Feeding and Managing Pregnant Mares-Fall Check List

Animal protein products provide lysine, an important amino acid for young growing foalsOne of the most important development periods in the life of a foal is the last 6 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 6th 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 6th month of gestation, so a fall check-up is an excellent idea.

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

  1. Maintain appropriate body condition score.  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!
  2. Adequate protein/amino acid intake.  Lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development.
  3. Adequate mineral and trace mineral intake.  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.
  4. Vaccinations and deworming.  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.
  5. If a mare was bred during the breeding season and is NOT pregnant, this is a good time to have this mare checked over carefully to determine why she did not settle or if she settled and aborted.  She may require treatment to have her ready to breed in the next breeding season.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but may not provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An appropriate ration balancer product may be used from month 5 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.

Biosecurity for Horses at Home

Participation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses and owners generally like to show other people their horses when guests visit their farm, ranch or stable. This also means that that the horses are at risk, even when at home, from potential biosecurity breaches.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines as you think about biosecurity at home:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses your home herd and horses that travel. This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian. Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.   If you have new horses coming to your barn, you may want to make certain they have been vaccinated as well.  Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate when horses are shipped. This may be a requirement for horses arriving at your facility.
  2. If possible, have a visitor parking lot and unloading area that is separate from your barn area. Try to avoid spreading manure that might come off trailers on your pastures.
  3. Consider having a disinfectant footbath for all visitors to walk thru before they enter your barn. Have waterless hand solution available as well.
  4. If you have planned guest visitors, graciously suggest that they not wear the same clothes, particularly boots, as they wear in their home barn, particularly if you are aware of any outbreaks in your area. You may want to have disposable plastic boot covers available.
  5. If possible, have an isolation area where new horses are stabled for 30 days before they are introduced to the herd or have nose to nose contact.
  6. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  7. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.
  8. Biosecurity can be particularly important if there are reported outbreaks of strangles or Equine Herpes Virus in your area. Be aware of any recent reports as appropriate.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal-health/equine-health

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help reduce the risk of introducing diseases to your horses at your facility!

Fall Pasture Management

Fall provides an ideal time of year to improve horse pastures. August 1st to September 15th is an ideal time of year to seed or overseed pastures and rid pastures of perennial weeds. Fall is the best time to seed or re‐seed pastures due to the usually adequate moisture, less weed competition and cooler weather conditions. Fall is also best for perennial weed control since perennial plants are storing carbohydrates in their roots allowing the herbicide to be translocated into the root for effective control.

Make sure to check fences; especially posts. Fix broken posts before they are frozen into the ground. Finally, make sure the pasture grasses have 3 to 4 inches of re‐growth going into winter. This will help with winter survival and a quicker spring growth. Keeping horses on pastures over winter causes damage to plants and offers the horse little nutrition. Keeping the horses in a sacrifice paddock (dry lot) with access to hay, water and shelter is recommended.

Horse owners should use caution when grazing after the first killing frost of the fall. Frost damaged pasture forages can have higher concentrations of non‐structural carbohydrates following the first killing frost of the season. This can lead to an increase in the potential for laminitis and colic, especially in obese horses or horses diagnosed with laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. To reduce the chance of adverse health effects, it is recommended that horse owners wait one week before turning all horses, including healthy horses, back onto a pasture after the first killing frost.

This article is reprinted 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/.

Biosecurity for Horses When Traveling

HorseBlanketParticipation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses.  Proper attention to biosecurity can help make certain that all are able to enjoy the events all year around.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines to keep in mind as your travel with your horse:

  1.  Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses that are going to travel.  This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian.  Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.
  2. Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate that you need to show when you arrive at the event.  Regulations vary by state, so know what states you will be traveling in or thru.
  3. When you arrive at the show, check the stalls before you unload your horses to make certain they have been cleaned and do not have physical issues such as nails, broken boards etc.  If stalls have built in feeders, make certain that they have been cleaned.  If in doubt, consider bringing some disinfectant with you when you travel and cleaning those corner feeders or built in feeders.
  4. Do NOT use a communal water trough.  When using a water hose or faucet, make certain the hose is not stuck into your water bucket when you are filling buckets.
  5. Do not share buckets or grooming tools with other stables or owners.  You should have your own equipment and should disinfect it when you return home.
  6. As much as possible, avoid direct contact with animals from other farms or stables.  (Easier said than done!)  Keep an eye on horses in stalls adjacent to your stalls.  Try to avoid any equine nose to nose contact!  Some things that are cute may not be good biosecurity.
  7. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  8. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov.

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help you travel safely with your horses.

Horses, Heat and Humidity

Water into bucketSummer is in full swing, including the heat and humidity. Horses, similar to humans, may have a difficult time coping and cooling off with the combination of heat and humidity. The added challenge of cooling off partially results from the inability of the sweat to evaporate in humid weather. The combination of sweat and humid weather acts like an insulation, making horses even hotter. Some horses have diagnosed trouble sweating (anhidrosis) during hot and humid weather, which adds other challenge to cool off. Consult Veterinary support if your horse has trouble sweating.

Some ways to help you and your horse cope with hot humid weather is to calculate the temperature-humidity index (THI). Add the air temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) to the humidity percentage. For example, if it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 60%, the THI is 140. When the THI reaches 150, horses will have difficulty cooling off, at 180 working a horse can be unsafe to the horse’s health and you should actively help the horse cool off.

Another supportive tool is to take your horse’s temperature. Normal is between 99.5 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit at resting, and can range between 103 to 104 degrees during exercise. When a horse’s temperature reaches 105 this is dangerous and the risk of overheating or health damage can occur. Above 105 degrees horses are likely to suffer heatstroke and require immediate Veterinary attention.

Helpful ways to keep horses cool in hot humid weather:

1. Clean and cool water available at all times

Horses prefer fresh, cool water in sufficient amounts when it is hot and humid. Keeping clean and cool water in deep buckets in the shade will help keep water cool. In addition to the automatic waterers (if available) additional deep buckets may be required to allow horses to gulp water versus sip smaller amounts. I often will consume a substantial amount of cool water in one sitting in a light colored container when it is hot and humid.

2. Provide appropriate feed for the horse’s activity

Feeding excess hay in hot humid weather can contribute to added body heat from the digestive process. Feeding smaller amounts more frequently or use of a slow feeding hay bag may be beneficial. Feed a quality balanced feed that is designed for the exercise requirements of the individual horse. If I am a daily jogger, my nutrient requirements vary significantly from a marathon runner in training.

3. Consider individual fitness

Physical fitness and environments vary between individual horses. Research has shown horses well-conditioned and of optimal physical fitness tend to cope with hot humid weather more easily than those who are out of shape. Horses residing in climates with extreme heat and humidity tend to cope better than horses traveling and adjusting to different climates. Although the horses may cope better if they are acclimated to the heat and humidity, it is still important to observe safe exercise and offer healthy ways to help horses keep cool.

The Root Cause of (Most) Feeding Problems

Horse in stallA couple of months ago, a friend asked me about feed for her 20-something retired Jumper that was losing weight coming out of winter.  It’s not uncommon for a horse to shed a few pounds during the transition from winter to spring, but she was concerned that he wasn’t putting them back on with pasture turnout.   When I asked what he was being fed, she said he was getting a senior feed mixed with a performance feed.  Puzzled, I asked why the mix and how much of each?

She shared that he was getting 5-6 pounds of senior feed a day and about 2 pounds of the performance feed for extra calories.  When I looked up the feeding directions for the senior feed, the manufacturer recommended 10-12 pounds per day for his weight.  When I shared this information with my friend, we decided to try increasing the senior to the recommended amount and dropping the performance feed.  About 2 weeks after our conversation, she shared with me that the change was working and he was looking better already!

This conversation got me thinking…. why do we, as horse owners, run into issues with feed?  After all, the design and variety of feeds available today incorporate some of the latest and greatest nutritional research of our time. So why do we continue to struggle? What are the root causes when it comes to problems with our horse’s feed?  Reflecting back on years of questions and troubleshooting, I think I’ve been able to boil it down most cases to one of the two following* –

Feeding the incorrect product
or
Feeding the right product incorrectly

When I took a step back, I came to realize that feed can be really complicated.  When you are in the industry and steeped in the subject, it seems so clear.  But when you’re trying to juggle many other elements of the care, training, management, health, etc., the feed part of the puzzle can seem overwhelmingly complicated.

It may seem oversimplified, but here’s my best advice to make sure you’re feeding the right product at the right amount:

  • Find a brand you like, trust and can afford. Not sure?  Ask a friend or pro who have horses in similar age range or activity level as yours. Ask at your farm store.  Ask your vet.  Ask your farrier.  Do some research on your own and find a brand you like.
  • Find a product in that brand that is designed for your horse’s life stage or activity level.  Each product is required by regulation to state on the tag or bag what the product is designed to do for the horse.
  • Weigh your horse using a weight tape or scale if you have access to one. Here is another handy tool for measuring your horse without a scale from a previous blog post.
  • Buy a hanging scale – a decent one can be purchased from a farm supply store for around $30. A person can pay much more but you really just need a scale that ‘tares’ (aka zero’s out) and has a hook to hang a bucket from.
  • Using the feeding directions, calculate how many POUNDS of feed per day your horse should be fed. (Tip – Nutrena offers an easy online calculator tool on each product page at www.NutrenaWorld.com)
  • Place an empty bucket on the scale.  Tare it so the scale is set to 0 with the bucket. Weigh the feed to be sure you’re giving your horse the proper amount according to the directions.
  • Over the next few weeks, check your horse’s body condition score and adjust within the feeding direction range until you’ve reached an ideal weight/condition.

There were many things my friend was doing correctly, such as feeding the correct feed and weighing it to ensure a consistent amount, but one missed detail was all it took to negate her efforts.  As soon as she bumped her horse to the recommended feeding rate, it all came together.  What do you find most confusing about feed?

*Assuming dentition issues, parasite load, hay quality/quantity and disease were ruled out.

Moving to a Boarding Barn – What I’ve Learned

For the 25+ years that I have owned horses, they have always been ‘home’. That is to say, kept on the same property where I lived. Recently I moved Ferris, one of my geldings, to a boarding barn in preparation for a career change (from dressage to Hunter… he LOVES the jump!) and sale. The decision to sell him was incredibly challenging emotionally. I bred him, raised him and did his initial training. But I also came to realize that, though he can do the lower level dressage work, his heart is in the jump….something that I’m not in a good position to do. Moving him to a boarding barn gave me access to a friend and trainer who is helping re-schooling him as a Hunter in preparation of selling him.

The move from home care to a boarding barn means having another person provide daily care and handling, and was something that took me some time to get used to. Thankfully, Mandy, owner and manager at the barn, was very understanding with me, is great at communicating and has done a fantastic job with Ferris for the last few months. If you are considering a similar move, whether for a short endeavor or as a lifestyle change, here are some tips I picked up from my recent experience.

Change in lifestyle
Ferris in StallAs I’ve shared in a previous blog, my operation at home is anything but fancy. We have a run-in/lean-to for the horses and they choose when to be in and when to be out. Ferris was used to spending a good bit of energy moving around 24/7 and burning calories to stay warm. With his new living situation, Ferris is now in a stall (in a heated barn) from 4PM to 8AM with pasture turnout during the day. I was initially concerned about this change in activity level and energy needs, potentially leading to excessive weight. As I soon discovered, he quickly adjusted and settled into the barn lifestyle … adores his stall!

Hay transition
Hay/pasture makes up most of a horse’s diet, therefore any change in hay, whether it be a different cutting, supplier, or variety should be made gradually. When I moved Ferris to Mandy’s barn, I also sent along a few bales of his current hay so that she could slowly transition him to her hay. He moved from grass hay to grass hay, which helped. In his new barn, he also has consistent access to hay day and night to keep his system active.

Water System
You might not think it’s a big deal, but a new water system may be disruptive. For example, at home, we have an outdoor, group automatic drinker while in his stall, Ferris has an individual one. Thankfully, the sound of water being replenished is similar, though he did scare himself the first time he drank! Since water is such an important element of a horse’s health and wellbeing, it’s a good idea to monitor their drinking the first few days after making the move. You might also train your horse to drink before you move him.

Feed Transition
Because he was living mainly outdoors at home, I was feeding Ferris a product that is high in fat, designed for hard keepers. It was a really good fit with his lifestyle at home, however the house feed at his new barn is SafeChoice Original, a similar, but slightly different product; higher in fiber and protein, lower in fat. Though Mandy will accommodate a different feed, I wanted to simplify by having him on the house feed. As with his hay, I brought along  bags of his feed from home to transition him to the SafeChoice in his first 7-14 days. At first, he refused to touch his feed (our best guess is that it was the stress of all the changes) so we backed off transitioning him and let him eat his normal feed for the first week. After that, we were able to start the transition again and today, he’s 100% on SafeChoice Original.

Stress of the Move
As you can imagine, the change in environment, smells, sounds, pasture boundaries, routine, activity level and horses were all very stressful for Ferris. He did show his stress for the first few days, but by day 4 had settled into the new routine and environment well. With the stress of all the changes and an increase in work load, he did lose some body condition in the first month, which was addressed with adjustments to his feed and hay.

All Settled In
Today, Ferris is really loving his new job and lifestyle! He is being ridden 5 days a week, of which one day is over jumps. His weight is back to a healthy BCS of 6 and he is adding endurance and muscle each week. We did adjust his feed routine a bit by adding a ration balancer to help with amino acids needed to build his muscles while balancing the energy from grass turnout. He is becoming more consistent and happy in his work and I am able to rest easy knowing he is comfortable and well looked after. Very soon, I will put him up for sale so he can find success in a second career as a Hunter.

I can’t stress enough the importance of good communication between you and the barn owner/manager. If you are used to daily feeding and caring for your horses, letting go and allowing someone else to do that may be a challenge. For me, it was important to discuss my horse’s behavior, routine and regular handling up front so that Mandy and her team were able to give him an easy transition and provide a positive experience. She has also been very good about telling me what’s happening, and I work to keep her informed of what I’m observing with him so together we formulate a plan. I consider her a partner in his care, and one that I’ve come to deeply trust.

Proper Horse Hydration and Electrolyte Use

Although summer officially kicked off just this week, the heat has already been in full force throughout much of the country. Here are some helpful tips to keep your horse safe and hydrated throughout these steamy summer months.

Draft Horse Nutrition – Feeding the Gentle Giants

ClydesdaleThe Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire and Suffolk breeds are the primary draft horse breeds in the U.S.  The breeds are named for their country or area of origin.  The Belgians originated in the Belgium, the Clydesdales originated in the river Clyde district of Scotland, the Percherons originated in the Perche region of France, the Shires originated in the east of England and the Suffolk originated in the counties of Norwich and Suffolk in England.  They were originally imported to the U.S. for true horsepower and are now very popular for shows, pulling competitions, parades and work.  The commercials and advertising associated with the Clydesdales have made that breed one of the most recognized of the draft breeds.

Draft horses are large, heavy muscled animals that are relatively slow to mature and are metabolically very efficient.  Mature horses will weigh anywhere from 1500 lbs to well over 2000 lbs.  Hoof quality, bone strength, muscle development and hair coat are all key criteria that are important in raising and using draft horses.  As draft horses perform work, energy requirements increase substantially.

Good quality forages, grass or grass/legume mixtures, are an important part of the draft horse diet.  Horses will consume 1.5-2.5% of bodyweight in forage.  Properly balanced grain mixtures, pelleted or textured, may be used to provide the additional energy, amino acids, minerals, trace minerals and vitamins to balance the diets.

Poor quality hoof growth can be a problem with draft horses.  The use of feeds containing biotin, zinc and methionine may be beneficial for these horses.

Draft horses may also be affected by Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, which used to be called Monday Morning Disease or Azoturia.   This conditions results in the horse “tying up” with stiff muscles and reluctance to move.  These horses may benefit from a diet that has controlled levels of non-structural carbohydrates or soluble carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and that contains added fat from vegetable oil as well as optimum selenium and vitamin E levels.  Regular exercise and turn out are also important for these horses.

Growing draft horses may also develop Developmental Orthopedic Disease problems as a result of genetics, conformation, stress or improper nutrition.  Feeding a balanced diet and avoiding excess body condition score may be beneficial in reducing the risk of these problems.

Be sure to provide free choice salt and access to fresh clean water for all your draft horses, especially those who are performing heavy work.