Ask the Expert: Winter Water Needs

Question: I’ve heard that horses need more water in the winter, is that true?

Answer:  During the summer months, pasture contains about 80% moisture and can contribute to your horse’s water requirement if grazing.

In contrast, hay should contain less than 15% moisture, increasing your horse’s need for water during the winter months or when fed a primarily hay diet.

If your horse doesn’t drink enough water during cold weather they may eat less and be more prone to impaction colic and more susceptible to cold weather.

Most 1,000-pound adult, idle horses need at least 10 to 12 gallons of water daily and water is most readily consumed when kept between 45 and 65°F.

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

Fiber Sources for Senior Horses

The health and well being of senior horses are important topics to horse owners as these horses are frequently considered treasured members of the family.  There are many different criteria that are applied to determining when a horse would be considered a “Senior Horse”.  One of the important criteria is when we determine that, because of changes in ability to chew pasture or hay, we need to consider different forage options for our old friend.  Quidding (spitting out unchewed wads of hay) is one of the signs we look for in making this determination.  Inspection by a veterinarian may confirm that the condition of the teeth requires an adjustment in fiber sources.

Fiber Source Options

  1. There are now a variety of Senior Horse Feeds available that can be fed as a complete diet. These feeds are designed with sufficient fiber to help maintain gut heath as well as providing the required energy, protein (amino acid balanced), minerals and vitamins for the balanced diet.  They will also normally contain added pre and probiotics to help maintain gut health.  For horses with extremely poor teeth, these feeds can be made into a mash as well to make consumption very easy.
  2. Dehydrated alfalfa or alfalfa/grass pellets may also be used as a good fiber source. While not a complete balanced ration, these products work well for senior horses as they require minimal chewing.  They can also be soaked to form an easily consumed mash for horses with limited chewing ability.   Diet balancer products work well with this type of product to provide the addition amino acids, minerals and vitamins that are required to provide a balanced diet.
  3. Beet pulp is also a good highly digestible fiber source and is a good source of calories. Again, beet pulp is not a balanced ration, but may be added to a diet to provide energy.  Beet pulp pellets or beet pulp shreds can also be soaked for ease on consumption.
  4. Soy hulls are also a good highly digestible fiber source. Soy hulls are more likely to be used as a part of a Senior Horse Feed rather than being offered as a separate product.

Monitoring Body Condition Score and Topline Evaluation Score can help determine what changes may be needed in the total diet.  Loss of Body Condition Score tells us that our senior horse needs more Calories.  Loss of muscle mass may tell us we need a better amino acid profile in the diet.

Senior horses also need access to salt, preferably loose salt, free choice and free access to fresh, clean water.  Water temperature is important to senior horses as water that is too cold may cause discomfort to badly worn teeth and may limit water intake, which can contribute to other problems such as impaction colic.

Providing an appropriate fiber source is a key management tool to help our old friends enjoy a long and happy life!

Ask the Expert: Slobbers

Question:  My horse is drooling excessively and I’ve heard this is from eating clover. Will this hurt my horse?

Answer:  Recently, there have been several reports of “slobbers” in horses. Slobbers, characterized by excessive salivation or drooling, is caused by a compound (slaframine) produced by the fungus Slafractonia leguminicola, which can be found on red clover.

The fungus can be identified by looking at the underside of red clover leaves, where it appears as small black dots (as though someone dotted the leaf with a felt tip marker). The fungus grows best in hot, humid conditions and can cause slobbers when eaten fresh in pasture or when consumed in dried hay.

Although unsightly, slobbers is not a concern for horses as long as they stay hydrated.

Written by Devon Catalano, M.S. and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Signs You Have a Senior Horse

Are you questioning if your horse has reached that Senior stage in life? Not sure of the signs or conditions that classify a horse as Senior? Then read on for some tell-tale tips on spotting a Senior horse.

Fall Pasture Precautions

Horse owners should take precautions when grazing pastures after the first killing frost. Frost damaged pastures can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, leading to an increase in the potential for founder and colic, especially for horses diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, laminitis, obesity or Cushings.

To reduce the chances of adverse health effects, we recommended horse owners wait one week before turning horses back onto a pasture after the first killing frost.

Horses should be removed from a pasture when a majority of the forage is grazed down to 4″. The entire pasture should then be mowed to 4″ (since horses do not graze uniformly), drug to disperse manure piles and the horses should be rotated to a different pasture or housed in a drylot. This time of year (fall), horses will likely need to be kept in a drylot due to limited forage re-growth.

Ideally, owners will slowly transition horses back to hay diet (from a pasture diet) in preparation for winter feeding. We do not recommend over-wintering horses on pasture due to plant damage from digging, pawing, and hoof traffic.

Finally, ingestion of dried or wilted (but not fresh) maple leaves is associated with the toxicosis. Toxicosis normally occurs in the autumn when normal leaf fall occurs. Red blood cell damage has been reproduced in horses ingesting 1.5 to 3 pounds of dried leaves per 1,000 pounds of bodyweight.

Horses are the only species for which maple leaf toxicity has been reported. Horses are often depressed, lethargic, and anorexic with dark red/brown urine after the first day of ingestion. They may progress to going down with labored breathing and increased heart rate before death.

Horses should be fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are plentiful. Although dried leaves may remain toxic for 4 weeks, they are not generally believed to retain toxicity the following spring.

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

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.