Pasture Management – How to Prepare for Fall

Managing pasture can be a very important tool in controlling feeding cost for all livestock, including 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 1,100 pound adult horse.

Even with adequate acreage, weather conditions can limit pasture regrowth and decrease the amount of forage available.  Avoiding over-grazing is important for both the pasture and for the animals.   Keep the following in mind:

  1. Remove animals from the pasture when plants are grazed down to 3-4 inches in height. Grazing  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, potentially requiring expensive renovation.   Also, if animals eat the grass too close to the ground on sandy ground, the risk of sand colic may increase.  Animals may also consume potentially toxic weeds if no other forage is available.
  2. If you have limited acreage, consider purchasing some temporary fencing so that you can rotate the pasture. The outer fencing should be a safe, permanent fencing.  You can cross fence the pastures with temporary fencing such as capped steel posts and appropriate electric wire.  By allowing the animals to graze one section, then moving them to another, total pasture yield can be increased substantially, helping to control total feed costs and improve pasture health.  Clip and drag the pastures after you pull the animals off to control weeds, parasites and flies.
  3. As pasture declines, you will need to adjust the amount of forage that is offered to maintain dry matter intake and nutrient intake. If the forage available is lower protein and lower energy than the pasture has been, you may have to adjust the concentrate portion of the diet. If you are using a ration balancer, you may need to move to the higher feeding rates.  If the higher feeding rates do not maintain Body Condition Score and Topline Score, you may need to switch to a different feed to allow higher feeding rates.  It is essential to monitor both Body Condition Score and Topline Score.
  4. Declining pasture quality can be a particularly serious issue for young growing horses, pregnant mares and senior horses.
  5. 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 feed or ration balancer, offer appropriate mineral free choice as well.
  6. 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.

Managing the pastures and selecting the right feeds as pastures change can help manage total yearly costs as well as improve animal health and condition.

Biosecurity Considerations for Reducing EPM Risk

EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis) is a moderately common neurological disease. In the late 1980’s the parasitic organism was identified as Sarcocystis neurona and an antibody test was developed.  Sarcoscystis falcutula has also been identified as potential cause of the condition and is less common.

Sarocystis neurona is now known to be present throughout the Western Hemisphere. The opossum has been determined to be a host within the cycle, with birds acting as intermediaries for the parasite. The incubation period for the disease is still unknown.

EPM affects different neurons throughout the neurological system and can result in dragging or spastic gaits. One side of the body may be affected, but not the other. If it affects the cranial nerves, the horse may have problems eating or drinking, have facial twisting, or undergo changes in the position of the eyes and ears.

Severely affected horses may become recumbent and have seizures.

Diagnosis of EPM is based upon finding antibodies or a DNA detection test from either blood or cerebrospinal fluid.  There are still some challenges with accurate diagnosis.

A vaccine was developed, but has not been verified as effective at last report.

Biosecurity and Feed Security

It is very important to reduce the risk of horses consuming forage, water or feed that has been contaminated by opossums or any animals that may have consumed opossums.

Forage should be stored as securely as possible to minimize risk of contamination by fecal material and feeding management should be designed to reduce risk of contamination by opossums.

Pelleting and processing feed reduces/eliminates the risk of EPM transmission in feed or supplements. The feed should be securely stored in covered containers to prevent contamination on farm as contamination on the farm is a real risk.

To the degree possible, water sources should also be secure.  A challenge with natural water sources!

Avoid having cat food or other food sources that attract opossums in the barn and stable areas.

Good biosecurity and sanitation are keys in reducing the risk of EPM for horses.

Keep the Weed Seeds out of the National Parks, National Forests and National Grasslands

As horseback riders seek to take advantage of riding in the great outdoors, they need to be aware that National Parks, National Forests and National Grasslands will generally have a policy in place that any forage or feed that is brought into the area needs to be weed seed free.  Because there can be a hefty penalty, with fines up to $10,000 or 6 months of jail time,  it is highly advisable that riders check in advance the requirements of specific locations prior to bringing feed or hay into the location.

The North American Weed Management Association (NAWMA) has established the accepted standards for forage or unprocessed hay as well as for cubes and pellets made of forages.  The forage and unprocessed hay products will normally be identified by a bale tag or a twine of particular color.  The price for these products will normally be higher than for uncertified products.  Cubes and pellets will generally be identified by a certification tag indicating compliance with the North American Weed Free Forage Certification Program.

Riders can make a choice between long stem forage and pelleted or cubed products based on their feeding requirements and how the animals will be managed.

Commercially processed feed pellets and grain products that are processed by fine grinding along with heat treating and pelleting normally do not need to be certified as the processing is considered adequate to prevent the presence of viable weed seeds.

It is fairly common for riders to use both a certified forage/forage product and a commercially produced feed to meet the needs of animals while riding or packing into these great outdoor opportunities.  As always, free choice salt and fresh clean water needs to be a part of the feeding program.

The basic principle of not introducing any non-native or noxious weeds needs to be carefully implemented to preserve the wonderful riding opportunities that are available.

There are multiple options to consider as a trip is planned.  Various web sites can provide information about sources of forages in a given location.  The website www.trailmeister.com is a very useful resource as well as the state Crop Improvement Associations and the specific National Park, National Forest or National Grassland web sites.

Keep the Mold Away – Tack and Feed Room Ventilation

As we deal with heat and humidity, attention is often appropriately focused on the comfort of our animals.  We sometimes neglect to think about the impact of heat and humidity on our tack and on our feed.  Controlling humidity and temperature in areas where tack and feed are stored is also very important for the success of an equine operation.

Tack that is exposed to high humidity and warm temperatures can mold/mildew very quickly with resulting damage to leather.  The following steps might be useful to consider:

  1. Make certain there is adequate airflow thru the tack room. This may require having windows that allow ventilation or the addition of fans to move air thru the tack room.  Locate the air intake and air exhaust areas so that air flows thru the room, not just at ceiling level.  If you install exhaust fans, consider where the air will be coming in to reduce exposure to dust or contaminants.
  2. Do not store wet saddle pads/blankets in the same area as leather tack. Do not put pads/blankets over the top of saddles on saddle racks.
  3. Make certain there is space between saddle racks to allow airflow between saddles.
  4. Consider using a de-humidifier in the tack room. If possible, install so it drains automatically instead of requiring manual emptying of the water container.
  5. If design and electrical wiring are adequate, consider a window air conditioner for the tack storage area.

Feed room ventilation is also important.  Feed may absorb moisture from the air and mold even if it arrives at the farm at a suitable moisture level from the store or the feed plant.  If possible, store feed out of direct sunlight as moisture migration can take place within feed bags, causing moisture to accumulate in one area of the bag.  This is also a problem when feed is stored in bulk bins.  The feed on the sunny side can heat up and cause moisture migration in the bin.  The bin should be ventilated to allow moisture to escape but must be set up so moisture does not enter when it rains!  Depending on material, bins can be painted with reflective color to help reduce heating.

During warm, humid weather, do not buy large quantities of feed at one time and make certain the feed is rotated properly so that bags are used up and bins are emptied and cleaned/inspected regularly.  If bags are stacked, make certain that they are stacked on pallets or material that prevents moisture contact/accumulation at the bottom of the stack.  Stacking bags directly on top of concrete or dirt floor makes the bottom bags very prone to getting damp and molding.

Pest control is also important for both tack and feed storage areas.  Rodents can quickly damage tack and can contaminate feed.  Keeping the areas clean and using commercial pest control may be one option to consider.

Keeping both tack and feed protected from excess heat and humidity is an important part of barn design and barn management!

Drink Up! Keeping Your Horse Well Hydrated

Many regions of the country have been experiencing high heat and humidity this summer, so naturally, the concern of proper hydration comes to mind. Reduced water consumption in horses may impair performance and increase the risk of impaction colic. Additionally, horses may sweat more profusely, resulting in faster dehydration. So what’s a horse owner to do?

The first key element is to make certain that horses have ready access to clean, palatable, cool water at all times or at very frequent intervals. Horses will normally consume about 1 gallon of water per 100 lbs body weight, so an 1100 lb horse will require a minimum of 11 gallons of water per day. This quantity can increase substantially during periods of exercise, high heat/humidity or for lactating mares.

Some tips to keep in mind to keep water consumption up:

  • Horses do not like to consume warm water in warm temperatures. Automatic waterers or large tanks, located in the shade and cleaned regularly, may be good options. If water is supplied in buckets, they need to be cleaned regularly and re-filled regularly.
  • If you are traveling to a show or other competition, it is essential to monitor water consumption, particularly if temperature conditions change.
  • It is routine in many barns to flavor the water with something like wintergreen or peppermint at home so that you can flavor the water in new facilities to match the home water.  Read here for tips on training your horse to drink water away from home.
  • Do NOT use soft drinks or any material containing caffeine as these can trigger positive drug tests.
  • Taking horses to facilities with chlorinated water can sometimes reduce water consumption without proper precautions.

The second key element is to make certain that salt is offered free choice. Things to keep in mind for salt consumption in horses include:

  • Horses require 1-2 ounces of salt per day, and this can increase to 6 ounces per day with exercise in hot weather conditions.
  • Loose salt is consumed more readily than salt blocks in many cases.
  • When evaluating the total diet for salt consumption, commercial feeds normally contain 0.5-1.0% salt. It is not typically any higher than this, due to problems with palatability.
  • If a horse has been salt deficient or is bored, they may over-consume salt while in a stall.
  • Additional electrolytes, commercial or personal recipe, may be used per directions before, during and following completion, but care must be taken to ensure that the horses are drinking adequate water. Administering electrolytes to a horse that is not drinking properly, or allowing a horse to over consume salt without adequate water, can lead to electrolyte imbalances. If electrolytes are added to the water, plain water should be offered also.

Horses need to be offered water throughout the day at a competition, and should be re-hydrated following exertion. They cannot cool out and recover properly without being re-hydrated. Keeping horses properly hydrated and maintaining electrolyte balance is extremely important in order to make a safe transition from cool temperatures to summer time and competition.

Hazard in the Water – Blue-Green Algae

Current weather and water conditions in many parts of the country have created conditions favorable for the rapid growth of Blue-Green Algae.  These primitive organisms are actually algae-like bacteria instead of being true algae and are also referred to as Cyanobacteria.  They grow rapidly and may produce the pea-soup green color in some bodies of water, along with some foul odors.  These rapid growth periods, called “blooms”, most frequently occur when there is a combination of warm weather, intermittent or limited rainfall and an accumulation of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen.  The planktonic groups produce the pea green water while the mat-forming groups produce dark mats that start on the bottom and float to the surface.  The planktonic species (Anabena, Aphanizomenon and Microcystis) are believed to be most likely to produce toxins which can be harmful or fatal to animals when ingested. (Fact Sheet on Toxic Blue-Green Algae, Purdue University, Carole A. Lembi)

The blooms of Cyanobacteria tend to accumulate on the downwind side of pond and may look like swirls of green paint.  The toxins may be ingested when animals drink the water or when they lick their coats after being in the water.  Animals are more likely to consume the water if fresh water supplies are limited from other sources.  Any animals that drink the water during a period when toxins are being produced may be affected, but toxins are not always produced when there is a bloom.

Providing a source of fresh, clean, safe drinking water is the best way to avoid causing animals to consume questionable water.  If pets go swimming, they should be cleaned off before they have a chance to lick their coats.

Toxic symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, rash and skin irritation.  There are generally two types of toxins, neurotoxins that affect the central nervous system and hepatotoxins which affect the liver function.

Preventing run-off of nutrients into ponds and lakes is also important to help reduce the risk of these algae blooms.  Prolonged drought conditions in some areas have also increased the concentration of nutrients in the remaining water in ponds and lakes.

While not all “blooms” may produce toxins, avoiding exposure to or consumption of suspect water is recommended.  More information is available from local and state pollution control sites or extension sites.

There is a useful article in Feedstuffs, June 15, 2018 by Dr. A.J. Tarpoff that describes issues and recommends testing procedure if you think that you might have an issue.   Extension Specialists may also have local information and may be able to direct you to testing options in your state.

Improving a Horse’s Topline

If you’re like most horse owners, as soon as you recognize there is a problem with your horse, your mind immediately searches for a solution. You may ask yourself, “how do I fix this?” and, more importantly, “how fast can I fix this?” The good news is that topline can be improved in a short amount of time. In fact, once a feeding program that provides the correct amino acids in the right balance is implemented (utilizing feeds that include Topline Balance), you may be able to start seeing results in your horse’s topline in as little as a few weeks! Factors to keep in mind to see the fastest results:

  • Feed the correct product. Products that include Topline Balance are: SafeChoice productsProForce products, and Empower Balance products.
  • Feed the product at the recommended rate: Do the math on the feed tag and figure out exactly how much feed your horse should receive for their bodyweight and work level. Don’t estimate!
  • Next weigh it in a scoop and then ensure it’s fed every day; consistency is key!
  • If others are in charge of feeding your horse, make sure they understand the importance of the right amount of feed every day.
  • Assess your horse’s topline and body condition monthly or more and adjust within the feed tag directions as needed, remember forage will change cutting to cutting.

Decreases in topline condition

It can happen faster than you may think possible, but topline condition can start to deteriorate as quickly as it improves – in as little as a few weeks. Once specific amino acids are absent from the diet or supplied in a less bioavailable form, the muscles begin to atrophy, which is quickly noticeable in a simple visual observation. 

Frequency of evaluation

To ensure you are making progress improving your horse’s topline, evaluation should take place on a regular basis – every 30-60 days is a good starting point for maintenance. We recommend more frequent evaluation for horse owner’s closely monitoring their feeding program in order to affect a change.

For more information, and a customized assessment of your horse’s topline, visit Topline Balance.

Tick Tock, Tick Season Is upon Us

Ticks, horses, people and pets. The the last three are great, but what about those ticks? How could they be avoided or prevented from attaching. How to support prevention of the tick borne illnesses they cause for horses, humans and dogs? Most commonly, Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease is among the most talked about tick borne illness. Lyme disease is characterized by symptoms caused from the spirochete bacteria Borrellia burdgorferi transmitted by the deer tick or Ixodes species.

In a horse, human or pet a tick bite area may appear hot, red, or inflamed. A horse may show symptoms of decreased activity, appear painful of lame, signs may also include kidney issues or no symptoms at all.

There are many sprays, tapes, ultrasonic devices, etc. on the market to try to prevent ticks from attaching. For horses and dogs, vaccine companies have created Lyme vaccinations. When administered at appropriate intervals animals are able to build an immune response to help in preventing an infection. There is no perfect vaccine and this is one step in prevention for this one major disease transmitted by ticks. Ticks are able to transmit other diseases such as piroplasmosis and ehrlichiosis to name a few additional diseases; preventing a tick bite is the first step.

What about an equine pre-purchase Lyme titer? In a study of Lyme titers performed in 2016, 33% are Lyme positive on the test with no clinical signs.  The best method of prevention is avoiding ticks and avoiding tick bites.

Horse “fly-sprays” often contain permethrin, many homemade recipes have proven scientifically ineffective and should be used with caution. For humans it is recommended to treat clothing, foot wear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, stronger concentrations do not have more power, rather they will last longer over time on clothing. It is a good idea to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered repellents. Check your horse and yourself for ticks frequently and showering off after being outdoors. The mane, tail and flank are common places where ticks can attach on a horse. It is a myth that ticks are only found in long grasses, rather ticks can climb onboard a horse leg, lip, tail hair by resting on a short blade of grass and grasping on with its first pair of legs outstretched.  Ticks do not discriminate as to which host they hop a ride for a good lunch, they will ride on a dog, horse or human and if the opportunity presents will transfer from one to the other and enjoy “dinner”.

To remove a tick use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull straight away from the skin, avoid twisting. Make sure the mouth parts are fully removed. Do NOT use a hot match, petroleum jelly or nail polish remover to try to remove a tick. This will cause the tick to regurgitate back into the host and can cause irritation to the skin. After removal clean area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. After tick is removed, either stick them to sticky tape or place in a jar of rubbing alcohol. Tossing them onto the ground creates the opportunity for the tick to attach again or to another animal.

Ticks are able to survive in fairly cool conditions as well as fairly warm conditions. Heading into summer a myth is that once it is finally hot out the ticks are no longer out or once the weather cools ticks cannot survive. Ticks are amazing creatures at survival and can still grab on for a blood meal in some extreme temperatures.

Avoiding, preventing and checking for ticks is key in reducing the chances of a tick borne illness.

Ask the Expert: Diseases at Horse Events? Help!

Question:
I have seen posts all over social media about horses getting sick after attending competition events. How can I protect my horse?

Answer:
It is critical to practice biosecurity measures. If you breakdown the word biosecurity, bio means “life” and security means “protection”. Life protection!
Another way to define biosecurity is to prevent or reduce the introduction of disease. In other words, you want to keep the disease away from your farm, or if you do have a sickness, keep it from spreading.

Biosecurity measures to practice include:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to ensure horses are current with recommended vaccines.
  2. Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.
  3. Wash your hands frequently!
  4. Clean and disinfect stalls at fairgrounds and show facilities. Spray-on commercial disinfectants are readily available. Diluted bleach (8 ounces bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant; it works best on a surface that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  5. Do not share feed and water buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, or manure forks. Disinfect these items after arriving home from an event.
  6. Limit exposure. Do not allow horses to have nose to nose contact. Limit the general public’s contact with your horses and your contact with other horses.
    Upon returning home from a show, wash your hands, shower, and change clothing and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  7. Isolate returning horses from resident horses for 14 days. Monitor horses daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Written by Abby Neu, MS, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Horse Manure Management and Composting

Photo credit: Oregon State University Extension

While not the most glamorous subject associated with horse ownership, manure management is a very important and inevitable part of responsible horse ownership, regardless of how many horses you own or manage.

Manure is considered a valuable resource by many farmers for its nutrient values and soil amending characteristics. This summary addresses characteristics of horse manure as well as techniques for handling, storing, composting and utilizing horse manure.

For calculation purposes, the average 1,000 pound horse eats roughly 2% of its body weight and drinks 10 to 12 gallons of water each day. This will vary with individual metabolism, activity level and the weather. On average, that same 1,000 pound horse will excrete 56 pounds of manure (feces and urine combined) each day, which adds up to more than 10 tons annually. In fresh manure, there is roughly 0.2 pounds of nitrogen (N), 0.03 pounds of phosphorus (P) and 0.06 pounds of potassium (K) in each pound of manure.

Storing manure typically consists of: short-term stockpiling, permanent stockpiling, composting or spreading the manure. Stockpiling is a pile of solid manure that is left undisturbed and may or may not be added to. Stockpiling can occur on a temporary or permanent site. There are existing state guidelines for stockpiling manure that should be researched prior to establishing or constructing a manure stockpile.

Composting is managed, accelerated decomposition of organic materials by microbes (i.e. bacteria, fungus and molds). The goal of the composting process is to provide these microbes with an optimum environment that encourages manure decomposition quickly and efficiently. If left on its own, a manure pile will eventually decompose, but nutrients will be lost, and unwanted organisms may infest the remaining compost.

The article Horse Manure Management and Composting further discusses your options for using the manure on your farm. It also outlines items that should be addressed in your farm’s manure management plan.

Your local Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is also a valuable resource for helping you understand local ordinances and regulations. They may also have programs in place to help you establish best manure management practices.

Summarized by Abby Neu, MS, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.