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Interpreting Feed Test Results

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   November 12, 2011 08:23


by:Chelsey Carruthers, M.Sc., AAg

Regional Livestock Specialist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Watrous

It’s that time of year again when cows are coming in from pasture, and beef producers must begin the task of planning their winter feeding strategy. A great first step is to have forages tested by an accredited laboratory. A standard forage quality test provides the information necessary to decide whether the feed you have available will meet the requirements of the cow herd during the winter months. You can then decide when each feed can be used to best meet the cows’ requirements, and if supplementation of energy, protein, or minerals will be necessary.

Forage tests provide information on the moisture, energy, fiber, protein and mineral content of feeds. These may be reported on an “as is” or “as received” basis, or on a “dry matter” basis. Dry matter values are reported as if the feed contained no moisture, and this is important when comparing values between feeds that have different moisture contents. The values discussed in this article are reported on a dry matter basis.

Energy is reported in feed tests in a number of ways: total digestible nutrients (TDN), digestible energy, and relative feed value. TDN is the most common, and is expressed as a percentage. On average, mature beef cows require 55 per cent TDN in mid pregnancy, 60 per cent in late pregnancy, and 65 per cent after calving in order to maintain their body condition. Energy requirements will be higher during very cold weather, for cows that are underweight, and for young cows that are still growing. Average quality hay often contains 50 to 60 per cent TDN, while poor quality hay can be less than 45 per cent. Straw contains 35 to 40 per cent TDN. If cows are fed a diet containing only forage, that forage must meet their energy requirement. If not, feeds higher in energy (such as grain or pellets) can be added to the diet to provide the energy required.

The fiber content of feed is related to the amount of energy that is available to the cows. Fiber is expressed on forage test results as neutral detergent fiber (NDF). A higher number indicates more fiber in the feed. When NDF is higher than 60 per cent the feed will be very fibrous and bulky. Cows may have trouble physically consuming enough feed to meet their energy requirement.

Protein is measured as crude protein (CP). Cows require approximately 7 per cent CP in mid-pregnancy, 9 per cent in late pregnancy, and 11 per cent after calving. Forages will vary greatly in protein content, but in general, legume hay such as alfalfa or clover will be higher protein than grass hay, and cereal green feeds will be lower in protein than hay. Grains are also relatively low in protein. Protein is often supplemented in the form of pellets or lick tanks, which can be used to increase the protein content of the total diet. It is important to keep in mind that protein supplements will not compensate for forage that does not contain sufficient energy.

Most feed tests also report the mineral content of the forage. Calcium and phosphorus are the most important minerals to consider. The complete diet should contain at least 0.25 per cent calcium and 0.17 per cent phosphorus. More importantly, the diet should contain at least 1.5

times more calcium than phosphorus. Minerals often need to be supplemented using one of the many products available. Speaking with a nutritionist can solve the mystery of which mineral supplement to use with your forages.

As with many things, the first step to planning a winter feeding program is to know what you have to work with. Forage testing is a valuable tool for determining the most effective way to use your feed resources.

For more information on this or other topics please call me at (306) 946-3237, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 or visit our website: http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/

 

Cold Weather Adaptations Keep Horses Comfortable

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   March 10, 2011 18:05

 

By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 17, 2011

“It’s really cold outside, it’s starting to snow again, and the wind is howling. Is my pasture-kept horse all right?” In all but the most extreme winter weather, the answer is “Yes.” Most horses are well-suited for staying healthy and comfortable in cold weather as long as owners provide them with proper care.  Some horses may need additional help staying warm in bitterly cold, wet, windy weather.

The equine hindgut acts as an enormous furnace where the digestion of hay and other fibrous feeds produces a constant supply of heat from microbial fermentation. Owners need to be sure horses have an adequate supply of hay, increasing the amount as the temperature drops.

More heat can be produced by activity, including shivering. Pastured horses can be seen playing, bucking, and running from time to time, and this muscular exertion helps to keep body temperature stable. Short bouts of shivering do the same thing. Horses that shiver continuously in cold, wet weather probably need more hay, possibly a bit more grain, and access to shelter.

The horse’s winter coat is thick and dense. As long as it stays dry, it provides superior insulation. Natural oil tends to let rain and snow slide off, keeping moisture from penetrating deep into the coat. If you see snow building up on your horse’s back or rump, you are looking at proof that his body heat is not escaping through the hair to melt the snow.

When rain or wet snow manages to soak through to the horse’s skin, heat will be lost as the coat’s insulating ability decreases. Under these conditions, horses may need to wear a well-fitting waterproof blanket or have access to a windbreak or covered shelter.

Though horses sometimes stand in deep snow, their lower limbs and hooves almost never suffer damage from the cold. This is because the legs below the knees and hocks are made up mostly of bones and tendons, tissues that don’t freeze easily. In extreme cold temperatures, blood-shunting mechanisms in the hooves alter circulation patterns to preserve body warmth. 

Regardless of the adaptations mentioned above, some horses may need additional help staying warm in bitterly cold, wet, windy weather. Very old, very young, sick, or extremely thin horses may need to be blanketed or brought into deep-bedded stalls to keep them from becoming dangerously chilled.

to read further:  http://www.equinews.com/article/

Scratches, Ringworm and Moose Ticks-Western Canada’s most common (and not so common) skin conditions.

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   March 2, 2011 21:30
Western Canada’s most common (and not so common) skin conditions.

         Dr. Sue Ashburner still shudders when she describes the sight of one of her equine patients covered with thousands of bloodsucking ticks last winter. “We occasionally see wood ticks on horses during May and June, but I didn’t know what kind of ticks would be on horses in February,” admits Ashburner, a veterinary clinician at WCVM’s Large Animal Clinic in Saskatoon, Sask.
               Dr. Lydden Polley, a parasitologist at the College, soon solved the mystery: he identified the parasites as Dermacentor albipictus (Acari: Ixodidae), more commonly known as moose ticks.
                “It was the first time I ever saw a horse in this area covered in moose ticks,” says Ashburner. “That’s what I like about working on dermatology cases. There are always new things, and those cases challenge you to find out what you’re dealing with. Sometimes we never know the cause, but we usually know how to treat what we see.”
               At least once a week, Ashburner gets a chance to use her dermatological know-how on equine patients living around Saskatoon — an area that’s populated with horses of all breeds and disciplines. The clinic’s number of dermatology cases usually rises in the spring after horses shed their coats and owners suddenly notice lumps, bumps, growths or parasites that have shown up during the winter.
               Thanks to advances in diagnosing and treating equine skin conditions, veterinarians can offer clients more effective therapies and more understanding of what causes skin problems to develop. Most clients call for advice or to arrange for a veterinary visit, but some still insist on using their own home remedies that often makes Ashburner’s job tougher. “After they’ve scraped it, treated it or used ointments that burn the skin, it doesn’t look anything like it originally did. These remedies usually just make things worse.”
               While Ashburner isn’t expecting another moose tick infestation case soon, here are some common skin conditions that she and veterinary pathologist Dr. Ted Clark regularly see out in the field and in the pathology laboratory. Their comments accompany some additional information gleaned from the text, Equine Dermatology, co-authored by Drs. Danny Scott and William Miller Jr. 
              
• Dermatophytosis or ringworm is a fungal infection that’s transmitted by contact with infected hair, bedding, tack and grooming equipment. Ashburner often diagnoses multiple cases of ringworm in young horses living in close quarters throughout the winter months: the infection often goes unnoticed until horses shed their winter coats.
               The most consistent clinical sign is one or many circular patches of alopecia (hair loss) with variable scaling and crusting. But horses may also develop the classic ring lesion with a healed centre and fine follicular papules and crusts on the ring’s edges. Lesions are usually multiple, and they’re most commonly found on the face, neck, the sides and girth. The lesions usually go away within three months, but veterinarians often use topical and systemic treatments to help their patients’ response to the infection, to reduce the spread of the fungus and to speed up the healing process.
 
• Sarcoids are the most common skin tumour of horses around the world. Veterinary researchers believe the cause of sarcoids is viral, and research has shown that bovine papillomaviruses (BVP) are commonly involved in sarcoid development. Lesions frequently show up in areas of a horse’s body after a wound or trauma, or they may also spread to other areas of the same horse or to other horses through biting, rubbing, tack, equipment and insects. Sarcoids occur anywhere on a horse’s body, but most lesions are found on the head, neck and ventral body surface. The lesions’ appearance can be verrucous (wart-like), fibroblastic (proud flesh-like), mixed verrucous and fibroblastic, and occult (flat).
               Sarcoids do not metastasize, and some tumours may disappear after several years. Depending on available resources, veterinarians can choose from surgical excision, cryosurgery, radio-frequency hyperthermia, laser therapy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or combinations of treatments. 
 
• Papillomas present in two different forms: as warts (viral papillomatosis) or as aural plaque (ear papillomas). Viral papillomas spread through direct contact or indirectly through contact with contaminated equipment or housing. Young horses often develop clusters of warts, usually on their muzzles or lips. “They bother the owner much more than horses,” says Ashburner. “If left alone, they tend to go away and you can’t rush them. People always buys potions and lotions, but they usually make no difference.”
               Aural plaques — white-greyish crusts commonly found in horses’ inner ears — don’t respond very well to topical treatments, and they rarely go away. Fortunately, these lesions are only a cosmetic problem.
 
• Eosinophilic granuloma or nodular necrobiosis is an equine dermatosis most commonly seen in the spring and summer. These nodules are round, elevated, and occur as single or multiple lesions on the back, withers and neck. The lesions aren’t painful or itchy, and the overlying skin and hair coat are normal. Veterinarians can surgically remove one or several lesions, or treat multiple lesions with systemic glucocorticoids over several weeks. Some lesions undergo spontaneous remission in three to six months, while older or larger lesions must be surgically removed.
 
• Allergic reactions show up as anything from bumps and wheals in all shapes and patterns to angioedema (swelling) involving the muzzle, eyelids, under the belly, legs or the entire body. These reactions result from insect bites, plants, drugs or vaccines, a change in feed, bedding or the horse’s environment.
               Gathering a thorough medical history is how veterinarians usually track down the source, says Ashburner. “It could be caused by a minor environmental change, a sudden hatch of bugs in the area. It really pays off to ask a lot of questions.”
               Ashburner and her colleagues usually try to eliminate the source of hypersensitivity or generally treat the horse to try and decrease its immune response. “One treatment that has worked quite well is to feed the horse raw linseed oil: its Omega 3 fatty acids help to decrease the animal’s hypersensitive response in the skin. That seems to calm things down and it helps to make the other treatments work better.”
 
• Scratches or pastern dermatitis most commonly affects one or both hind limbs with varying levels of pain and itchiness. The condition initially shows up as erythema (dew poisoning), swelling and scaling on the pastern, then progresses to discharge, matting of hair and crusting.
               Veterinarians usually diagnose this problem when there’s abrasive mud in corrals, or when ice crystals are mixed in the snow and dirt. “We think the moisture content has something to do with it: something seems to set up the right environmental conditions to induce scratches, particularly in the spring,” says Ashburner, adding that the condition usually shows up on a white leg. 
               “It responds very well if treated early, but it’s often missed by the owners until the horse’s pastern is very sore or very swollen. And the longer they have it, the harder it is to treat.” Severe cases of scratches can also lead to a longstanding, immune-mediated infection called vasculitis that can take months to cure.
               If diagnosed early, the ideal treatment is to clean the area very well with mild soap (no abrasive cleaners) then remove as much of the scabby debris as possible. Clipping the hair can help to remove the scabs. “We keep the area dry and use a topical cream — a combination of antibiotic and steroid cream — to fight the mixed infection,” explains Ashburner.
               Clark adds that it’s important for veterinarians to be aware that scratches isn’t “one specific disease with one specific cause.” If certain horses or horse herds continue to be plagued by this type of dermatitis, practitioners need to look at the animals’ environment, their habits and what they’re used for to learn more about probable causes.
 
• Rain scald (dermatophilosis) is a bacterial skin infection that causes superficial, pustular and crusting dermatitis in horses. These lesions are most commonly found on horses’ rumps, saddle area, face and neck — or on pasterns, coronets and heels (in the form of scratches).
               The two most important factors that lead to rain scald are skin damage and moisture. The condition is often diagnosed in horses after intense rain, and when temperatures and humidity are high. Veterinarians on the Prairies don’t often see rain rot, but it’s a common problem in B.C. 
               While most cases of rain rot go away within a month, the best treatments include keeping the animal dry, removing crusts, and using topical treatments and using systemic therapy if the infection is chronic or severe. 
 
• Melanomas are malignant skin tumours that are most commonly — but not exclusively — found in grey or white horses over six years of age. Arabians, Percherons and Lippizaners commonly develop these tumours that are often found on the undersurface of the tail and the perianal region. Tumours can also be found on the lips, base of the ear, on the legs, or anywhere else on the horse’s body. The melanomas are usually firm, nodular to plaque-like, and they may or may not be alopecic (hair loss), hyperpigmented or ulcerated.
               Veterinarians can use surgical excision or cryotherapy to remove solitary tumours, but in most cases, the tumours require no treatment.
 
• Insect hypersensitivity: Western Canadian horse owners and veterinarians deal with fewer parasitic problems than in other parts of the world because of the region’s cooler climate, but insect hypersensitivity is still a common problem in the spring and summer months. Controlling insects and using anti-itching agents can help to manage insect hypersensitivity. The use of ivermectin, moxidectin and other dewormers has also helped to reduce the occurrence of conditions like sweet itch, says Ashburner.
               - Sweet itch or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD): The most important cause of equine insect hypersensitivity is Culicoides gnats (sandflies, no-see-ums, biting midges). Affected horses develop itchy, crusted papules on the top of their tails, along their mane, neck, withers, hips, ears and forehead. The disease’s itchy nature causes horses to scratch and chew at themselves, or they may rub against stalls or fences. That can lead to hair loss, ulcer development and damage to the animals’ manes and tails.
               - Mange is caused by mite infestations in horses’ coats. Owners and veterinarians usually see these infestations during the late winter and early spring, and contributing factors include crowding, prolonged stabling, and poor nutrition.
               - Lice infestations are commonly found in horses during the winter when the animals’ coats are longer and they may be in close contact with their herd mates. Biting lice are usually found on the horses’ dorsolateral trunk, while sucking lice prefer the animals’ mane, tail and fetlocks. Clinical signs include scaling, a dishevelled coat, hair loss and mild to moderate itchiness.
 
 
 Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Health Research Fund. Sign up for the Horse Health Lines e-newsletter at www.ehrf.usask.ca
 

                

Managing Horse Health through the Ages

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 3, 2011 08:14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horses are living long lives on acreages, farms and ranches across North America. That reality is reflected in statistics: it’s estimated that geriatric horses (animals more than 20 years old) account for somewhere between seven and 20 per cent of the entire equine population.

Owners and veterinarians are growing more aware that proper management and medical care can expand the lifespan of these horses. Many age-related issues like dental disease or parasite problems can also be prevented through regular veterinary care that’s provided throughout a horse’s life.

Dr. Katharina Lohmann is an internal medicine specialist and an associate professor in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Since many of her regular patients at the College’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital are equine senior citizens, Lohmann has gathered together a wealth of health management tips that are specific for geriatric horses.

The following story is an abridged version of a comprehensive article that Lohmann wrote for a national veterinary publication called Large Animal Veterinary Rounds that’s written at the WCVM. Visit www.canadianveterinarians.net/larounds (click on “Archives” for the complete title list) to read the entire article that was published in June 2007. Plus, make sure to read another helpful article called “Diseases Affecting the Geriatric Horse” (published in September 2007).

 

FOOD AND WATER

               A common challenge in caring for older horses is maintaining their weight. Several factors can cause a horse to lose pounds or adequate body condition: underfeeding, protein-calorie malnutrition, nutrient loss, the inability to eat, a lack of appetite, or a physiologic condition or illness. 

In many cases, it’s not enough to simply increase the amount of feed: it may take some research to understand the root of the problem. For example, if an older horse is underfed with protein-calorie malnutrition, the animal may have trouble eating the existing feed. In that case, you may need to find an alternate feed that’s easier for the horse to chew or digest. Or, if younger herdmates are preventing the senior horse from getting enough access to food, you may need to rearrange the herd and provide more accessible feed sources to avoid competition.

 

Q. How much fuel does a senior need?

               An older horse’s feeding regimen generally needs little or no adjustments as long as the animal maintains its weight and body condition. The National Research Council’s (NRC) energy recommendations for adult horses equates to about 7.5 to 11 kilograms of hay per day — depending on feed quality and energy content. However, these ration estimates are only a starting point and need adjusting to account for exercising, chronic illness or conditions, or cold weather.

Use body conditioning scoring systems or weight tapes to monitor an older horse’s body condition. While weight loss is a common concern, you also need to be sure that obesity doesn’t become a problem. 

 

Q. What are the best energy sources?

               While good quality forage is the ideal maintenance feed source, older animals with dental issues may need alternate feed to maintain body condition. Complete pelleted feeds meet all dietary requirements for senior horses including higher protein and fat content along with balanced mineral supplementation. If a horse doesn’t have a condition like recurrent choke, you can also feed supplemental hay to satisfy your horses’ chewing needs and to prevent boredom or bad vices.

Make the switch from hay to pellets gradually, and adjust feed amounts for the individual horse. As well, consider cost before deciding to make the switch: based on maintenance requirements, a horse will need about 15 to 20 pounds of complete feed per day.

One cheaper alternative: feed energy-packed beet pulp and grains or sweet feeds to senior horses along with their daily hay ration. But these high-carbohydrate diets aren’t recommended if a horse has chronic laminitis or insulin resistance (a common condition associated with pituitary dysfunction).

While supplemental feeds with higher fat content are available in feed stores, you can also add vegetable oils to your animals’ diets. You can feed up to two cups of oil to an average-sized horse in two or more daily feedings with small amounts of beet pulp and grain, but start with smaller volumes and gradually increase to oil amounts over two to three weeks.


Q. What are changes in digestive capacity?

The energy requirements of older horses may not change, but their ability to digest certain nutrients may be reduced. Geriatric horses may prefer feeds with higher protein concentrations with less fibre content, and it may also be advisable to increase mineral supplementation so the horse gets enough phosphorus. But be careful about making these kinds of changes if horses have been diagnosed with renal or liver disease.

               Since chronic parasitism can cause decreased feed digestibility in older horses, it’s important to maintain a good deworming program. If a horse has trouble maintaining its body condition, use extruded feeds or add Brewer’s yeast that has the added benefit of providing supplemental B-vitamins.

 

Q. What are changes in water intake?

               Dental pain or decreased thirst perception may cause older horses to reduce their water intake. That can cause low-grade chronic dehydration that leads to reduced exercise tolerance and a predisposition to impaction colic or renal dysfunction. As well, older horses can develop choke if they don’t drink enough water along with alfalfa pellets or other pelleted diets.

               How can you increase your horses’ water intake? One option is to soak their hay or roughage, but that’s not a long-term solution since it reduces the feed’s nutrient content. Adding salt to a horse’s diet may increase thirst, but animals must have free access to water and it’s advisable to test for adequate renal function before using this option. Another suggestion: feed mashes or slurries to geriatric horses — a good way to ensure that they ingest some fluids.

               If horses aren’t drinking as much because of oral pain, it’s important to correct the dental problem. Heated water sources will also help to reduce the pain of cold water on a sensitive mouth. If an older horse has a chronic condition like laminitis, it’s also important to make it as easy as possible to give the animal ready access to clean water.   

 

EXERCISE

Regular exercise can improve a horse’s mobility and slow down the effects of age on cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal function, but exercise regimens should be tailored to the horse. As well, be aware that older horses may be prone to overheating during strenuous exercise and may become dehydrated. As the horse’s body changes, it may also be necessary to adjust the animal’s regular saddle and tack.

Common causes of reduced athletic capacity in older horses include:                • musculoskeletal problems that are caused by the cumulative “wear and tear” of athletic activities versus acute conditions.

• decreased range of joint motion that can lead to further lameness problems if a horse tries to perform strenuous exercise.

• age-related changes in body conformation such as swayback.

Some musculoskeletal conditions in older horses can’t be cured. Instead, they require long-term management and pain control through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other systemic medications, supplements (such as glucosamine or hyaluronic acid) or arthrodesis of low-motion joints. Specialized trimming and shoeing can also be helpful in managing musculoskeletal issues.

 

PREVENTIVE CARE AND VACCINATIONS

               Geriatric horses may be more susceptible to infections based on declining immune responses with age, concurrent diseases, general debilitation and poor nutritional status. Researchers have demonstrated that declining immune responses with age primarily affect the adaptive immune responses, specifically antibody formation, while the innate immune system remains relatively stable throughout life.

Here are some recommendations about vaccination practices with older horses:

• routine vaccination against viral diseases like influenza should continue throughout life.

• continue vaccinating against life-threatening conditions like encephalomyelitis, tetanus and rabies. In contrast, some scientists recommend that owners discontinue vaccination against equine herpes virus infection since it may provide little benefit and may favour reactivation of latent infections.

• inactivated vaccines are thought to be safer for geriatric horses compared with attenuated live vaccines.

• optimizing a horse’s overall health status can help to achieve the maximum benefit of vaccination.

Since chronic parasitism is a common problem in geriatric horses, review your deworming strategies — especially in animals with a perceived loss of body weight and/or condition, or with pituitary dysfunction. Monitor parasite load in an older horse through regular examinations of body weight, body condition and fecal egg counts.

 

Lohmann, Katharina L. “Management and Care of the Geriatric Horse.” Large Animal Veterinary Rounds 7(5), 1-6. Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund. Visit www.ehrf.usask.ca to sign up for a free e-newlsetter.

 

 

Cold-weather Horse Care

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   January 25, 2011 09:14

 

 

 

 

 

Shirley and Jack Brodsky have bred and raised registered Paints on their 160-acre farm near Saskatoon, Sask., for nearly 20 years. That experience “in the field” has taught Shirley some valuable lessons about raising and caring for a large herd of multi-aged horses throughout the changing seasons.

               In the spring of 2009, Shirley took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about caring for older horses and about her feeding routines when temperatures drop. To read the article about Shirley’s 25-year-old broodmare Double Value (Val) and geriatric horse care, visit the Summer 2009 issue of Horse Health Lines.

 

Q. What’s your winter feeding regime for your horse herd?

With all of my horses, I try to follow what would be natural for them as closely as possible. I try to make sure the broodmares don’t get terribly fat: I don’t like to over-supplement them. They’re on unlimited hay all winter, and they run on an 80-acre pasture where they have shelter from the wind. They get salt, water, a supplement block every two weeks, and I sometimes feed them a little grain (whole oats) — but not all of the time. That’s about it. It’s not very fancy.

 

Q. How do you water your horses?

They have access to a heated water bowl all winter, and I feed them far from their water source so they have to come in to drink. That keeps the whole group active, and I think it’s good for digestion and social order. They definitely have a set pattern, and it’s the older mares that will decide when they go for water. They’ll bring in the whole herd for water and after they get their fill, they’ll linger for awhile. But if it’s windy, they’ll head back to the trees for shelter.

 

Q. What kind of shelter does your herd have during stormy winter weather?

I build a lot of wind shelters with large round straw bales. If the horses can get out of the wind and have lots to eat, they seem to do well — even during storms. I never blanket my horses: I don’t want to affect their winter hair coats. But if a horse’s hair coat isn’t thick enough for the weather, I might have to consider it.

 

Q. How do you prepare your horses for the winter? 

One thing I’ve learned from watching my herd is that all of the horses really want to load up on food in the fall. I think they’re instinctively trying to prepare for the winter by laying down a layer of fat before it gets too cold. I really try to ensure that the horses have all they can eat in the fall, because I hate to see older horses go into the winter on the thin side — they’re always behind and trying to catch up on their weight gain.

               Once the pastures start to burn off or if it’s dry, I’ll start hauling in hay. Depending on the weather, I may start feeding hay to the herd as early as August. For the first few bales, the horses eat as if they’ll never be fed again — but then they calm down when they realize that I’ll be bringing more.

               Again, I like to make the feeding transition easy so there are no health issues. The fall is often when colic cases occur because once the temperature drops, owners dump out large quantities of hay and their horses eat too much — leading to impaction.

 

Q. What kind of hay do you feed to your horses?

I feed them a mix of alfalfa, brome grass and a larger percentage of crested wheat. The hay is in large round bales that I unroll on the ground instead of putting them in round feeders. By doing that, I find that we don’t get as many respiratory problems plus we don’t get one or two dominant horses guarding the whole bale from others in the herd. The hay also tends to mix with the snow and take on some additional moisture. Plus, it allows the horses to eat more naturally — closer to how they regularly graze.

               The quantity really depends on the type of winter we’re having. The growing horses — the coming yearlings and two years olds — will eat as much as the pregnant mares. If it’s a long, cold winter, the herd will eat three times as much as they do during a mild winter. I always think of it being like stoking a furnace – you just keep throwing it in there.

               We try to give the horses the best quality hay that we can. Our hay is custom cut on our land, so our quality depends on the haying season from year to year. Sometimes, the weather doesn’t allow us to cut it when it’s ready and we end up with less than optimum hay. If the hay is marginal, I tend to supplement it with more grain.

               But truthfully, I think the horses do better on just plain old grass hay that may be more coarse. If they eat second-cut alfalfa — the rich, “dessert” type of hay — it just seems to go through them without producing much energy.

 

Q. The winter of 2008 was long and hard on some horses. What did you do to keep your herd healthy?

Toward the end of last winter, I started hauling oats out to the horses. I could tell that the older mares were feeling it because the cold went on so long. When we get in that situation, I do like to supplement them with grain plus beet pulp and some canola or corn oil — those are my favourite basic things. I soak the oats with beet pulp, oil and hot water: that just seems to give them a head start on digestion.

 

Q. Do you only supplement the older horses’ diet?

Everybody that runs together gets the same feed — young and old. When they have so much hair in the winter, it’s often hard to tell whether they’re losing weight, but I usually gauge it by the weather and their body score. After a few years, you get a sense of your animals’ condition and that’s the joy of having them around so long: you know when they’re doing well and you know when they’re not. 

 

Q. How long do you feed hay to your horses in the spring?

It depends. For instance, since this spring’s (Spring 2009) pasture wasn’t very good because of all the cold, they were getting hay as well. I give them free-choice hay until the pastures were good enough and they left the hay. That way, we never seem to get any serious health issues when horses move from eating hay to fresh grass. We’ve had a little bit of colic but not very much considering the number of horses that we’ve had over the years. It’s worked so far.

 

Q. What about horses that do too well on feed: do you ever run into problems with horses carrying too much weight?

Not with the older mares, but I do have a few youngsters that are getting heavy. One mare in particular gets too heavy on spring grass, so I need to watch her weight.

               If we are feeding grain to the herd, I feed them in a large circle instead of distributing the grain in a straight line or in corners. In this large of a herd, the dominant mare will push one and the whole circle will just continue to rotate. That helps to regulate how much feed each horse gets to eat.

 

Q. Do you still learn something new about your horses every year?

Oh, for sure. I’ve taken care of a herd for nearly 20 years, but I still feel pretty new at taking care of horses. I’ve worked closely with Dr. Sue Ashburner at the WCVM, and she got a lot of information for me from Dr. Frank Bristol — one of the WCVM’s retired professors who conducted equine behaviour research with large PMU (pregnant mares’ urine) herds. I also have different friends in the business who have been really good at answering my questions.

               The one thing I learned is that you can’t be pigheaded about dealing with horses — you have to be flexible and you have to think like a horse. Every year, we get groups of veterinary students and veterinary technology students coming out here to learn more about horse handling and safety. I always tell them, “Drive out of town and just find yourself a big group of horses. Because you can learn so much just by watching a group of horses living together.”

               Horses are herd animals that still operate on some really basic principles, and the problems start when we deviate away from that too much. I think we need to remind ourselves that we’re probably best to go back to what’s natural for them.

 

Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Health Research Fund. Sign up for the Horse Health Lines e-newsletter at www.ehrf.usask.ca.  

 

 

 

 

 

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cold weather horse care | General | geriatric horse care