Ask the Expert: When to Blanket a Horse

Question: I’m confused about blanketing my horse during the winter. I grew up with horses happily housed outside and un-blanketed during the winter months. The horses had access to shelter. I’m now boarding my horse and everyone at the barn blankets their horse and thinks I’m crazy not to! The horse does have access to shelter while outside. Can you please give me some advise on blanketing during the winter?

Answer: Most horses are blanketed for various reasons (i.e. show schedules) or due to personal preference of the owner. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  • There is no shelter available during turnout periods and the temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F
  • There is a chance the horse will become wet (not usually a problem with snow, but a problem with rain, ice, and/or freezing rain during cold weather)
  • The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse has not been acclimated to the cold (i.e. recently relocated from a southern climate)
  • The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as days are becoming shorter. Horses begin to lose their winter coat, and start forming their summer coat, as the days begin to get longer. Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Author: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Winter Is Coming – Are You Ready?

As many regions of the US are still experiencing fairly mild conditions, the inevitable is coming…winter. But with proper preparation and foresight, the extreme conditions can be slightly more bearable. Read on for some handy tips to keep you and your horse warm and cozy.

  • Blanketing:  In general, horses adapt well to decreasing temperatures by growing an insulating hair coat.  As long as they have shelter to get out of wind and precipitation, and are able to meet their increased energy (calorie) requirement, they do quite well and can tolerate sub-zero temperatures.
    • Keep in mind, the insulating value of the hair coat is compromised if it gets wet.  As temperatures drop below the critical temperature which is around 50°F on average, horses require more energy to stay warm, which is best provided by increasing the forage in their diet, not grain.
    • Blanketing may be a good option if:
      • There is no shelter during turn out
      • The horse’s hair coat is clipped
      • You have a very young or very old horse that might not be efficient at maintaining body temperature
      • The horse is under-conditioned or under weight
    • Finding a blanket that fits well, is waterproof, breathable, and the proper weight (light, medium, heavy fill) based on the conditions are important considerations.
    • If you already own blankets, dig them out before you need them and check to ensure they are clean, in good repair, and still fit your horse properly.
    • Never blanket a wet horse, or put a wet or damp blanket on a horse.
  • Don’t forget to periodically remove the blanket and assess body condition, and check for any rub marks that the blanket may be causing.
  • Winterizing the barn and trailer: Fall is a good time to prepare your barn and trailer for colder weather.  Cleaning, installing or checking insulation, replacing screens with windows, ensuring ventilation is adequate, insulating water sources, cleaning and safety-checking heaters and electrical systems, are recommended.
    • In the barn:
      • Check the roof for structural integrity and leaks
      • Clean gutters and install snow slides if needed
      • Plan for snow removal and de-icing walkways, if applicable.
    • In the trailer:
      • Check the floor, lights, brakes, and tires and replace or provide maintenance as needed.
      • Put together an emergency kit for you and your horse in the event of a break-down in winter weather.
      • If you are on the road frequently, consider road-side-service for equestrians in the event of an emergency.

Good luck, stay safe, and take a moment to enjoy the site of your horse playing in the snow if you are lucky enough to see some!

Ask the Expert: Estimating Winter Hay Needs

Question:  We recently purchased a farm and will be housing our two quarter horses over the winter; they will not ridden during the winter. Because I’ve always boarded my horses, I’m not sure how to estimate how much hay I will need for the winter.

Answer:  An adult horse at maintenance will consume between 2 – 2.5% of their bodyweight in feed (hay and grain) each day. For example, a 1,000 pound horse fed a 100% hay diet would consume 25 pounds of hay each day (using the 2.5% recommendation). From October 15 to May 15 (when there is no pasture in MN), the horse would consume about 5,350 pounds of hay or 2.7 tons. This would equal 107, 50 pound small square bales or six, 900 pound round bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled. It is critical to know the weight of the hay bales; not all bales weigh the same.

If the same horse was receiving five pounds of grain each day, their hay needs would be reduced to 20 pounds each day. From October 15 to May 15 the horse would consume about 4,280 pounds of hay or 2.1 tons. This would equal 86, 50 pound small square bales or five, 900 pound round bales during this time. Again, double this amount for two horses.

These estimates assume good quality hay is fed in a feeder to reduced hay waste. When feeding small squares-bales, hay waste when a feeder was not used (hay fed on the ground) was 13% compared to only 1 to 5% when a feeder was used.  When feeding large round-bales, not using a feeder resulted in 57% hay waste compared to 5 to 33% when a feeder was used. It’s always best to purchase extra hay to account for waste and because horses may require additional hay during the cold winter months.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Halloween Candy – Horses & Dogs

It’s the time of year when ghosts and goblins are out and about – there are Halloween costume contests and pumpkin spice everything. And the candy! So. Much. Candy.  But what’s safe for our horses and dogs? Can they participate in the fun or will the candy make them sick? Most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic to dogs – but would you know what to do if your pup helps himself to that bowl of peanut butter cups? And our horses LOVE sugary snacks, but what’s really safe for them to have and what’s not?

Let’s begin with dogs and chocolate. First off, if you know your dog has ingested chocolate, call your vet. Depending on the type of chocolate and the size of your dog, you may need to bring them in right away. Cocoa powder is the most toxic type of chocolate and white chocolate is the least. Depending on your situation, your vet might suggest you induce vomiting. If you aren’t sure if they ingested it, you should watch your dog for signs of chocolate toxicity – things like vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and restlessness.  When in doubt, go to your nearest emergency vet clinic.

Besides chocolate, really no candy is truly safe for your dog. Many other types of candy such as gum contain a sweetener called xylitol that can cause liver failure in dogs. It’s best to stick to dog specific treats if you want to give your dog something fun for the holiday.

As for horses, what can they have for a Halloween snack? Of course for any horses with insulin resistance diseases, gastric ulcers or other medical conditions, you should stick with only what your vet suggests for treats and feed. But will the occasional candy corn hurt your ‘normal’ horse? Probably not, but keep in mind candy (mints included) have more sugar in them than just one sugar cube, so keep the Halloween treats to a minimum and keep your horse away from anything chocolate. But the safest thing is just giving your horse a carrot, which he will love just as much!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Fall Check List for Broodmares – Verify Pregnancy & Plan for Next Year

One of the most important development periods in the life of a foal is the last six months of gestation when the foal is developing in the uterus of the mare. The importance of this period was recognized in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, when the Committee established that the nutrient requirements of the mare start increasing at the sixth month of gestation. Mares that foaled and were re-bred or were bred in the first four months of the calendar year may now be entering sixth month of gestation, so a fall check-up is an excellent idea.

The key elements of managing the pregnant mare are the following:

  1. Verify that all bred mares are pregnant. If there are open mares, now is the time to assess potential problems and prepare them for breeding the next season. If a mare was pregnant and has lost the pregnancy, now is the time to plan her program. If she needs to go under lights, that should happen about December 1. If Body Condition was an issue, now is the time to bring her up to desired score.
  2. Mares should be at about a body condition score 6 when they foal so that they have sufficient energy reserves for early lactation as well as to maintain condition for re-breeding. If they need to gain weight, now is an excellent time to gradually increase the energy intake of the diet so they will be in the desired body condition at foaling. If they are a bit too heavy, increased exercise or slight reduction in energy intake may be useful while still maintaining amino acid, vitamin and mineral intake for the developing foal. Drastic weight loss is NOT recommended!
  3. Lysine, methionine and threonine, the first three limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development. Amino acids are more critical than crude protein.
  4. The mare needs to be receiving adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium to provide minerals for the development of the foal and to build the foals own trace mineral reserves. Trace minerals are also critical for immune support. A good vitamin program is also essential.
  5. A regular health care program should be developed in conjunction with a veterinarian so the mare is protected herself and can also produce antibodies to protect the foal when it nurses and receives the colostrum that contains maternal antibodies.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but is unlikely to provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An appropriate ration balancer product may be used from month five to about month 10 or 11 of gestation to provide the missing nutrients. A feed designed for broodmares and foals can be introduced prior to foaling so that the mare is on the feed before she foals. This feed can then be increased after foaling to provide both the increased energy and the increased nutrients that are required for lactation, as well as providing nutrition for the foal when it starts to nibble on feed. Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available at all times.

Feeding the broodmare properly during gestation can help reduce the risk of developmental problems for the foal and help insure that the mare can be rebred in a timely manner to produce another foal the following year.

The Buddy System – Horses and Hens as Companions

Have you ever wanted to diversify your farm with companion species? If so, do you find yourself wondering, ‘What species go well together?’ Well that answer can be as simple as horses and hens! Horse owners can find multiple benefits in adding chickens to their operation. Not only are they fun to watch, but the chickens can serve a purpose!

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed separately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

 

Tips on Growing and Selling Horse Hay

Five horse hay growers in Minnesota share their tips on growing and selling horse hay, including how they monitor moisture throughout the baling process, how they work around the weather, what types of forages they grow and the investment it takes to grow and harvest hay. The farmers also share their advice for individuals wanting to grow and/or sell horse hay and their greatest challenges associated with growing and selling horse hay.

This video was shared with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Feeding Foals During Weaning and Post Weaning – An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Properly preparing the foals to be weaned can make the process much easier for everyone!

Keep in mind that weaning can be a high stress period for the foal. With that in mind, other high stress events should probably not take place at the same time as weaning.  The following management practices should be in place before the foal is weaned:

  1. Make certain that the foal is consuming at least 1 pound of a feed per month of age of a feed designed for foals and weanlings. If a foal is 4 months of age, it should be consuming at least 4 pounds of feed per day. If a foal is 6 months of age, it should be consuming at least 6 pounds of feed per day. Appropriate feeds will be 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar along with amino acid, mineral and vitamin fortification. Keep in mind that past 2 months of age, the milk produced by the dam is not sufficient to maintain adequate growth, so the foal should be creep fed if possible as not all mares allow the foal to eat with them. The day you wean the foal is NOT the day to change feeds! The foal should also have access to high quality forage, loose salt and fresh, clean water.
  2. Make certain that the foal has been vaccinated for appropriate diseases according to your health care plan. Vaccination is a stress on the animal, so you do not want to do this at the same time you wean the foal if that can be avoided.
  3. The foal should also be de-wormed prior to weaning.
  4. The foal should have been handled, taught to lead and have had its feet trimmed.

There are a number of ways to separate the foals from their mothers and many farms manage in different ways.

Monitor the new weanlings fairly closely and increase feed intake to maintain growth and body condition, feeding according to both weight and Body Condition Score. Some weanlings become a bit pot-bellied and look a little rough following weaning. This is frequently due to inadequate feed intake and too much forage. The cecum is not fully developed in the weanling, so it cannot digest forage as efficiently as an older horse.  This limits nutrient availability and may limit growth and development.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition. Uniform growth and maintaining target body condition is essential to reduce risk of certain types of Developmental Orthopedic Disease. One of the things we want to avoid is letting the weanling get off normal growth rate, then deciding to push for rapid growth as a yearling to hit target for show or for scheduled sales.

What’s Lurking in the Water – Understanding Blue-Green Algae

Weather and water conditions in many parts of the country have created or will create conditions favorable for the rapid growth of blue-green algae. Please be on alert with your horses, other animals and yourselves, and use precaution around water sources.

These single-celled 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.  The 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. Blooms can range in color from green, to blue, brown or red. Water sources of fresh, brackish or salt water can all be affected by harmful algal blooms. Most often, slow moving water sources are the most suspect, although harmful algal blooms can occur in any water source with favorable conditions.

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. Although, you cannot tell by looking at the bloom whether or not cyanotoxins exist. (Fact Sheet on Toxic Blue-Green Algae, Purdue University, Carole A. Lembi)

Toxins may be ingested when animals drink the water, when they lick their coats after being in the water, or when they inhale water droplets.  Animals are more likely to consume the water if fresh, clean water supplies are limited from other sources. Not all animals are deterred by foul odors that may be produced from the blooms.  Animals that drink or have exposure to the water during a period when cyanotoxins 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 animals go swimming, they should be cleaned off before they have a chance to lick their coats, try not to engage in physical exertion near the water supply where inhaling water droplets could occur.

Preventing access to waterways is one way to prevent toxin exposure. Swimming in, contact with, breathing in water droplets or drinking water in ponds/lakes/streams is not recommended during temperatures or conditions that are favorable for blooms to exist. Most often slow moving water or calm water that has a greenish appearance are those most suspect to algal blooms, however they can exist an any water source if the conditions have been favorable. If contact has occurred watch for symptoms and promptly notify your veterinarian. When in doubt keep your animals and yourselves out of the water. Provide access to fresh, clean water at all times for your animals.

Toxic symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash and skin irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizure
  • Death

While not all “blooms” may produce toxins, avoiding exposure to or consumption of suspect water is recommended.  Risks of illness after the blooms are gone are low, however some toxins can still remain in the water once the blooms are gone. More information is available from local and state pollution control sites or extension sites. Health Departments recommend, when in doubt, keep out of the water.

Preventing run-off of nutrients into ponds and lakes is also important to help reduce the risk of these algae blooms.  Keeping vegetation around water sources can help naturally filter. Drought conditions in some areas have also increased the concentration of nutrients in the remaining water in ponds, lakes and streams.