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.

Ask the Expert: Grazing Muzzle Use

Question: I put a grazing muzzle on my fat gelding. He is ridden multiple times a week, but is an easy keeper. He shares 8 acres of pasture with one other horse. Should I leave the grazing muzzle on all the time or give him an hour of freedom without the grazing muzzle each day?

Answer: We know from past research that a grazing muzzle reduces intake by 30% and that some horses can become very adept at grazing through a muzzle. As long as the horse can easily access water and can tolerate wearing the muzzle, we recommend leaving the muzzle on all day for an overweight horse with access to pasture. A 30% reduction is calories (or pasture) should result in weight loss. Research has also shown that horses with access to as little as 3 hours of pasture each day can consume a majority of their daily calories and can anticipate and adjust to the restricted grazing schedule.

Owners should track their horse’s bodyweight and body condition score each month. Reduce the amount of time the horse is muzzled if excessive bodyweight and body condition is lost. Conversely, if the horse starts to gain bodyweight (or is not losing bodyweight), it might be best to house the horse in a drylot and feed a reduced calorie hay diet (i.e. mature grass hay). The goal should be for the horse to lose weight slowly but steadily. If excessive bodyweight continues to plague the horse, we recommend working with an equine nutritionist and your veterinarian to identify additional solutions for weight loss.

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/.

Forage and Floods – After the Water Recedes

2017 has been a challenging year in many parts of the country with excess rain and some widespread flooding. Several of the potential impacts of flooding are forage issue that may remain long after the water has receded.

Potential Forage Hazards:

  1. Flood waters may deposit detrimental contaminants on pastures, fields and stored forage. Some of these hazards might include pesticides, dead animals, industrial waste, untreated sewage and silt.
  2. Forage harvested after being flooded may still have some of the contaminants present on the lower portion of the forage. Any debris washed into the field, if not removed prior to harvest, may be accidentally baled up in either round bales or square bales. Even clean silt clinging to the forage may increase the ash content of the forage.
  3. Stored forage, particularly round bales or the lower level of hay stacks may become saturated with moisture, leading to mold issues and potential organic matter decay.
  4. Organic matter that is baled into forage, particularly round bales, may create an opportunity for clostridium botulinum bacteria to multiply anaerobically as the organic matter decays. This bacteria produces the deadly botulism toxin, one of the most potent toxins produced in nature.

Recommendations:

  1. Clean and disinfect flooded facilities as soon as possible. Make certain structures are sound before entering to work on them.
  2. Remove debris from barnyards, pastures and fields. Unfortunately, no easy solution!
  3. Make certain the ground has dried enough to support vehicles before driving in flooded areas.
  4. If stacked hay or round bales have been soaked, do not feed the affected bales. If bales must be fed (i.e. emergency forage needs), monitor consumption closely and avoid spoiled areas. If in doubt, throw it out!
  5. If harvesting forage from fields that have been flooded and dried out, be very vigilant when mowing and conditioning the forage. You may have to wait a few extra days to allow plants to recover. If there is silt on the lower stem areas, consider leaving longer stubble. Local Agricultural Extension Educators may have specific recommendations for specific locations and for types of rakes that do a better job of reducing ash content.
  6. Be extra vigilant when feeding baled forages that have been harvested off of ground that has been flooded.
  7. You may want to soil test fields and pastures to see if lime or fertilization will be useful.

If rainfall patterns change, flooding may become more common. Extra vigilance and management may be required to keep horses healthy in these challenging conditions.

Useful Reference: Barnhart, Stephen K. “Summer Flooding of Hay Fields” Integrated Crop Management News, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, June 2008.

Additional pasture management resources can be found at the University of Minnesota Extension Horse Program website.

Equine First Aid Kit

An equine first aid kit is an essential item to have when traveling with your horse. In this video, you will learn about what items to include in your kit, how best to use first aid items and tips to keep your equine first aid kit updated.

This video was shared with permission from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program. Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

Feeding the Neglected Horse – a Challenging but Rewarding Task

Changes and challenges in the horse industry may have resulted in an increased number of horses that have experienced prolonged periods of inadequate nutrient intakes, resulting in loss of weight and, in some cases, actual starvation. In order for these horses to be brought back to a healthy condition, it is important to assess the current condition to determine an appropriate feeding and health care program in conjunction with an equine veterinarian.

A useful first step in the in rehabbing the neglected horse is to estimate the body condition using the Body Condition Scoring System developed by Henneke et al (1983). Horses that are at or above a body condition score 3 (thin) can generally be brought back to a body condition score of 5 (moderate) in 6-8 weeks with the introduction of a balanced diet (50% good quality hay, 50% formulated feed) fed initially at 1.5% of bodyweight in 4-5 feedings per day. The amount can be gradually increased to 2.5-2.8% of bodyweight (hay offered free choice, grain fed 2-3 x per day, to a maximum 0.5% BW per feeding) as discussed by Heusner (1993). Complete feeds, particularly Senior Feeds, also work very well in this situation with controlled starch and sugar levels, amino acid profile, high digestibility, and easy to chew attributes. These horses are also frequently salt starved, so salt should also be introduced gradually at 1-2 oz per day and increased until it can be offered free choice. The horses should also have their teeth checked and be de-wormed.  If the horses have a heavy parasite load as determined by fecal egg count, they may have to be treated with a half dose the first time to reduce the risk of problems from the de-worming.

Horses that have been truly starved may be in body condition score 1 (poor) or 2 (very thin). If a horse has lost 40% of optimal body weight, it will generally become recumbent (survival rate is low if a horse has lost 45-50% of optimum body weight).  This type of body weight loss normally takes 60-90 days without any feed and more commonly will take 3-4 months with very poor forage and water (Lewis, 1995).  Horses in this condition may be hypoglycemic and hyperkalemic due to body tissue breakdown. These horses require careful attention from an equine veterinarian as IV fluid administration and blood work are essential and support with a sling will probably be required.

Horses that are not recumbent, but are body condition score 1 or 2 will need a very gradual reintroduction of feed. These horses have lost substantial muscle mass as well as essentially all fat and may also be hypoglycemic and hyperkalemic.  One method to recover these horses is by using high quality alfalfa hay as a base high protein, low starch diet, introduced gradually and increased to ad libidum feeding in about 2 weeks (Stull, 2003).  Senior Horse Feeds which have a controlled starch level, added amino acids, direct fed microbials and balanced trace minerals and vitamins have also been used with severely neglected horses.  This type of product can be introduced at 0.5% BW, split into several small feedings per day, and gradually increased over a 10-14 day period to normal feeding rate per feeding directions. Horses with poor dentition may benefit from having the feed dampened to form a mash.

Fresh clean water needs to be available at all times and special care must always be taken to avoid excessive initial feed intake to reduce the risk of colic, laminitis, diarrhea and other metabolic disturbances. Close observation and blood chemistry monitoring may be useful to prevent complications as there are potential risks with any re-feeding effort. De-worming should be done in consultation with an equine veterinarian as the horse recovers.

The best treatment for neglect is prevention. The sooner proper nutrition can be made available to the horse, the less chance there is of permanent damage or untimely death.

References:

 Henneke, D.R., G.D. Potter and T.L. Kreider, Body condition during pregnancy and lactation and reproductive efficiency of the mares.  Theriogenology 21:897, 1984

Heusner, GL, Ad Libitum feeding of mature horses to achieve rapid weight gain. Proc. ENPS pp 86-87, 1993.

Lewis, Lon D. DVM, PhD, Equine Clinical Nutrition: Feeding and Care, Williams & Watkins, pp 416-418, 1995.

Stull, Carolyn, PhD, The Horse Report, UC Davis, Volume 21, Number 3, “Nutrition for Rehabilitation of the Starved Horse” pp 456-457, July 2003.

Lyme Disease in Horses

Ticks can transmit a number of disease-causing organisms to horses, including Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Many horses are exposed to this organism through tick bites, but few develop clinical illness, usually months post tick bite.

As in dogs and people, the possible diagnosis of Lyme disease often arises when more common causes of lameness, joint swelling, kidney disease, moon blindness or incoordination have been ruled out.

Typically, two blood samples are taken 2 to 3 weeks apart to see if anti-Borrelia antibody levels have changed significantly to indicate active infection. The two samples are important because many normal horses may carry high antibody levels. The disease can also be diagnosed by finding the organism in tissue taken by biopsy from an affected joint or lymph node. The SNAP test kits utilized for testing dogs for Lyme disease are likely valid for use in the horse, but so far are not licensed for that purpose.

If evidence of Lyme disease is found, a veterinarian may try a course of antibiotics to see if this will improve the horse’s clinical abnormalities. There are currently no Lyme vaccines approved for use in the horse.

Horse owners need to be tick-vigilant and manage their horses’ environment to reduce tick habitat. Clearing brush out of pastures and along both sides of fence lines is recommended. Keeping pastures mowed may also be helpful. Before riding through long grass or brush, use of topical insecticides is highly recommended.

Author:  Julia Wilson, DVM, MN Board of Veterinary Medicine.

This article was shared with permission from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program. Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

Managing Over-Weight Horses

Managing your horse’s weight is key to healthy joints and bones, hooves and can play into body physiology including hormone balance. In this video you will learn how to manage weight, while still supplementing a healthy diet. It can be as easy as swapping grains and treats with a ration balancer like Empower Topline Balance.

This video was shared with permission from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program. Make sure to follow them on Facebook and YouTube for even more equine information & education!

How to Take a Photo of Your Horse’s Topline

If you’ve ever tried to photograph your horse, you know it can be challenging at times! It takes a lot of patience, time and a little luck. But capturing photos of your horse, especially ‘before and after’ ones, can be very rewarding. It’s exciting to see the progress made from a new feeding regimen, new product or new routine. So to make the task a little easier, we’ve compiled some go-to tips:

• Be safe! Plan plenty of time, patience and have a trusted helper.
•  Use the same plain colored backdrop for each photo (a plain colored door of a barn, garage door, etc).
• Be sure your lighting is bright and consistent every time.
• Be sure you are standing at the same distance every time.
• Be sure that the horse is groomed, and standing square with their poll at the same height for both before and after pictures.
• Try to minimize distractions, crop out the handler, like in the ‘after’ photo below.
• Take a posterior photo to show muscle improvement
• Square the horse up.
• Stand on a stool to be sure you get the right angle.
• Be safe, stand a safe distance behind the horse.
• Keep your backdrop and lighting consistent.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Creep Feeding Foals-An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Creep feeding, the process of making feed available to the foal before weaning, is an important element in a feeding program to maintain a consistent growth rate and to prepare the foal for weaning and long term development as an equine athlete.

The feed selected for use for creep feeding should be a feed designed with foals and weanlings in mind. These feeds will generally be 14-16 % protein and have a minimum guarantee for lysine and perhaps methionine and threonine as well, the first 3 limiting amino acids.  It should also be fortified with adequate calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium as well as Vitamins A, D and E.  Controlled starch and sugar levels may also be beneficial in a creep feed.  Prebiotics and probiotics are frequently included in these feeds as well.

There are multiple creep feed designs, ranging from buckets/feeders with bars across the top to keep the broodmare from eating the feed to feeding areas with entry openings wide enough to allow the foals to enter, but narrow enough to prevent the mares from entering. It is important to be able to keep the feed fresh and free of contamination.

The mare’s milk production will generally not provide adequate nutrition to support optimum growth past about 2 months of lactation. This is why it is important to start creep feeding prior to this time.  Relying on the foal being able to eat with the dam is not a very reliable way to provide nutrition to the foal.  The foal should be consuming about 1 pound of feed per day per month of age (2 month old foal, 2 pounds per day, 4 month old foal, 4 pounds per day).  Foals should also have access to fresh, clean water and salt free choice.

Foals will also start nibbling on forage early in life, but the cecum is not well developed at this time, so the forage will not be a good source of nutrition.

Monitoring Body Condition Score and rate of growth is useful with foals to make certain that they are on track and maintaining a smooth growth curve. This may also help reduce the risk of Developmental Orthopedic Disease issues.

A good creep feeding program, coupled with proper management (parasite control and vaccination) and proper handling can help make weaning a smooth process and get the young growing horse off to a great start to achieving their genetic potential as an equine athlete!

Assessing Your Horse’s Topline

A horse’s topline — the muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters — plays an important role in how a horse performs, looks and feels. But identifying and assessing this area does take a few steps, so we’ve provided some easy guidance! Click below to visit ToplineBalance.com and do an online assessment, with customized feeding recommendations specific to your horse’s needs!