Calming Effects on Horses

Adapted horses have been found to have a calming effect on other horses in fear-eliciting situations. In practice, experienced horses are often used as companions when young horses are introduced to potentially frightening situations (i.e. loading onto a trailer). However, studies of social transmission of adapted in horses are scarce.

This study, conducted in Denmark, investigated if demonstration by an experienced horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses to cross a novel surface. Young horses were allowed to observe the experienced horse being led five times across a novel surface. Immediately afterwards, the young horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls were allowed to observe the experienced horse eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not when the experienced horse crossed the novel surface.

All young horses succeeded in the task, but horses who observed the experienced horses crossing the novel surface had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate compared to controls. This result suggests a calming effect of the demonstration, which could be implemented when training young horses in fear-eliciting situations.

Summarized by: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

 

Lighting & Nutrition for Breeding Late Winter/Early Spring

Mares that are not pregnant at the end of the year should be getting careful attention in December and January to make certain that they are ready for the start of the breeding season. Horses in North America have a universal birthday January 1, so it may be desired in some cases to be breeding as early as possible while making certain that foals do not arrive in December.

The use of artificial lighting to help prepare mares for breeding is a fairly standard management tool. A common practice is to put mares under lights in early December to help get mares cycling by mid to late February.  Breeding earlier than mid-February is not recommended as a short gestation period might result in a December foal and a very young yearling!  There are multiple lighting systems, but all deliver 16 hours of combined artificial and natural light.  While you can use a light meter to measure illumination, a common rule of thumb is that you should be able to comfortably read a newspaper in any of the stall or paddock area when the lights are on.  (Reading your backlit smartphone does not count!) One caveat is that if you have mares that are due to foal very early, you may want to avoid putting them under lights as this has been reported to shorten gestation a few days.  Again, you do not want yearlings that are only a few days old!

Body condition is also very important at this time of the year. If you have open mares that are below Body Condition Score 5, now is a good time to increase the plane of nutrition so that they are maintaining or gaining a slight bit of weight.  If they are over BCS 6, do NOT put them on a diet as a negative energy balance (losing weight) may interfere with normal estrus cycle.

Much of the country is having some unusually cold weather in late December 2017 and early January 2018. Mares that are experiencing cold weather need to have access to unfrozen water, loose salt and adequate quality forage, supplemented with a balancer or grain product to maintain body condition.

Proper veterinarian examination, artificial lighting and good nutrition can set the stage for a successful early breeding season

Artificial Lighting: Preparing for Early Breeding, Bradford W. Daigneault, M.S. University of Illinois/U.S. Department of Agriculture/Local Extension Councils Cooperating, November 2012 is a good article on lighting for reference.

Beware of Loss of Body Condition in Cold Weather

Cold weather, particularly below freezing temperatures and cold rains, requires that owners pay careful attention to their horses to make certain that the horses maintain weight thru the winter months.

First, make certain the horses are at least a body condition score of 5 or 6, meaning that the horses are carrying some fat cover over their ribs.  Body condition should be monitored by physical examination at least monthly as long hair can hide weight loss.  This is particularly important for older horses.  The horses should also be kept up to date on dental care and overall health care, including appropriate deworming.  It is a good idea to let horses go barefoot with proper hoof care during the winter.

Second, adequate water, above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, should be available at all times.  If water sources freeze, the ice should be broken at least twice per day.  Owners should NOT rely on horses eating snow for their water supply.  A 1200-pound horse will require 12-15 gallons of water per day during cold weather.  Having inadequate water available or water that is too cold for horses to drink comfortably may contribute to impaction colic.  A horse that does not have adequate water available will also decrease feed intake, which may lead to loss of body condition.  Salt should be available free choice, preferably loose salt rather than a salt block as horses may not lick a cold salt block.

Third, provide shelter from cold rains and wind.  Horses remain remarkably comfortable in cold weather if they are dry and have shelter from the wind.  Cold rains mat down the hair coat, reducing the insulation value of the hair and causing the horses to lose body heat. State regulations may dictate shelter requirements.

Fourth, feed more!  A horse’s digestible energy requirement increases for each degree below the thermal neutral zone.  Wind chill increases the energy requirement also.  Hay or high fiber products produce more heat during digestion than do grains, so adding extra good quality roughage to the diet is a good option.  Grain intake can also be adjusted to maintain the desired body condition, but needs to be adjusted gradually.

A 1200 lb. horse at maintenance requires about 17.7 Mcal (17,700 Calories) of DE for maintenance. Each degree C below Lower Critical Temperature (Anywhere from 5 degrees C or 40 degrees F down, depending on what the horse is used to.) increases DE requirement about 2.5%. (NRC, 6th Edition, page 10-11.)  Converting to Fahrenheit, each degree drop requires about 1.375%, so if the temperature drops from 10 degrees F to 0 degrees F, the DE requirement may increase 13.75% to 20.13 Mcal or 20,130 Calories.  This increase of 2430 Calories would require an additional 2.8 pounds of alfalfa grass hay to maintain body condition.  If the horse does NOT get the additional DE, the horse could lose a little over a quarter of a lb. per day.  If we have 3 months of cold weather, it is very easy for a horse to drop a full body condition score.  Shorter periods of extreme cold may cause more rapid loss of weight.

Proper winter care will help assure that your horse is ready for spring!

Ask the Expert: When to Blanket a Horse

Question: I’m confused about blanketing my horse during the winter. I grew up with horses happily housed outside and un-blanketed during the winter months. The horses had access to shelter. I’m now boarding my horse and everyone at the barn blankets their horse and thinks I’m crazy not to! The horse does have access to shelter while outside. Can you please give me some advise on blanketing during the winter?

Answer: Most horses are blanketed for various reasons (i.e. show schedules) or due to personal preference of the owner. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  • There is no shelter available during turnout periods and the temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F
  • There is a chance the horse will become wet (not usually a problem with snow, but a problem with rain, ice, and/or freezing rain during cold weather)
  • The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse has not been acclimated to the cold (i.e. recently relocated from a southern climate)
  • The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as days are becoming shorter. Horses begin to lose their winter coat, and start forming their summer coat, as the days begin to get longer. Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Author: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Winter Is Coming – Are You Ready?

As many regions of the US are still experiencing fairly mild conditions, the inevitable is coming…winter. But with proper preparation and foresight, the extreme conditions can be slightly more bearable. Read on for some handy tips to keep you and your horse warm and cozy.

  • Blanketing:  In general, horses adapt well to decreasing temperatures by growing an insulating hair coat.  As long as they have shelter to get out of wind and precipitation, and are able to meet their increased energy (calorie) requirement, they do quite well and can tolerate sub-zero temperatures.
    • Keep in mind, the insulating value of the hair coat is compromised if it gets wet.  As temperatures drop below the critical temperature which is around 50°F on average, horses require more energy to stay warm, which is best provided by increasing the forage in their diet, not grain.
    • Blanketing may be a good option if:
      • There is no shelter during turn out
      • The horse’s hair coat is clipped
      • You have a very young or very old horse that might not be efficient at maintaining body temperature
      • The horse is under-conditioned or under weight
    • Finding a blanket that fits well, is waterproof, breathable, and the proper weight (light, medium, heavy fill) based on the conditions are important considerations.
    • If you already own blankets, dig them out before you need them and check to ensure they are clean, in good repair, and still fit your horse properly.
    • Never blanket a wet horse, or put a wet or damp blanket on a horse.
  • Don’t forget to periodically remove the blanket and assess body condition, and check for any rub marks that the blanket may be causing.
  • Winterizing the barn and trailer: Fall is a good time to prepare your barn and trailer for colder weather.  Cleaning, installing or checking insulation, replacing screens with windows, ensuring ventilation is adequate, insulating water sources, cleaning and safety-checking heaters and electrical systems, are recommended.
    • In the barn:
      • Check the roof for structural integrity and leaks
      • Clean gutters and install snow slides if needed
      • Plan for snow removal and de-icing walkways, if applicable.
    • In the trailer:
      • Check the floor, lights, brakes, and tires and replace or provide maintenance as needed.
      • Put together an emergency kit for you and your horse in the event of a break-down in winter weather.
      • If you are on the road frequently, consider road-side-service for equestrians in the event of an emergency.

Good luck, stay safe, and take a moment to enjoy the site of your horse playing in the snow if you are lucky enough to see some!

Ask the Expert: Estimating Winter Hay Needs

Question:  We recently purchased a farm and will be housing our two quarter horses over the winter; they will not ridden during the winter. Because I’ve always boarded my horses, I’m not sure how to estimate how much hay I will need for the winter.

Answer:  An adult horse at maintenance will consume between 2 – 2.5% of their bodyweight in feed (hay and grain) each day. For example, a 1,000 pound horse fed a 100% hay diet would consume 25 pounds of hay each day (using the 2.5% recommendation). From October 15 to May 15 (when there is no pasture in MN), the horse would consume about 5,350 pounds of hay or 2.7 tons. This would equal 107, 50 pound small square bales or six, 900 pound round bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled. It is critical to know the weight of the hay bales; not all bales weigh the same.

If the same horse was receiving five pounds of grain each day, their hay needs would be reduced to 20 pounds each day. From October 15 to May 15 the horse would consume about 4,280 pounds of hay or 2.1 tons. This would equal 86, 50 pound small square bales or five, 900 pound round bales during this time. Again, double this amount for two horses.

These estimates assume good quality hay is fed in a feeder to reduced hay waste. When feeding small squares-bales, hay waste when a feeder was not used (hay fed on the ground) was 13% compared to only 1 to 5% when a feeder was used.  When feeding large round-bales, not using a feeder resulted in 57% hay waste compared to 5 to 33% when a feeder was used. It’s always best to purchase extra hay to account for waste and because horses may require additional hay during the cold winter months.

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/.

Halloween Candy – Horses & Dogs

It’s the time of year when ghosts and goblins are out and about – there are Halloween costume contests and pumpkin spice everything. And the candy! So. Much. Candy.  But what’s safe for our horses and dogs? Can they participate in the fun or will the candy make them sick? Most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic to dogs – but would you know what to do if your pup helps himself to that bowl of peanut butter cups? And our horses LOVE sugary snacks, but what’s really safe for them to have and what’s not?

Let’s begin with dogs and chocolate. First off, if you know your dog has ingested chocolate, call your vet. Depending on the type of chocolate and the size of your dog, you may need to bring them in right away. Cocoa powder is the most toxic type of chocolate and white chocolate is the least. Depending on your situation, your vet might suggest you induce vomiting. If you aren’t sure if they ingested it, you should watch your dog for signs of chocolate toxicity – things like vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and restlessness.  When in doubt, go to your nearest emergency vet clinic.

Besides chocolate, really no candy is truly safe for your dog. Many other types of candy such as gum contain a sweetener called xylitol that can cause liver failure in dogs. It’s best to stick to dog specific treats if you want to give your dog something fun for the holiday.

As for horses, what can they have for a Halloween snack? Of course for any horses with insulin resistance diseases, gastric ulcers or other medical conditions, you should stick with only what your vet suggests for treats and feed. But will the occasional candy corn hurt your ‘normal’ horse? Probably not, but keep in mind candy (mints included) have more sugar in them than just one sugar cube, so keep the Halloween treats to a minimum and keep your horse away from anything chocolate. But the safest thing is just giving your horse a carrot, which he will love just as much!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Fall Check List for Broodmares – Verify Pregnancy & Plan for Next Year

One of the most important development periods in the life of a foal is the last six months of gestation when the foal is developing in the uterus of the mare. The importance of this period was recognized in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, when the Committee established that the nutrient requirements of the mare start increasing at the sixth month of gestation. Mares that foaled and were re-bred or were bred in the first four months of the calendar year may now be entering sixth month of gestation, so a fall check-up is an excellent idea.

The key elements of managing the pregnant mare are the following:

  1. Verify that all bred mares are pregnant. If there are open mares, now is the time to assess potential problems and prepare them for breeding the next season. If a mare was pregnant and has lost the pregnancy, now is the time to plan her program. If she needs to go under lights, that should happen about December 1. If Body Condition was an issue, now is the time to bring her up to desired score.
  2. Mares should be at about a body condition score 6 when they foal so that they have sufficient energy reserves for early lactation as well as to maintain condition for re-breeding. If they need to gain weight, now is an excellent time to gradually increase the energy intake of the diet so they will be in the desired body condition at foaling. If they are a bit too heavy, increased exercise or slight reduction in energy intake may be useful while still maintaining amino acid, vitamin and mineral intake for the developing foal. Drastic weight loss is NOT recommended!
  3. Lysine, methionine and threonine, the first three limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development. Amino acids are more critical than crude protein.
  4. The mare needs to be receiving adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium to provide minerals for the development of the foal and to build the foals own trace mineral reserves. Trace minerals are also critical for immune support. A good vitamin program is also essential.
  5. A regular health care program should be developed in conjunction with a veterinarian so the mare is protected herself and can also produce antibodies to protect the foal when it nurses and receives the colostrum that contains maternal antibodies.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but is unlikely to provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An appropriate ration balancer product may be used from month five to about month 10 or 11 of gestation to provide the missing nutrients. A feed designed for broodmares and foals can be introduced prior to foaling so that the mare is on the feed before she foals. This feed can then be increased after foaling to provide both the increased energy and the increased nutrients that are required for lactation, as well as providing nutrition for the foal when it starts to nibble on feed. Fresh clean water and free choice salt should also be available at all times.

Feeding the broodmare properly during gestation can help reduce the risk of developmental problems for the foal and help insure that the mare can be rebred in a timely manner to produce another foal the following year.

The Buddy System – Horses and Hens as Companions

Have you ever wanted to diversify your farm with companion species? If so, do you find yourself wondering, ‘What species go well together?’ Well that answer can be as simple as horses and hens! Horse owners can find multiple benefits in adding chickens to their operation. Not only are they fun to watch, but the chickens can serve a purpose!

  • 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.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • 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…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed separately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

 

Tips on Growing and Selling Horse Hay

Five horse hay growers in Minnesota share their tips on growing and selling horse hay, including how they monitor moisture throughout the baling process, how they work around the weather, what types of forages they grow and the investment it takes to grow and harvest hay. The farmers also share their advice for individuals wanting to grow and/or sell horse hay and their greatest challenges associated with growing and selling horse hay.

This video was shared 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/.