Blanketing Horses in Cold Climates

A popular question always comes up when the temperature drops – should I blanket my horse in cold climates? The horse’s hair coat is an excellent insulator and works by trapping and warming air. A healthy horse with a thick, dry and clean hair coat can retain enough heat and be comfortable outside in cold climates.

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as the days become shorter and temperatures become colder. Horses begin to lose their winter coat (and start forming their summer coat) as the days become longer (starting December 23) and temperatures start to warm (slowly). Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Horses can acclimate to cold temperatures and often prefer the outdoors. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  1. No shelter is available during turnout periods and the temperatures or wind chill drop below 5 F
  2. There is a chance the horse will become wet (e.g. rain, ice, and/or freezing rain, usually not a problem with snow)
  3. The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  4. The horse is very young or very old
  5. The horse isn’t acclimated to the cold
  6. The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less.

If a horse is blanketed, it is critical that the blanket fits properly. Poorly fitted blankets can cause sores and rub marks, especially along the straps. Remove the blanket daily, inspect it for damage, the horse for rub marks, and re-position it. Make sure the blanket stays dry and never put a blanket on a wet horse, wait until the horse is dry before blanketing.

Written by Krishona Martinson, PhD, Christie Ward, DVM 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/.

Rehabilitating the Rescue Horse

Often I am sent the good news that a fellow horse enthusiast has recently obtained a rescue horse and needs help to rehabilitate. Or the ASPCA asked their barn to rehabilitate a horse. The following blog is written to help you understand managing the rescue horse or refeeding the malnourished horse.

Since 2007, horses arriving at rescue or humane shelters have been increasing in numbers. The amount of horse rescues have also been increasing, not only for the malnourished, but also the unwanted or traumatized horse. Horses arriving at rescues with low body condition (scores of 1 to 3 on the 9 point scale) due to starvation continues to produce the most questions for the care takers. For the rescue organization or foster individuals that take on the tasks of rehabilitating these malnourished horses, rehabilitation is most successful with a refeeding plan to help guide them.

When managing a rescue horse, start by working closely with an Equine Veterinarian. A Veterinarian will conduct a physical exam measuring body weight, body condition score, Topline Evaluation Score, blood chemistry parameters and assess appetite.  Disease status can impact the horse’s gastrointestinal (GI) system.  Having gone a prolonged time without food, physical changes in the small and large intestines compromise a horse’s ability to digest nutrients.  Thus making it difficult to regain body condition or to establish a healthy appetite.

When refeeding a malnourished rescue horse consider your ability to safely interact with the horse. Some rescue horses have been neglected or abused and may react defensively. Take care to be observant of this as the horse begins to rehabilitate and gains energy.

Calculate the digestible energy (DE) intake on the current body weight, not the desired optimal weight. An equation to help estimate DE is DE MCAL/DAY = Body Weight in KG x 0.03. This amount must be slowly worked up to over several days and fed “continuously” throughout the full 24 hour day. Forage from a ground feeder, and reliable help that have time to feed this type of horse every hour to every three hours. Feed high quality continuous forage along with an easily digestible controlled starch feed as first choices. A diet based primarily around forage helps regenerate the GI track; when combined with easily digestible feeds, such as those designed for Senior horses, are often a good starting point.

The GI tract is sensitive and digestive disturbances could potentiate if free choice forage and feed is available. Sudden changes and food amount increases elevate the risk of refeeding syndrome. Refeeding syndrome occurs when too many calories and nutrients are consumed by a malnourished animal, resulting in an electrolyte balance and could potentiate multi-organ failure and possibly death.

As a guide, horses with a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 1, a good goal is to gain 0-1 pounds of body weight (BW) per day, horses with BCS of 2 a good goal is 1-2 pounds BW per day and BCS of 3 goal to gain 2 pounds BW per day. Adjust your desired DE levels as the horse continues to gain weight and condition.  As the rescue horse continues to show improvement, the frequency and size of meals can VERY SLOWLY change.

Veterinary and nutritionist guidance is key for helping ensure the horse returns to health. Full rehabilitation can take weeks, months and in severe cases years. A horse with a BCS of 1 can take nearly a year to reach and ideal weight, body condition and Topline score. Care should be taken to ensure the rehabilitation process includes safe physical exercise. A horse that is stall bound can develop other conditions or harmful habits if not exposed to a safe amount of physical activity. Slowly introduce a horse to exercise (the first couple of days might only include slow lead line walk) and take care to be patient as the horse regains strength, balance and ability to perform physical exercise.

Carrying the Weight

When it comes to understanding factors that play into your horse’s weight carrying capacity, all the information out there can feel a little heavy. That is why our friends at University of Minnesota Extension have compiled some easy guidelines to follow.

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

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/.

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!

Hazard in the Water – Blue-Green Algae

Current weather and water conditions in many parts of the country have created conditions favorable for the rapid growth of Blue-Green Algae.  These primitive 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.  These 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.  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. (Fact Sheet on Toxic Blue-Green Algae, Purdue University, Carole A. Lembi)

The blooms of Cyanobacteria tend to accumulate on the downwind side of pond and may look like swirls of green paint.  The toxins may be ingested when animals drink the water or when they lick their coats after being in the water.  Animals are more likely to consume the water if fresh water supplies are limited from other sources.  Any animals that drink the water during a period when toxins 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 pets go swimming, they should be cleaned off before they have a chance to lick their coats.

Toxic symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, rash and skin irritation.  There are generally two types of toxins, neurotoxins that affect the central nervous system and hepatotoxins which affect the liver function.

Preventing run-off of nutrients into ponds and lakes is also important to help reduce the risk of these algae blooms.  Prolonged drought conditions in some areas have also increased the concentration of nutrients in the remaining water in ponds and lakes.

While not all “blooms” may produce toxins, avoiding exposure to or consumption of suspect water is recommended.  More information is available from local and state pollution control sites or extension sites.

There is a useful article in Feedstuffs, June 15, 2018 by Dr. A.J. Tarpoff that describes issues and recommends testing procedure if you think that you might have an issue.   Extension Specialists may also have local information and may be able to direct you to testing options in your state.

Ask the Expert: Diseases at Horse Events? Help!

Question:
I have seen posts all over social media about horses getting sick after attending competition events. How can I protect my horse?

Answer:
It is critical to practice biosecurity measures. If you breakdown the word biosecurity, bio means “life” and security means “protection”. Life protection!
Another way to define biosecurity is to prevent or reduce the introduction of disease. In other words, you want to keep the disease away from your farm, or if you do have a sickness, keep it from spreading.

Biosecurity measures to practice include:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to ensure horses are current with recommended vaccines.
  2. Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.
  3. Wash your hands frequently!
  4. Clean and disinfect stalls at fairgrounds and show facilities. Spray-on commercial disinfectants are readily available. Diluted bleach (8 ounces bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant; it works best on a surface that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  5. Do not share feed and water buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, or manure forks. Disinfect these items after arriving home from an event.
  6. Limit exposure. Do not allow horses to have nose to nose contact. Limit the general public’s contact with your horses and your contact with other horses.
    Upon returning home from a show, wash your hands, shower, and change clothing and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  7. Isolate returning horses from resident horses for 14 days. Monitor horses daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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

Horse Manure Management and Composting

Photo credit: Oregon State University Extension

While not the most glamorous subject associated with horse ownership, manure management is a very important and inevitable part of responsible horse ownership, regardless of how many horses you own or manage.

Manure is considered a valuable resource by many farmers for its nutrient values and soil amending characteristics. This summary addresses characteristics of horse manure as well as techniques for handling, storing, composting and utilizing horse manure.

For calculation purposes, the average 1,000 pound horse eats roughly 2% of its body weight and drinks 10 to 12 gallons of water each day. This will vary with individual metabolism, activity level and the weather. On average, that same 1,000 pound horse will excrete 56 pounds of manure (feces and urine combined) each day, which adds up to more than 10 tons annually. In fresh manure, there is roughly 0.2 pounds of nitrogen (N), 0.03 pounds of phosphorus (P) and 0.06 pounds of potassium (K) in each pound of manure.

Storing manure typically consists of: short-term stockpiling, permanent stockpiling, composting or spreading the manure. Stockpiling is a pile of solid manure that is left undisturbed and may or may not be added to. Stockpiling can occur on a temporary or permanent site. There are existing state guidelines for stockpiling manure that should be researched prior to establishing or constructing a manure stockpile.

Composting is managed, accelerated decomposition of organic materials by microbes (i.e. bacteria, fungus and molds). The goal of the composting process is to provide these microbes with an optimum environment that encourages manure decomposition quickly and efficiently. If left on its own, a manure pile will eventually decompose, but nutrients will be lost, and unwanted organisms may infest the remaining compost.

The article Horse Manure Management and Composting further discusses your options for using the manure on your farm. It also outlines items that should be addressed in your farm’s manure management plan.

Your local Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is also a valuable resource for helping you understand local ordinances and regulations. They may also have programs in place to help you establish best manure management practices.

Summarized by Abby Neu, MS, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Solving Separation Anxiety in Horses

It’s always a great consideration to keep your horse with a companion, as it feeds that natural instinct and bond horses experience in the wild. Although ideal, sometimes it’s not realistic. There can be periods of time where your horse will need to cope with being separated from stall mates or companions, and the better prepared they are, the easier the transition.

Here are a few tips to better prepare your horse for times of separation:

  • Start Small – Moving your horse’s companion away slowly, can sometimes result in a better transition. Try switching a buddy to another stall and gradually widen that gap of space between the two.
  • Frequency – Keeping a regular routine of separation will help your horse to better adjust. Instead of attempting once a month, try a few times a week. This will set the stage for the progression of separation.
  • Distraction – If your horse seems extremely bothered by the separation, try distracting him with some feed or hay. Practice other forms of distraction that might ease that anxiety.
  • Stay Calm – Horses are very intuitive and can react based on your emotions, so avoid yelling or raising your voice if your horse displays signs of anxious behavior.
  • Keep it Safe – Make sure while separating your horse from his companion that the environment is safe. Check over a stall for safety or fencing for security. If the anxiety is beyond a level of safety for your horse, consider talking to a professional that can help with varying techniques.

Separation anxiety can be stressful for the horse owner and horse alike, but with small, frequent steps, you’re likely to start down the path of stress-free separation.

Winter Care for your Senior Horse

As those who live in true winter geographies know, the cold weather can be brutal for any horse, let alone our aging companions. That is why it’s incredibly important to consider the special needs of your senior horse, as the temperatures drop.  

  • Blanketing – Depending on the extremeness of your temperatures, blanketing your senior horse can be an important consideration of winter care. Try to remember to spread out and look over your blankets before the weather turns bitter cold, to ensure they are in good condition. 
  • Body Condition Score (BCS) – It’s important to understand and evaluate your senior horse’s Body Condition Score before the winter months hit. But if you find yourself in the thick of winter with a senior horse that is rapidly losing weight, then speak to your veterinarian about the best options to add on pounds during the frigid months. 
  • Hydration is Key – The role water plays in the health of your horse is just as important during the cold of winter, as it is the heat of summer. Make sure there is adequate access to fresh water for your senior horse throughout the day. Not only can dehydration lead to impaction colic, but it can decrease feed intake, which is vital for your senior horse during the winter months.  
  • Stay Well-Supplied – Make sure you are prepared for the conditions, which includes sufficient amounts of feed and hay, medications, anti-ice materials, flashlights, light bulbs and other items you may need if a storm hits.  

Winter isn’t an easy season to endure with senior horses, but with planning and preparedness, you and your aging friend will weather the storm.