Thanks to our friends at University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program, here are some tips on how to physically evaluate your horse’s hay.
Participation 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
- 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.
Summer 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.
A 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
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.
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
As 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/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.
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.
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.
The 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.
There has been a recent trend to manage horses in a more “natural” manner, especially when it comes to feeding. Extending the length of time horses spend foraging has been linked to improvements in horse health and wellbeing, including reductions in unwanted behaviors, ulcers, choke and insulin and glucose responses after a meal. Slowing feed intake is also important for horses on restricted diets, those who are meal fed a few times each day, and horses who tend to aggressively and quickly feed. Many horse owners can slow equine feed intake rates by simply altering how they deliver feed to their horse.
1. Slow‐feed Hay Nets
Researchers from the University of Minnesota recently evaluated different hay nets to determine the effect on horse intake rates. Horses were fed hay (1% bodyweight twice daily) off the boxstall floor (control), or from one of three hay nets, including a large net (6 inch openings), medium net (1.75 inches) and small net (1.0 inch). The study revealed that horses feeding from the medium net took just over 5 hours to consume the hay meal, while horses eating from the small nets took 6.5 hours to consume the meal. Both the control and large net resulted in consumption times of 3.2 and 3.4 hours, respectively. If small or medium hay nets (Hay Chix hay nets) were used for twice daily feedings, the anticipated amount of time horses would spend foraging would be 10 to 13 hours each day, more closely mimicking a horse’s natural grazing behavior.
2. Grazing Muzzles
Recent research has shown that grazing muzzles can help slow horse intake of both pasture and grain. Researchers from the University of Minnesota determined the use of a grazing muzzle (Weaver) reduced a horse’s pasture intake by approximately 30%. Researchers from Illinois recently evaluated two grazing muzzles (Tough 1 Nylon and Easy Breathe) when horses were fed grain and determined that the use of a grazing muzzle slowed grain intake but tended to spill more grain. However, horses were able to acclimate to the grazing muzzle and increased their intake rate over time.
3. Specialized Grain Feeders
Researchers from Texas A&M University tested a newly designed feed bucket (Pre‐Vent Feeder) and determined that the bucket slowed grain consumption and reduced grain spillage. Horses spent 21 to 60 additional minutes eating grain from the feeder compared to a bucket or tub. In some situations, regular cleaning of the feeder will be needed. In a separate study, researchers from North Carolina State University developed a waffle structure that was inserted into a feed bucket. They concluded the waffle insert increased grain consumption time by nearly 50% compared to a bucket without the waffle insert.
Researchers from North Carolina State University tested grain feeding time using a bucket with four movable boccestyle balls (4 inch diameter) placed in it and found the balls were effective at extending (by 4 minutes) and maintaining the time it took horses to consume feed after multiple days of use. Additionally, the researchers found that the balls produced the lowest glucose and insulin responses compared to other feeding methods tested.
5. Forage Quality
The fiber content in hays can be used to slow horse consumption. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) is a measurement of insoluble fiber and provides the plant with structural rigidity. The higher the NDF, the less a horse will consume. NDF levels between 40 and 50% are considered ideal and promote hay intake, while NDF levels above 65% tend to result in a reduction in intake by most horses. Hays high in NDF tend to be classified as “busy hay” and are especially useful when managing aggressive and quick eaters or horses on a restricted diet. However, only a small proportion of a horse’s diet should be comprised of “busy hay” high in NDF.
6. Feeding Order
Many people believe that feeding hay before grain slows feed intake. Research has confirmed this belief and determined that horses consumed grain slower when hay was fed 20 minutes before the grain meal. When hay was fed before grain, grain consumption was 0.3 pounds per minute compared to 0.4 pounds per minute when hay and grain were fed simultaneously.
Slow‐feed hay nets, grazing muzzles, specialized grain feeders, obstacles, forages high in NDF and feeding order are all effective management strategies for slowing horse feed intake and represent simple and affordable management options horse owners can implement.
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/.