Fiber in Horse Feeds

In our previous post, we learned what fiber is and how a horse digests it,and we also learned that a horse consuming 1-1.5% of it’s bodyweight in quality roughage will satisfy its daily fiber requirements.

When it comes to any grain sources that may be added to your horse’s diet, fiber plays a much smaller role since the amount of fiber that is added by grains is relatively little, but the effect and digestive process is similar.

When feeding the grain portion of the diet, ensure that your horse is not receiving high quantities of grain meals all at once – typically no more than 5-6 pounds of grain per meal at most. Because grains tend to be higher in starch than roughage, feeding too much at once can overwhelm the small size and quick rate of passage of food through the stomach and small intestine, and allow starches to pass undigested to the hindgut. Digestion of starches in the hindgut releases lactic acids that are toxic to the fiber-digesting microorganisms, which can result in a gas colic episode or laminitis.

Generally speaking, when you look at a the tag from a basic equine ration, the higher the crude fiber level listed, the lower the energy content of the feed.  Of course, there are other factors that must be looked at, such as the fat level, and also possibly the sources of fiber.

Beet pulp, for example, is often referred to as a “super-fiber” due to the high level of fiber it provides while also providing roughly the same energy level as oats.  While soy hulls and dehydrated alfalfa are common ingredients used to increase fiber levels, a performance horse ration with a higher fiber level may make use of beet pulp to achieve both increased energy and increased fiber levels.

Signs of a Healthy Foal

Chances are your foal will sail through the baby stage with flying colors, especially if it’s normal at birth and good management practices are in place at your farm. However, even under the best circumstances, it’s possible that your youngster could fall prey to one or more problems that can affect foals. How does a healthy newborn foal appear?

Healthy newborn foals should:

  • Assume a sternal position (be able to sit up on his chest) within minutes of delivery.
  • Breathe easily, slowing from an initial high of about 70 breaths per minute to 40 to 60 minutes within 15 minutes of birth.
  • Have red or at least pink mucous membranes, indicating adequate oxygen is reaching the tissues.
  • Display a strong suckle reflex within two to 20 minutes of birth.
  • Appear alert and display an affinity for the dam.
  • Be able to stand within two hours and nurse within three hours.

If your foal fails to meet these criteria, he may already be suffering from a serious condition and needs the prompt attention of a veterinarian. Good observation coupled with prompt action gives you the best opportunity to help your foal avoid a setback. 

Make every effort to maximize the chances of your foal’s continued good health. These good management practices can make the difference between a healthy foal and a sick one:

  • A well-ventilated, clean foaling environment.
  • Good farm and stable hygiene and parasite control.
  • Sound nutrition, current vaccinations and regular deworming of all equine residents.
  • Plenty of fresh air and room to exercise for the foal as well as commencement of a regular vaccination and deworming program.

Our Foal Health Watch Guide describes signs of a variety of common ailments that can occur during the first 6 months of a foal’s life. In most cases, even if the problem is not life-threatening, you will still want your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and direct you in the most effective treatment. Please keep in mind this guide lists signs that are frequently observed with certain foal disorders, but not all foals display the same signs or to the same degree. A foal’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly, so don’t wait until your sick baby shows all the signs before acting and calling your veterinarian.

Foal Health Watch Guide

FIRST SYMPTOMOTHER SYMPTOMSPROBABLE DIAGNOSISACTIONS
Labored, suppressed or noisy breathingSoreness, reluctance to moveBroken ribs due to severe compression from deliveryStall rest, gentle handling
 Reluctance to move or nurse, extended abdomenRuptured diaphragm, often due to birth traumaImmediate corrective surgery
 Yellow-stained amniotic fluid with deliveryMeconium-aspiration pneumoniaAntibiotics
 Depression, coughing, intermittent feverFoal pneumoniaAntibiotic treatment based on bacterial culture
Loose stoolsMild diarrhea at time of dam’s foal heatTransient, “9-day scours”Gently clean foal’s tail and buttocks with soapy water to prevent scalding of skin
 Dehydration, scalding of skin on buttocks, matting of tailNoninfectious diarrhea (from overeating, eating manure, etc.)Fluids, decreased rations, clean tail and buttocks as above
 Rapid dehydration, scalding, matting, fever, depressionInfectious diarrheaAntibiotics, fluids, clean tail and buttocks regularly
ColickyColic after ingesting first milk, enema ineffectiveClosed colon or rectum – development error causes gut to end in blind pouchSurgery, success depends on length of missing part
 Rolling, thrashing, lying on back, fecal matter not passedSevere constipation, fecal mass too large or too far forward for enema to be successfulLaxatives, fluids
 Lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, teeth grinding, lying on ground with feet in airUlcerConfirm with endoscopy, treat with anti-ulcer medication
Profuse watery discharge from eyesBlinking, avoidance of light, scratched corneaInversion of eyelid (entropion), dehydration, if uncorrected can lead to blindnessFluids, lubricate eye and lids gently, pull out eyelid as often as necessary, surgery may be needed
Navel stump dripping urineWet, soiled, warm, swollen navel stump“Leaky navel” (pervious urachus), umbilicus fails to closeDaily cauterization with silver nitrate or iodine, possible surgery
StrainingTail switching, meconium (first feces) not passedSimple constipation, meconium not passedEnema, fluids
 Distended abdomen, little or no urine produced, toxicity, fever, jaundiced membranes, progressive weaknessRuptured bladder due to birth trauma or jerk on umbilical cord after deliverySurgery to repair hole in bladder, drain urine from bladder, fluids
Low immunoglobulin (IgG) countLess than 400 mg/dlFailure of passive transfer, foal did not receive adequate colostrum or was unable to absorb IgGProvide colostrum if foal less than 24 hours old, otherwise administer plasma IgG transfusion
 Greater than 400 mg/dl, low risk environmentPartial failure of passive transferFoal probably adequately protected, but watch closely
 Less than 800 mg/dl, high risk environmentPartial failure of passive transferAdminister plasma IgG transfusion, monitor IgG level
Weakness, incoordinationDelivery between 300 and 320 days of gestation, low birthweight, little or no suckle strength, weak fetlocks and lax pasternsPremature birthOxygen, humidity and temperature control, tube feeding, fluids
 Intolerance to exerciseCongenital heart defectCardiovascular exam, surgery
 Will not nurse, severe diarrhea, dehydration, subnormal temperature, bluish-white third eyelid“Sleeper foal” caused by Actinobacillus equii bacteriaAntibiotics, fluids
 Inflammation of umbilical vein, fever, depression“Navel ill” (septicemia), systemic bloodstream infectionAntibiotics, fluids, intensive nursing care
Swollen jointsLameness, fever, depression, joints are hot and painfulJoint ill (septic arthritis) or bone infection (osteomyelitis)Antibiotics, surgical draining
Mare cannot nurseMare dies, does not allow foal to nurse, or is unable to provide milk (agalactiae)Orphan or rejected foal, agalactic mare, early weaningSupply colostrum is newborn, provide foal milk replacer or nurse mare

Equine New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be resolving to do things differently. Whatever that means to you, we are putting a horsey spin on resolutions as they relate to what we do with our equine partners and our activities around the barn. Here are some resolutions to consider if you’re trying to change things up for the New Year:

  1. Commit to a barn safety evaluation. Look around and identify things that need repair such as loose boards, nails protruding, broken crossties, or loose electrical outlets. This is also a great time to revisit or create your fire evacuation plan. (link to fire evac article) Make sure you have extinguishers around in key areas and that they are functioning. You don’t want to discover your fire extinguisher is no longer working when you need it most.
  2. Focus on nutrition. Take a close look at your horse and determine if they require some extra weight, need to lose a few pounds (like many of us this time of year!) or look just right. Also check to see how your horse’s topline looks and utilize the TES tool (TES link) to review how it should look. This is a chance to re-evaluate your nutrition program.
  3. Work on an emergency fund. “Horses are extremely predictable and always make good decisions”, said no one ever. We all know that there is a high probability our horses will get injured or sick at some point in their lives. And often it’s on a weekend or holiday that incurs emergency vet fees. If you can put away some extra funds to build up savings in case disaster strikes when you least expect it, it will help soften the economic blow.    
  4. Clean out your trailer, tack box or your mobile tack room (i.e. your truck or car). “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a great mantra to start the New Year off right. There is nothing more satisfying than opening a neatly organized tack box or getting rid of the extra horsehair in your vehicle.
  5. Enjoy your time together. No matter what you do with your horse, commit to spending some quality time with them every day. Riding, groundwork or even just some grooming to see what lurks under that winter blanket or shaggy coat will strengthen your bond.

The start of the new year is always a great time to evaluate some of our equine endeavors. Comment below if you have any of your own horsey resolutions.

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.

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/.

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/.

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/.

Feeding a Rescue Horse: Rehabilitating the Rescue Horse

Feeding a Rescue HorseOften 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 post is written to help you understand managing the rescue horse or re-feeding 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.