Is it the Feed, or Something Else?

A farm owner recently called me and asked if I could come out and evaluate his feeding program. The farm was experiencing an increase in colic and choke, which the owner felt was feed related.

As we reviewed the horses, their weights and body conditions were good. In fact a few horses appeared to be on the heavy side. The farm was feeding a first cutting hay. It was fair quality, and the horses appeared to find it palatable. Each horse was receiving 1.5 to 2% of their body weight per day in forage.

The concentrate was a high fat, high fiber pellet with mid line fortification of vitamins and minerals. In addition, pasture was available on a daily basis. With the amount of fiber in the horses diet, I found it interesting that the farm was experiencing increased colic.

I started to investigate other management issues.

    • The feeding schedule was two feedings per day, with the a.m. feeding at 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I had suggested spreading out the feedings into 3, if possible, with a final offering of hay at closing time in the evening, about 10:00 p.m.
    • Salt blocks were available in each stall.
    • Each horse had two water buckets.

It was then that I noticed the water buckets were very discolored and smelled bad. The owner informed me that he was using water from a pond on the farm. He had the water tested, and felt it came back safe for equine consumption. It quickly became obvious that the horses were not consuming enough water on a daily basis, even though it was available to them. I suggested the owner begin cleaning the water buckets on a daily basis to increase consumption .

When I talked with him last, he was not happy with the added labor, but admitted the horses were consuming more water and he did not have any choke or colic in the past two weeks.

10 Replies to “Is it the Feed, or Something Else?”

  1. My horse passed almost 2yrs ago from colic. each year at approx. the same time he would colic for just one day and it was over for a year. the last time he coliced it was off and on. 2 weeks of colic then he was fine for about 3 weeks then he would colic agian. i also came to the conclusion that he was not drinking enough water. i have 3 100 gal water troughs i clean them when either they look bad or just have too much grass or pine needles in them. in Buddy case it was because in the winter it was too cold. he just didn’t like real cold water, he would drink but just not enough.

    1. Hi Rick, So sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for taking a moment to share Buddy’s story – hopefully it will help remind other horse owners to pay attention to water supply and consumption!

      Your point is key, about horses and colic in winter. A horse will consume 10-15 gallons of water per day on average. In extreme cold temperatures they may not drink as much, if the water has ice or is very cold. Dental issue such as fractured or broken teeth are also aggravated by extreme cold water, and may cause a horse to drink less. If possible in the winter, the use of a bucket or tank heater can help keep the water at 50 -65 degrees F, as at this temperature the horse will consume more water, and help lower the risk of having colic issues.

      Gayle R.

  2. Hi Rick I read your letter and was reminded of something I read yesterday from and Ontario fact sheet…..

    The needles of pine trees contain a variety of compounds such as resins, mycotoxins and lignols that can cause toxic reactions in livestock if ingested. However, white and red pines make excellent shelter belt trees on moist to dry soils. Their use should be limited to areas where livestock can not eat their needles.

    I will post a link.

    1. Thank you so much for the information. I know our readers appreciate your information!

      ~ Gayle R.

  3. I have found that if I give added salt or electrolytes to horses feed during changes in the weather and seasons,it encourages them to drink more.I have noticed the amount of colic cases increase dramatically during the changing seasons

  4. we have a 90 ft well, so our water is GREAT. I put gatorade in the water here in Florida the heat will kill you, When I bring them in for the night then their buckets have fresh plain water. In the winter I also put gatorade in the water to make them drink more they love it. We do get freezing night in north Florida

  5. I could not load Michele’s link on trees and particularly pine needles. Our stock tanks get theses pine needles would love to see that link. Please help?

  6. My horse seems to gasp for breath,nostrils going in and out in the evenings what do you think causes this.My wife said he really needs to be up north,where its cooler

    1. Hi Jeff,
      Interesting question and a challenge to answer w/o seeing the horse. If your horse has developed some degree of anhidrosis (loss of ability to sweat), your horse might be gasping for breath to try to help manage body temperature. You might want to use a rectal thermometer and check body temperature. If the body temperature is elevated, this could be an indication. Another cause could be some allergic reactions that are causing a breathing issue. Does this get worse with exercise?

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