Keeping Hens and Horses

So you’re in your favorite feed store, buying your horse a few bags of feed, some treats, a bale of…. What is that you hear? The peeping of little chicks?!?!? You follow your ears to the tanks full of fluffy balls of cuteness, all the while listing to yourself the reasons why you can’t have chickens – where would they stay, what would they eat, they couldn’t possibly be good to have around horses…could they?

Chickens enjoy pecking at stray bits of feed

Actually, keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial for you (and your horse)!

  • 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.
    One of the best things about raising chickens!
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • 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…

Grain Mites in Horse Feed

Have you ever had the following situation happen to you? You go out to feed your horse and notice a fine dust on the outside of the feed bag. You look closer and realize the dust is moving! Yes, you can see all those little bugs bustling about, in search of food and other little bugs to reproduce with. Yuck! Where do they come from? Is the feed safe to give to your horse? Can they harm you?

Magnified image of grain mites

It turns out that these little critters are grain mites (Acarus siro L). Grain mites are common and exist in all grains, but only thrive and appear when the conditions – temperature and humidity – are just right for reproduction and growth. Their ideal environment is warmer than 77 degrees F, and over 85% humidity. Hence, you would have more problems with them in the warmer months of the year. Temperature changes, condensation, and poor ventilation may produce areas with enough moisture to encourage mite infestation.

If you have infested feed you should not feed it to your horse. These mites can contaminate the feed with allergens and can also transfer nasty germs. Infestation can negatively affect palatability and when animals are fed infested products the results can be decreased intake, inflammation of the intestines, diarrhea, impaired growth and allergic reactions. The good news for you personally is that these mites do not bite humans.

To help reduce your incidence of mite outbreaks:

  • Store your feed in a cool, dry place
  • Use your oldest feed first
  • Keep no more than a two week supply of feed on hand (especially in hot weather) to ensure freshness
  • If you store your feed in a container, clean it regularly between fillings to prevent buildup of fines
  • Keep your feed area clean and neat
  • Air movement, such as from a fan, can help prevent outbreaks

If you do have an outbreak in your feed room, remove affected feed from the room immediately and thoroughly clean the area. Pyrethrin can be applied to the area with a hand held fogging machine or aerosol spray can.

Feeding Horses for Sales Preparation

Nutrition has an important role in sales preparation for all horses.  If you want to maximize the value of the horse, it is essential to have the horse looking its best at sale time.

There are a number of key elements including the following:

    • Size and body condition – Young horses being prepped for sale should be on a smooth growth curve to avoid growth spurts and to reach optimum height at sale time.  Size for appropriate age is a plus for most disciplines.  The sale horse should normally have a body condition score at 5 or slightly higher.
    • Muscle, not fat – The modern sale ring rewards horses that have well developed muscles rather than just being fat.  Thin is not good, but obese is not desired. 
    • Hair coat – Slick and shiny is always good.  This will require a combination of grooming, health care and nutrition.
    • Hoof quality – High quality feet with no growth or fever rings are essential.

Sale preparation is an ongoing process for young horses.  If they are weaned properly and maintained at a Body Condition Score of about 5, there will not be as much pressure for a sudden feeding change when they are being prepared for a sale. Solid sale preparation takes a minimum of 90 to 120 days of exercise, proper nutrition and grooming. 

Having a quality feed program is essential to have horses looking and feeling thier best. Here are a few keys to developing the optimum program:

  • Have a good quality forage or pasture available to help develop body condition. 
  • A grain product should contain added vegetable oil to provide a safe energy source as well as to help hair coat. 
    • Depending on the forage, a 12 or 14% protein feed that is fortified with amino acids (lysine, methionine, threonine) to develop muscle mass should be used. 
    • The feed should contain balanced macro minerals and trace minerals to support bone remodeling and develop bone strength. 
    • The feed should also contain added vitamins A, D, E and Biotin for proper metabolism as well as hair coat and hoof quality. 
  • Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available.

Feeding rate will depend on current body condition, desired body condition at the time of the sale, and the amount of exercise that the horse will be getting.  If the sale is in 90 days and the horse needs to gain 90 lbs, the horse needs to be fed for maintenance, work and weight gain.  Weight gain of 1 pound per day will require an additional 3+ pounds of feed per day in addition to maintenance and work.  No more than 0.5% BW in feed should be given at any meal and meals should be spaced at equal intervals.

Feeding Foals Through Weaning Time

Properly preparing the foals to be weaned can make the process much easier for everyone, and part of that preparation includes setting up a successful feeding transition for the foal.

  • 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 for foals and weanlings 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!  Creep feeding the foal on the same feed it will continue to eat after weaning is a great way to keep one point in their life consistent through the weaning process.
  • The foal should also have access to high quality forage, loose salt and fresh, clean water.

Keep in mind that weaning can be a high stress period for the foal, so 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:

  • 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.
  • The foal should also be de-wormed prior to weaning.
  • The foal should have been handled, taught to lead and have had its feet trimmed.
  • Have a plan in place for the actual weaning/separation process.

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.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition.