Thanks to our friends at University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program, here are some tips on how to physically evaluate your horse’s hay.
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.
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/.
Feed storage areas should have the following characteristics:
- Dry and well ventilated – Feed must be protected from moisture. Feed bags should not be stacked directly on the floor as moisture may be absorbed in the bottom bags and the feed may mold in the bag. Any feed storage containers (bins, garbage cans etc.) should be water and pest resistant. Also, you should completely empty and clean out the feed storage container on a regular basis. If you store feed in bags, make old feed is not allowed to accumulate by stacking new feed on top of the old bags.
- Well lighted – It is important that you be able to see clearly the condition of any feed or supplement products stored in your feed room. Feed and feed supplements are produced under controlled conditions. Once the feed has left a feed mill, it may be exposed to other conditions in storage, so it is wise to be able to see clearly what the feed looks like every time you feed your horse.
- Clean – It is important to keep the feed room/storage area free of spilled feed, dust and potential sources of contamination.
- Pest free – Feed tends to attract rodents, birds and insects. Spilled feed should be cleaned up. If pest control is required, care should be taken to make certain that any pesticides or rodenticides cannot contaminate the feed and that animals cannot access the pest control material. The hay storage area should also reduce the risk of exposure to pests. Opossums are identified as potential carriers of Equine Protozal Myeloencephalitis (EPM). Other species may also be carriers.
- Secure – Horses and other animals should be prevented from accidental access to the feed storage area. If the Houdini in your barn opens the stall and gets into the feed room, lots of bad things can happen! Also, if you have multiple species, you need to keep horse feed clearly separated for any other species feed, particularly medicated ruminant, poultry and swine feeds.
Unusual eating behavior ( sometimes referred to as pica) can be caused by a number of factors and may cause the horse to eat manure, eat dirt, eat bark off trees, chew on board fences, chew on stable mate’s mane & tail or chew on tool handles or leather equipment.
I usually suggest going thru the following check list for the most common causes of unusual eating behavior:
- Lack of salt. Lack of salt can trigger a number of unusual eating behaviors (eating manure, chewing bark on trees, eating dirt, chewing on objects, chewing on tool handles etc.) Recommendation is to offer loose salt free choice as horses will consume more readily than block salt, particularly in cold weather. Block salt is better than not offering any salt source. Maintenance horses require 1-2 ounces of salt per day. This may increase to 4-6 ounces per head per day in hot humid conditions or with added exercise. Commercial feeds may contain 0.5% salt. Horses may still benefit from salt being offered free choice along with access to fresh, clean water.
- Fiber intake in the diet might be inadequate. If a horse does not feel full, it will look for other things to eat. Make sure there is adequate long stem roughage available. Fences, trees, manes and tails may suffer if there is not sufficient roughage!
- Phosphorus deficiency. Horses have quite limited “nutritional wisdom”, but phosphorus deficiency may trigger unusual eating behavior, including eating manure or dirt. Offering a free choice calcium, phosphorus and salt mineral may be useful. In the wild, animals frequently consume bones or shed antlers to get minerals.
- Protein deficiency. Again, horses have limited “nutritional wisdom”, but inadequate protein or poor quality protein may trigger some of the unusual eating behaviors. Evaluating the forage and the overall feeding program is useful.
- Ulcers. Horses that have ulcers will sometimes eat dirt or manure as well as chew on other objects. The saliva produced when chewing is believed to have a buffering effect.
I always start by offering loose salt free choice and making certain that fiber intake is adequate. If that does not remedy the problem, I will then go to offering a good mineral product (calcium, phosphorus, salt combination, perhaps with some trace minerals) and perhaps a full ration evaluation. Other behaviors may help decide if ulcer assessment is needed.
Unusual behavior may be the horse’s way of trying to tell us something!
I was visiting with some friends at a recent horse owners meeting. I saw a trainer I had visited several times in the past few years, answering nutrition questions and making recommendations. I asked how his horses were doing and if he had made any changes to his feed program. He replied that he had switched to a competitor’s product a few months ago and the results were terrible. His horses had lost weight, their coats were dull and he went back to feeding his old mill mix.
I asked which product he was feeding in particular and if he was feeding it to all of his horses? He had chosen a product that was designed for maintenance level horses, not show horses or breeding stock. For horses working harder an added supplementation and proper feed rates would be imperative.
Although I was disappointed he hadn’t tried Nutrena products, I went on to ask if he followed the directions on the tag? He responded that he can never figure out all that garbage on the tag and fed his horses as he always does. There was part of the problem!
A feed tag will give you a statement of purpose, what type of horse and life style it is formulated to be fed. Next it will list the recommended feed rate. This can vary from 1/4 pound to 2 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, depending on the fortification and quality of nutrients.
I was familiar with the product he had tried and their feed rate for horses working at a performance level would be 1.5 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, or 15 pounds per day for a 1000 horse. This would have to be broken down into 3 feedings to be fed at a safe consumption rate, and could also mean added labor for his farm, not a bargain.
When I mentioned what I believed was the recommended feed rate for the product he was surprised. He said he would never feed that much of a concentrate to any horse. Again, he reiterated he doesn’t have time to read tags and do the math. I told him it is like making a box cake. You need to follow the directions, if you don’t use the entire box of cake mix, you won’t get the desired results. He did laugh at my remark, but I also think he understood the concept.