Feeding the Easy Keeper Horse

Is your horse on the higher end of the body condition score chart? Or does he seem to gain weight by simply looking at a bag of feed? Then check out these feeding tips for the easy keeper.

  1. Limit pasture grazing time. This is especially true in spring and early summer, when pasture growth is most rapid. If this is not possible, fit the horse with a grazing muzzle.
  2. Don’t feed high-fat supplements. Eliminate corn oil, flaxseed and rice bran supplements from your horse’s diet to cut out some calories and prevent excessive weight gain.
  3. Eliminate high-calorie concentrates. Instead try a ration balancer product, which is a low calorie and low starch, vitamin and mineral fortified supplement in a pelleted form that supplies the missing nutrients for a horse consuming only hay or pasture.
  4. Start an exercise program. The main purpose of exercise is to increase energy expenditure or calorie loss. Other benefits of daily exercise include an increase in metabolic rate, a possible reduction in appetite, and prevention of bone and mineral losses that may occur during calorie restriction when the horse is inactive.
  5. Replace legume hay with grass hay. Legume hay, such as alfalfa and clover, contains more calories per pound than grass hays. Instead of alfalfa, feed a high-fiber, good quality grass hay that is free of dust, mold and weeds.
  6. Limit the amount of hay fed and divide it into several daily feedings. Limit the amount of hay fed to 1.5% of body weight, which is enough to ensure body condition maintenance while keeping proper digestive function happening. If the horse’s body condition is still excessive after weight loss has stabilized, then decrease the feeding rate of hay to 1.25% of body weight or less and continue feeding management for weight loss.

At the end of the day, the name of the game is simple – your horse needs more calories being burned, than calories being consumed. It just takes some planning, and sticking with the plan for the long haul, to keep your easy keeper in ideal condition.

Ask the Expert: Maple Leaf Toxicity

Question: Our horse pasture has several maples trees. I was told they are toxic to horses, but our horses seem fine. Are they toxic? If they are, do we have to remove them from our pasture?   

Answer: Wilted (not fresh) maple leaves are toxic to horses. However, horses must eat 1.5 to 3 pounds of wilted maple leaves per 1,000 pounds of bodyweight to become sick.  Wilted maple leaves can remain toxic for four weeks, but they aren’t generally believed to retain toxicity the following spring. Thus, illness normally occurs in the fall when normal leaf fall occurs. 

Illness from maple leaves has only been reported in horses. Common signs after the first day of eating leaves include depressed behavior, tiredness, not eating, and dark red/brown urine. Signs may progress to going down with labored breathing and increased heart rate before death. Don’t cut down maple trees in horse pastures. Instead, keep branches out of reach of horses (for example, trimmed above their reach) and fence horses out of areas with a lot of wilted maple leaves. However, horses will rarely choose to ingest wilted maple leave unless very hungry. For more information on wilted maple leave toxicity, click here

Written 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/.

Frost Concerns for Grazing Horses

Photo Credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Fall can be a beautiful time of year for horseback riding. However, frost can negatively impact horse health during fall grazing. 

There are no reports of toxicity of horses grazing frost damaged pastures (includes grass and legume species). However, frost damaged pastures can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, leading to an increase in potential for founder and colic, especially in horses diagnosed with or prone to obesity, laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. To help prevent these health issues, wait up to a week before turning horses back onto a pasture after a killing frost. Subsequent frosts are not a concern as the pasture plants were killed during the first frost.

Why do nonstructural carbohydrates increase during the fall? During the day, plants carry out the process of photosynthesis. In this process, they make carbohydrates as an energy source for the plant. A second process, respiration, is carried out when the plants use up the carbohydrates they produce during the night for energy. Plant respiration slows down when temperatures are near freezing. As a result, the plants hold their carbohydrates overnight. Freezing can stop respiration and lock the carbohydrates in the plant for over a week. Thus, plants tend to contain more carbohydrates in colder temperatures or after a frost. Often, horses will prefer forages after a frost due to the higher carbohydrates levels.

For more information on fall health concerns for grazing horses, click here

Written 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/.
  

Ask the Expert: Feeding Preservative Treated Hay

Photo Credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Question: Our regular hay supplier applied a preservative (propionic acid) to the bales this year. What is that and is it safe for horses?   

Answer: Preservatives are commonly used during times of frequent rainfall or poor drying conditions (e.g. high humidity or heavy dew). Propionic and acetic acids are commonly used hay preservative that are applied to hay as it is baled to allow baling of wetter than normal hay without spoiling during storage. Moisture at the time of baling is directly related to mold formation. Hay baled at ≤15% moisture is unlike to mold; however this is impacted by bale-type and mass. For example, small square bales can be baled up to 18% moisture with limited risk of mold formation; however, large round bales must be baled at ≤15% moisture to reduce the risk of mold formation. Preservatives are most effective at inhibiting mold growth, and most economical, when the hay is baled between 18 to 25% moisture. 

Preservatives are safe for use in horse hay. Researchers found that when given a choice, horses preferred hay that was not treated with a preservative; however, horses readily consumed the treated hay when a choice was not given. Yearlings receiving hay treated with a preservative consumed and gained just as much as yearlings consuming untreated hay, and clinical measures of well-being were not affected by consumption of preservative-treated hay. Interestingly, a horse’s hindgut bacteria actually make propionic acid as a result of microbial fermentation.

Therefore, feeding horses hay treated with a preservative is a safe and common practice, especially in years when poor weather conditions exist for making hay, and helps to inhibit mold growth during storage.

Written 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/.

Maintaining Body Condition in Hot Weather

It may seem like common sense, but a horse that is overweight is a horse that will struggle in warmer temperatures. The fat on a horse acts as insulation, great in the winter, but come summer this is a major issue. An obese horse in the summer can result in heat stress. This is why it’s vital to keep tabs on your horses’ body condition score during all seasons.

A proper body condition score (BCS) for growing and performance horses, as well as general-use horses, should be kept at 4-7, with a 5 being “ideal”.  Broodmares should generally be kept at a 5.5-7.5.

Weight tape (or a scale) can be used to monitor changes in the horse’s body condition. A weight tape may not be very accurate for estimating exact body weight for a particular horse, but it is consistently accurate at discovering changes in your horse’s weight. Take the measurement every 30 days, applying the tape at the same location around the heart girth and behind the withers, and maintain the same tension on the tape each time you use it. The results of your monthly measurements can be used to adjust your horse’s feeding program to maintain a constant and desirable body weight and body condition score.

Learn more about proper body condition scoring here.

Ask the Expert: Grazing a Newly Seeded Pasture

Question: This spring, we planted 2.5 acres of pasture for our horses. The grasses are now 6 inches tall and the stand density appears good. Should we mow the pasture? If so, how often? When should we start grazing?  

Answer: You will want to mow the pasture 3 times before allowing the horses to graze. Since the grass is 6″ tall, mow it down to 3″ and allow it to re-grow to 6″, then mow again. Follow this cycle until you have mowed the pasture 3 times. This is critical since new grass seedlings need time to firmly root into the ground. Mowing helps to stimulate root growth and anchors the plant without the physical pressures of grazing. If the pasture is grazed too soon, horse can pull new grass seedlings out of the ground. Mowing will also help control some weeds that are common in new pasture seedings.

Once you have mowed 3 times and the grass has regrown to 6″, you can start grazing the horses. If the horses are acclimated to pasture, they can be allowed to graze until the pasture is, on average, grazed down to 3″. At this time, you would rotate the horses off the pasture, mow the pasture to 3″, allow the pasture to regrow to 6″, then graze again. You would keep repeating this process until the pasture stops regrowing in the fall; it is critical to allow the pasture to rest and regrow. Unfortunately, horses do not graze uniformly, so mowing is necessary to ensure the pasture regrows evenly, plus mowing will help control some weeds.

If your horses are not acclimated to pasture, then start grazing in 15 minutes increments, adding 15 minutes each day until you reach 5 hours of consecutive grazing. For example, 15 minutes on day 1, 30 minutes on day 2, 45 minutes on day 3, etc. This allows the horses to slowly acclimate to pasture and reduces the risk of laminitis and colic that is often seen with abrupt diet changes.

Along with mowing, make sure to drag manure piles 2 to 3 times a year during hot and dry times, fertilize as needed, and control weeds. For more information on pasture management, click here.  

Written 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/.

Biosecurity Tips for the Riding Season

Biosecurity refers to a set of practices horse owners can take to prevent and reduce the spread of disease. Biosecurity plans are especially important when traveling to and from different facilities with your horse. By bringing your horse to a new barn, arena or campsite, the risk of disease exposure is increased. Conversely, you can increase the risk of disease exposure to other horses at the facility when returning from a trip. 

There are many biosecurity practices owners can take on their farm or when traveling with a horse. The following are a few biosecurity tips for before you leave, while away, and when you return from a trip.

Before You Leave

  • Work with a veterinarian to keep your horse up-to-date on vaccines.
  • Keep sick horses at home. Watch for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.
  • Pack cleaning supplies and disinfectants. Diluted bleach (8 ounces of bleach to 1 gallon of water) is an inexpensive disinfectant.

While You’re Away

  • When possible, use your own trailer to haul your horse, and avoid having your horse hauled with horses outside your barn.
  • Frequently wash your hands with warm, soapy water.
  • Clean and disinfect stalls at the show or camp facilities. Make sure surfaces are clean and dry before applying disinfectants.
  • Don’t share buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack or equipment.
  • Avoid putting shared hoses in your horse’s water bucket. Disinfect the nozzle and hold the hose above the water bucket when filling buckets.
  • Don’t allow horses to have nose-to-nose contact.
  • Limit the general public’s contact with your horse, and limit your contact with other horses.
  • Don’t hand graze your horse where other horses have grazed.
  • Clean and disinfectant your trailer after traveling to and from different horse facilities.

When You Return

  • Clean and disinfect your horse trailer.
  • Isolate your horse from horses kept at home for 14 days. Monitor your horse daily for signs of fever, nasal discharge, and diarrhea.
  • Wash your hands, shower and change your clothes and shoes before working with horses kept at home.
  • Disinfect buckets, hay bags, grooming tools, tack, and equipment. If possible, designate items for home-use only and travel-use only.

 Remember, an ounce of prevention can help keep a horse healthy throughout the trail riding and show season. 

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

Initiating Spring Grazing

Spring has sprung, and that means that it’s time to prepare your horses and pasture for spring grazing. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

Is your pasture ready?

  • Check and repair all fencing and gates.
  • Check that water sources are clean and working.
  • Begin grazing when a majority of the pasture is 6 to 8” tall.

Are your horses ready?

  • Schedule annual dental care
  • Test manure to determine fecal egg count and deworm accordingly to reduce parasite load on the pasture.

Start grazing!

  • Start with 15 minutes per day.
  • Add 15 minutes each day until 5 hours of grazing is reached, then unrestricted grazing can begin.
  • Stop grazing when a majority of the pasture is grazed down to 3″ to 4” tall and rotate to a new pasture or dry lot.

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

Horse Mud – Managing Mud

Throughout the year, horse owners work outside to care for their horses despite what challenges the forecast might offer. Precipitation, whether its rain, sleet, or snow, eventually turns soil to mud and can create major hurdles for efficient horse management. In order to best manage muddy conditions, plans to manage precipitation should be made and permanent drainage solutions constructed.

Horse Mud Managing Mud

Permanent Drainage Solutions

Facility layout is a key first step to permanent drainage solutions.

Buildings, material storage, animal feeding areas, and shelters should be placed on higher ground as these areas tend to dry faster and precipitation tends to flow away.

An ideal slope for this type of layout is between 4 and 6 degrees. In areas of heavy traffic where mud tends to accumulate (e.g., gates, laneways and dry lots), consider constructing a high traffic pad.

High traffic pads are specifically designed to improve drainage and provide stabilization through the use of multiple layers of permeable geotextile fabric and stones of various sizes.

How to Construct a High Traffic Pad

To create better drainage, high traffic pads should be constructed in areas that have reduced or no vegetation (e.g., dry lots) or are compacted from hoof traffic (e.g. laneways). Due to cost, it is rare that an entire dry lot will be constructed as a high traffic pad. Rather, select specific areas with a dry lot with a maximum slope of 6 degrees to help ensure that footing does not wash away.

Construction Steps

  1. Remove 8 inches of the topsoil. Make sure that your base is level.
  2. Install a drainpipe parallel to the high traffic pad. Pipe should be permeable to allow for water to enter and be directed towards a drainage ditch. This step is optional and should only be included when an appropriate endpoint for water can be identified. For the drainpipe to work best, it should be encased in a permeable fabric and surrounded by gravel, similar to a French drain system. This will filter sediment and prevent blockage of the pipe.
  3. Install the first layer of geotextile fabric across the base of the pad. A woven geotextile fabric should be used as it is durable and permeable. This allows water to drain while providing a stable base. It is best to construct your high traffic pad so it aligns with the width of the geotextile fabric (e.g., 10 to 12 feet).
  4. Add 4 inches of crushed limestone. Stone should be between 1.5 to 1.75 inches in size.
  5. Install a second layer of geotextile fabric. This encourages drainage by keeping the layers separated.
  6. Top with a 4 inch layer of footing. Footing recommended is a fine gravel with fines (not washed). Different regions of the country call this type of gravel by different names, but dirty pea gravel is common. Crushed bluestone is also appropriate for a top layer of footing. When in doubt, consult an expert where you plan to purchase this material, they can direct you to a suitable product available in your region.

As a note, alternative grid systems are also available for high traffic pad construction. If these types of systems are used, consult the manufacturing company for installation guidelines.

Maintenance

Maintaining your high traffic pad is just as important as proper construction. Pick manure frequently to prevent nutrient runoff, the creation of more mud, and to reduce bacteria in the environment that may cause thrush, pastern dermatitis and cellulitis. Rake and refresh the high traffic pad as needed to maintain a level surface.

Temporary Drainage Solutions

In the event that temporary, or emergency, mud management is required, dry spots can be constructed by adding gravel, dirt or sand to paddocks. These solutions should only be used when necessary as they lack the structure of high traffic pads and may result in erosion and nutrient runoff. Footing materials that readily decompose such as straw, hay and wood chips should be avoided.

Other Precipitation Management Recommendations

  • Install gutters on all buildings and utilize drainage ditches and swales to direct precipitation towards these areas.
  • In regions where snowfall is expected, create a plan for piling snow to ensure that you can accommodate snow melt in the spring. As a reminder, make sure that precipitation and melting snow are not draining into manure piles as this can create nutrient runoff.
  • Manure should always be stored on a non-porous pad (e.g. concrete) and removed regularly, following state and local codes.

Horse Health Concerns in Muddy Environments

Horses exposed to muddy environments should be checked daily for signs of thrush, pastern dermatitis and cellulitis.

These conditions are perpetuated by wet environments and can be worsened by the presence of bacteria.

Daily removal of manure can aid in reducing bacteria in the environment.

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

Horse Feed With High Fat Content – The Evolving Role of Fat: The Omega-6 and Omega-3 Ratio

Horse Feed With High Fat ContentThe use of fat in the equine diet has a long history.  A very old book, Horse Secrets by A.S. Alexander, published in 1913, points out that horse traders knew back then that adding fat to the diet was beneficial for gaining weight and improving hair coat.  They may not have known why it worked, but they knew that it worked!

Corn oil was an early oil source as it was available and palatable.  Flax seed, boiled to both soften the husk and to eliminate anti-nutritional factors, was also used to provide both fat and protein.

The use of vegetable oil as an energy source has become standard in horse feeds.  Animal fat sources, while used in early research, have pretty much been eliminated from use in horse feeds, primarily due to palatability and perception issues.

SafeChoice Horse Feeds are where good equine health starts. Each product has controlled starch levels that may help support horses who have metabolic concerns, while added-fat options improve energy and enhance performance.

From an energy standpoint, all of the common vegetable oils are very similar.  More recently, considering the essential fatty acid content, particularly the Omega-6 and Omega-3 levels, has become important in selecting the oil source.  As with many things, balance along with quantity is important.

As grazing herbivores, horses are accustomed to the limited amount of fat (3-5%) found in forages, particularly fresh pasture, which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, whereas oils from grains and seeds tend to be higher in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the ideal total dietary intake or ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids for horses.  Multi-species work has indicated that a ratio someplace between 2:1 and 10:1 is an acceptable Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio in a total diet.  This considers the higher Omega-3 content of forages and the higher Omega-6 content of grains and some vegetable oils

Dietary supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acid sources has been shown to provide numerous benefits to horses and other animals including:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality
  • Decreased joint pain in arthritic individuals
  • Reproductive benefits
  • Reduction in risk of gastric ulcers
  • Anti-inflammatory effects

Flax seed, flax oil, soy oil and fish oil (limited use due to palatability) are some of the better sources of Omega-3.  Chia seed and oil may also be a useful source and other sources are becoming available.

Feeds and supplements containing added oil are generally balanced to complement the fat present in forages to deliver balanced Omega-6 and Omega-3 levels in the total diet.

Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., pages 44-53, is an excellent source of detailed information.