seeds are primarily produced for sunflower oil production, and striped sunflower seeds are primarily produced for confectionary/human consumption.

  • Black oil sunflower seeds will be about 17% protein, 44% fat and 24% neutral detergent fiber (NDF).
  • Striped sunflower seeds will be about 16% protein, 24% fat and 40% NDF.

The hull of the sunflower is fairly tough and is not very digestible and the horse may not break all of the hulls when eating the seeds, so some may pass thru undigested. (The birds in your pasture will appreciate this!).

The black oil sunflower seeds are most readily available for purchase in bagged form as they are also popular for feeding birds and are the most widely used by horse owners. The oil content of black oil sunflower seeds is about 29% Omega 6 fatty acids and about .09% Omega 3 fatty acids. The oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is why it is popular for human use.

The key element to consider in deciding if there is a good reason to use black oil sunflower seeds is to consider what you are actually adding to the diet and at what cost.

  • Current bagged retail price may be about $16.00-$20.00 per 20 pound bag.
  • This translates to $1600-$2000 per ton, which is fairly spendy for a horse feed!

If you feed a pound of black oil sunflower seeds, you are adding about 7 ounces of oil (less than a cup) and 2.72 ounces of protein with minimal digestible NDF or other nutrients. If you buy bulk soy oil, you should be able to add more oil at lower cost by adding straight oil and you will have a better Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio.

Black oil sunflower seed use for horses needs to be assessed basis what the ingredient actually adds to the diet and what the cost is compared to other ingredients or feeds.

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Posted in Feed Costs, Supplements
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Summer Horse Grooming Care

Henry MusclesWhile it’s a priority to look pristine during the show circuit summer months, grooming is also important for health and comfort. Whether it’s a lazy day in the pasture, or your horse is active with training and riding, the summer grooming care you provide is essential. Proper care helps to increase your horse’s comfort when the sun is bright and the temperatures are on the rise. It also protects your horse’s coat and skin from irritating conditions. Use these grooming tips to keep your horse comfortable and healthy throughout the summer.

Tips to Keep Your Horse Clean, Comfortable and Cool This Summer

  1. Give Your Horse a Trim. Mane, tail and coat care is an integral part of keeping your horse cool in hot weather. Trim your horse’s mane and tail, and keep their coat clipped if it isn’t shedding out properly to avoid extra, unnecessary warmth. A good grooming kit for trimming and clipping will make the task easier for you and comfortable for the horse. Every other week, take a couple minutes to run the clippers over your horse’s bridlepath to help bridles and halters sit comfortably without interference.
  2. Keep Cool with Sponge Baths. Following exercise, giving your horse’s face a sponge bath will help prevent fungal hair loss. Continue the cool sponge bath over his entire body to reduce body temperature and provide relief from the heat. Excessive bathing with shampoo and cleansers isn’t good for a horse’s skin or coat, but a cool sponge bath is always an option. On particularly hot days, spritz a 50/50 mixture of cool water and rubbing alcohol over your horse’s body (not the face) to aid sweating and cooling.
  3. Have Good Grooming Supplies On-Hand. A good quality grooming kit is essential throughout the year, and will help you keep your equine friend cool during summertime. Have horse shampoo, conditioner and hair polish available for full grooming or pre-competition sessions. Add sponges of various sizes, a hand mitt and sweat scraper to your grooming supplies so that you have all you need in one kit when you’re ready to spend time grooming and bathing your horse.
  4. Keep Pesky Insects at Bay. When temperatures rise, summer pests become more active. A horse that has to run away or constantly flick its tail to get away from biting flies and other pesky insects is expending energy needlessly. As you spend time keeping your horse cool, also take a few minutes to protect him from bugs. Use appropriate fly masks and insect sprays to repel insects while your horse is out of the barn. Stable and barn traps set up in the barn will keep your horse comfortable inside so he doesn’t work up a sweat trying to fend off gnats, mosquitoes or flies.
  5. Protect from the Sun. During the summer months, use horse shampoo with sunscreen in it to protect his skin from ultraviolet rays and painful sunburn. Pink noses should be protected daily as well with a zinc oxide-based sunscreen.

Take a Proactive Stance to Beat Summer Heat

Incorporating these summer grooming tips will assist you in being proactive about the hot weather to come. In addition to providing your horse with a cool place to rest, plenty of fresh water and a fan to circulate the air in the barn, these grooming tips will promote equine health and comfort during the warmest months of the year. A horse that’s comfortable and healthy will expend less energy trying to alleviate discomfort, leaving more energy for your summer rides together.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Care and Management, How To

Salt Blocks are Not a Complete Feed

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

As a feed consultant I hear quite often “My horse has plenty of hay and a salt block with selenium. That’s enough to meet all his nutrition needs, right?” My answer is always, resoundingly, “NO.” The truth of the matter is, while salt does have its place in the equine diet, the nutrient needs of a horse are much more complex than what a salt block with trace minerals can provide. So if you are depending on a trace mineral salt block to provide anything to your horse’s diet except for a source of salt, I would encourage you to keep reading.

Typical salt blocks are 95% or more salt and less than 5% mineral, so they do very little to meet the mineral needs of the horse. In addition, horses are usually inefficient at consuming salt in block form. They will lick for a short period of time each day on a salt block, but will not consume the sheer amount of minerals needed to have any effect on their nutrient needs.

A better solution to get your horse all the nutrients he needs is to provide a fortified feed that is fed according to tag directions. This will ensure that your horse’s needs for many things, including energy, protein, vitamins and amino acids in addition to minerals are being met. Then, provide loose white salt, which horses will more freely and easily consume, alongside the feed in a separate container. As always, be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water at all times, as consuming salt will also often increase water consumption.

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Posted in Care and Management, Supplements

When Is It Time for Senior Horse Feed?

One question I am frequently asked by horse owners is “when should I switch my older horse to senior feed?”

It is interesting to note that 30-35% of the current horse populations in the US are “Seniors”. Surveys show 54% of all horse owners own at least 1 “senior” horse. By age definition “senior” horse has been defined as 15+ years of age.

Due to improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, horse routinely live 25-30 years of age, some into their 40’s. It is not uncommon to see horses in late teens and twenties performing at high levels. The key is that we need to treat horses as individuals. So when is a “senior” feed required?

WHEN YOUR HORSE CAN NO LONGER MAINTAIN GOOD BODY CONDITION ON A NORMAL HAY AND GRAIN DIET.

Quidding of Hay

The result of quidding.

Signs that your senior horse may need a senior diet include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor topline condition
  • Hoof quality and hair coat tell a story
  • Dropping feed while eating, may be a sign of dental issues
  • Loose stools
  • Quidding – dropping partially chewed hay out their mouth while eating.

As the horse ages, nutrient absorption and utilization decrease due to breakdown of the digestive system with age. Research has shown that senior horses experience poor nutrient absorption, which occurs particularly with phosphorus, vitamins and protein. Enzyme production may also decrease.

When we look at a senior diet there are some key points to consider. You want to choose a feed that is:

  • Highly digestible to accommodate less efficient digestive system.
  • Look for higher and improved protein quality to make up for small intestine inefficiency.
  • Does the feed contain higher fiber, and can it be fed as a complete diet, to make up for decreased large intestine efficiency, and possibly replace hay if the horse has dental problems.
  • Higher fat helps provide added safe calories.
  • Enhanced vitamin and mineral fortification are needed because of loss of digestive efficiency.
  • Use of pre- & probiotics in senior feeds can aid in gut health and the digestion of fiber.
  • Does the feed have the ability to be served as a mash? Not only are senior feed mashes highly palatable, but they also kelp keep the senior horse hydrated.

Below are the results of a recent feed trial. Cleo is an 18 year old Quarter Horse mare. We changed the diet from a maintenance level feed to senior feed. The results after 6 weeks were impressive!

This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.

This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.

This is Cleo, on her "maintenance" feed diet.

This is Cleo, on her “maintenance” feed diet.

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Posted in Changing Horse Feed, Senior Horses
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Selenium Levels for Horses

Henry MusclesAs a horse owner, you may have heard about selenium levels and that you need to be concerned with them.  But why?

Technical reason: selenium is a key trace mineral in equine diets because it is a major component of glutathione peroxidase, which is an anti-oxidant enzyme, as well as several other enzymes.

  • Selenium also has an important interaction with Vitamin E.
  • Selenium and Vitamin E together are essential for both anti-oxidant benefits and for reducing the risk of certain muscle problems such as white muscle disease and exertional rhabdomyolysis syndrome.

Why you should care: Because selenium can also be toxic at higher intakes, it is also the only trace minerals regulated by the FDA.  Most of the U.S. is selenium deficient in soils (and thus toxicity is not an issue in those areas), but there are some areas with high selenium in the soil where some plants accumulate unacceptable levels of selenium in forage and may cause chronic toxicity. If you aren’t sure about the levels where you live, ask area horse owners, farmers, or your local extension office.

How much is in the feed?

In the case of selenium, the label guarantee, which is “added” selenium, is listed in ppm = parts per million = milligrams per kilogram. The actual content will be slightly higher as there is naturally occurring selenium in the ingredients. The labeling requirement is based on added selenium per FDA guidelines.

  • Premium horse feeds are commonly tagged at 0.6 ppm selenium, or 0.6 mg/kg of feed.
  • This equals 0.273 mg per pound of feed. (0.6 mg/kg divided by 2.2 kg/lb. = 0.273 mg per pound of feed)
  • Thus, if you feed 5 lbs per day of a 0.6 ppm selenium feed, you are providing 1.365 mg of selenium per day.

FDA requirement limits added selenium in feed to a maximum of 0.3 ppm concentration in total diet. This is why the maximum on complete feeds – feeds that include enough fiber to replace the hay/pasture portion of the diet – is 0.3 ppm.

On feeds which can be fed at a maximum of 50% of the diet (not that horse owners generally feed it that high), the limit is 0.6 ppm added selenium. Chronic selenium toxicity occurs at about 10X the FDA limit, so there is a pretty good safety margin.

How much does a horse actually need?

A horse’s basic daily requirement for selenium is 1-3 mg per day.  Some chronic selenium symptoms might appear above 10-15 mg/head per day.

To figure out what your horse is consuming, have your hay/pasture supply tested, and then add the amount it is consuming from the hay, to the amount it is consuming from any feed & supplements, and you will know if you need to make any adjustments to your horse’s overall diet.  Depending on your area, it may also be useful to consider intake from water sources.

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Manage Pasture to Help Control Horse Feed Costs

Widgy in Grass_BRManaging pasture can be a very important tool in controlling feeding cost for all livestock, particularly horses being kept on small acreages.  If pasture is going to provide a substantial amount of the required nutrition for a horse, it takes about 2-3 acres per 1100 pound adult horse.

There are a number of key steps in managing pastures, particularly small acreages

  1. Do not turn the animals out on pasture too early in the spring.  Forages need some growth to recover from the winter and allow root systems to develop.
    1. Do not turn animals out on tall cool season grasses such as brome grass and orchard grass until the plants are 8-10 inches tall.
    2. If pastures are short cool season grasses such as Kentucky blue grass or rye grass, the plants should be 6-8 inches tall before grazing.
    3. If you do not know your pasture composition, err on the side of allowing adequate growth before grazing.
  2. Remove animals from the pasture when plants are grazed down to 3-4 inches in height.  Grazing too early or too long and allowing animals to eat the grass off too close to the ground will kill the grass and turn the pasture into a dirt lot where the only green plants are weeds, requiring expensive renovation.
  3. If you have limited acreage, consider purchasing some temporary fencing so that you can rotate the pasture.
    1. The outer fencing should be a safe, permanent fencing.
    2. You can cross fence the pastures with temporary fencing such as capped steel posts and appropriate electric wire.
    3. By allowing the animals to graze one section, then moving them to another section to allow the first section to recover, total pasture yield can be increased substantially, helping to control total feed costs.
    4. Clip and drag the pastures after you pull the animals off to control weeds and control parasites and flies.
  4. Make certain that fresh clean water is available at all times and that salt is available at all times.  If you are not feeding a balanced horse feed or ration balancer, offer appropriate mineral free choice as well.
  5. If space is very limited, keep a dry lot area where animals can be fed and watered to prevent areas of pasture from being overgrazed.
  6. Check with your local extension team for additional recommendations for your area and for recommendations on fertilizing pastures.  Dr. Krishona Martinson at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN has published some excellent guidelines for pasture management.

A small investment in supplies to allow pasture to be managed and rotated can pay for itself in higher pasture yields.  Managing the pastures and selecting the right feeds can help manage total yearly costs as well as improve animal health and condition.

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Posted in Hay/Pasture, How To
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