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Posts Tagged ‘hay’

Friends and family around the country tell me how scarce and pricey hay is this winter. It seems like every year one section of the country has a drought or flood or something that affects or even wipes out the hay crop.

Even though good hay might be tough to find in your area, don’t be tempted to feed moldy hay to your horses.

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When shown a bale of premium hay and one of poor quality, most horsemen would have little difficulty deciding which bale they would like to take home and feed to their horses.  But since the average bale of hay has one or more defects and because the hay-buyer’s budget enters into the picture, choosing hay, in actuality, is often not so easy.  The many factors which should be considered when selecting hay all relate directly to the growing and harvesting of the hay.  Understanding the hay-making process from the ground up can help you make wise decisions when it comes to buying your winter supply of hay.

Choosing Good Quality Hay

    Good quality hay should be leafy, fine-stemmed, and adequately but not overly dry.  Since two-thirds of the plant nutrients are in the leaves, the leaf-to-stem ratio should be high.  The hay should not be brittle but instead soft to the touch, with little shattering of the leaves.  Lost leaves mean lost nutrition.  There should be no excessive moisture that could cause overheating and spoilage.

     Good quality hay should be free of mold, dust, and weeds and have a bright green color and a fresh smell.  In some instances, placing too much emphasis on color may be misleading in hay selection.  Although the bright green color indicates a high vitamin A (beta carotene) content,  some hays might be somewhat pale due to bleaching and may still be of good quality.  Bleaching is caused by the interaction of dew or other moisture, the rays of the sun, and high ambient temperatures.  Brown hay, however, indicates a loss of nutrients due to excess water or heat damage and should be avoided.

     Hay which is dusty, moldy, or musty smelling is not suitable for horses.  Not only is it unpalatable, but it can contribute to respiratory diseases.  Moldy hay can also be toxic to horses and may cause colic or abortion.  Bales should not contain undesirable objects or noxious weeds.  Check for sticks, wire, blister beetles, poisonous plants, thistle, or plants with barbed awns such as foxtail or cheat grass.

     Making premium horse hay involves a valuable balance of knowledge and skill.  From a horseman’s standpoint, there’s nothing like snipping the strings on a bale mid-winter and finding soft, green, leafy hay inside.  Horses thrive on such hay and require little, if any, grain supplementation. 


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This time of year when we have brought the horses in from winter pasture and they are enjoying full service pen life, we give them a taste of alfalfa every day. I think of it more as a top-dressing on their native grass hay.

I feed each horse 1 pound of high quality alfalfa per day. I figure that’s like giving them a tonic, a vitamin pill, some extra protein and calcium without inviting problems.

Here’s a question I got from a reader that you might find interesting.

Hi Cherry,

I have an ex-reiner now roping horse, he gets bored very easily. He is constantly playing in his water (even when I work him EVERY DAY). He plays in his water and pees constantly. I do not have a pasture to put him in but I can transfer him from my arena to stall daily. He is always ruining his stall by peeing and making it a lake…what is the best bedding that lasts the longest and stays dry for a continuous pee’er?? ANY info would be appreciated…

Cheri


Dear Cheri,

As always, it is good to get your veterinarian involved in such a conversation since frequent urination is a symptom of some serious health concerns. However, I’ll try to head you in the right direction with the information you provided.

First of all, a bored horse playing in his water won’t necessarily urinate excessively. It is a horse that drinks excessively that urinates excessively. So we need to figure out why he is drinking so much.

Frequent urination in horses can be caused by many factors. Here are a few:

  • A sign of a mare being in heat. But since you say “he”, then this is not the reason.
  • A horse that has colic. But since this is a continuous symptom, it is unlikely to be colic every day !
  • A reaction to a pasture plant or weed. There are so many that could cause a horse to drink more water than normal to rid his body of toxins or other chemical compounds. I don’t have any details about your pasture but this is one area that is suspect.
  • A symptom of Cushing’s Disease or kidney or liver problems, most often in older horses. You do say this is an ex-reiner, which may mean he is older so this could also be a possibility.
  • A glucose intolerance in an older horses who after eating have increased thirst and urination. Again, if he is a senior horse, this could be an explanation.
  • A symptom of blister beetle poisoning. Horses that ingest blister beetles in their alfalfa hay and suffer toxicity show behavioral signs of repeated splashing of the muzzle in water and frequent urination, among other symptoms. However, since you say your horse does this all the time, it is unlikely that this is the cause, but for sake of completeness, I wanted to include it. But it does lead me to the final item which is most likely the culprit.
  • A symptom of a horse that is fed alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is very high protein feed, up to 20% protein. An adult horse does not require that much protein. And in order to convert protein into an energy fuel, a horse’s digestive system has to work hard and as a result his metabolic rate and temperature rise. That means, in most cases, a loose, watery stool and a warm horse. Already I am getting thirsty.

Also, alfalfa is very high in calcium, too high to meet the ideal 2:1 Calcium:Phosphorus ratio unless you feed the horse a lot of grain (grain is high in phosphorus) to balance it out. But that would not be good.

Excess protein can lead to kidney problems and frequent urination to get rid of the excess protein in the diet. And excess calcium can lead to kidney stones.

And speaking of stones, enteroliths (intestinal stones) are directly linked to an alfalfa diet. I wonder if you live in one of these states which have a higher incidence of enteroliths and which are states where alfalfa is a common horse feed?

        • California
        • New Mexico
        • Texas
        • Florida
        • Utah
        • Arizona
        • Nevada
        • and others

Well, you can tell I am not a big fan of feeding horses alfalfa hay. Is that what you have been feeding your horse? If so, it could explain his abnormal thirst and frequent urination. If you change to a grass hay, his stall will probably no longer be a lake and you won’t have to search for that super absorbent bedding.

Best of luck,   Cherry Hill

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Horse Weight

©  2011 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

saddlebred horse

Hi Cherry,

My name is Johanei and I’m from South Africa. The horse I’m leasing is a saddlebred and her weight doesn’t look to good for me!!

She’s 15.3 hands and weighs 385kg.

I really hope you can get back to me because some of the ponies are starting to weigh more than she is. She also has leg problems and the owner says she won’t be able to carry the weight which I don’t agree with. Please please please reply Enjoy you day and thanks for everything you do for horses.

Johanei

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping AlmanacDear Johanei,

Did you read this article on our website? It gives you complete guidelines to evaluate a horse’s condition: Correct Horse Weight

Hi Cherry

Yes I did read the article and I still think her weight isn’t right. She had Colic a while ago and the lady didn’t even let the vet come and she stopped giving her the food she use to get and she only fed her hay.

Even if shes a saddle bred, I asked one of my older friends that knows a lot about horses and she told me she’s too bony.

Please reply. Johanei

Dear Johanei,

For other readers, 385 kg is about 850 pounds. You say the horse is 15-3 hands tall. It would be hard to imagine a horse that tall at that weight, NOT being underweight.

The guidelines in the article indicate that the horse is underweight and your knowledgeable older friend agrees that she is underweight, so my best answer is that from what you are telling me, the horse is underweight. Without seeing the horse in person, I can’t say for sure how MUCH underweight, but I’ve never known a horse at that height and weight to be in healthy flesh.

Horse Health Care by Cherry HillSince you are leasing the horse, you have certain legal rights as outlined in the lease and one of them might be your right to have a veterinarian look at the horse. In that way you can have an unbiased third party determine if the horse is underweight, how severely, and what should be done about it.

It is good that you are concerned about the horse. You need to get a professional involved and the best bet would be your veterinarian.

Best of luck,


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Keeping Your Horse Healthy – Part 1

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Mary keeps her two horses at the same boarding stable where you’ve just moved Jones, your new gelding.  Mary’s gelding Blaze has heaves, requires specialized shoeing that costs twice the normal fee, gets special feed for his dry skin, and each day has a 50/50 chance of being sound to ride.  Her mare Dolly is gorgeous but she’s constantly on a diet, is a chronic wood chewer and tail rubber and frequently colics.  The problems that Mary has with her horses have you in a panic every time Jones lies down or stumbles.

The bad news is that Blaze and Dolly might always have these problems and Mary will always have higher than normal feed, veterinary, and farrier bills.

The good news is that all of these problems are preventable with good health management.  If you are a keen observer and follow good horse management, Jones will stay in tiptop shape and your budget won’t bust!

Our horses depend on us to take good care of them.  We need to pay specific attention to feeding, sanitation, grooming, hoof care, veterinary care, and facilities management.

FEEDING

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping AlmanacYour horse will quickly tell you that feeding is the number one priority!  In fact, a good appetite is the best sign that your horse is feeling well.  But if you left it up to your horse, he’d eat himself sick.  So you need to keep your horse at a healthy weight.  If he is too thin, he may lack energy, be weak, cold and less able to ward off illness.  If he is overweight, his limbs are unduly stressed and he’s more likely to founder.  Know your horse’s weight so you can feed and deworm him accurately.  Use a weight tape to encircle his heart girth.  Record his weight and monitor it frequently.  A long winter coat can be deceiving.

Hay is the mainstay of any horse’s diet.  Grass, the traditional “safe” horse hay, includes timothy, brome, and orchard grass.  Alfalfa hay which has higher protein, three times the calcium and more vitamins than grass hay, is often fed to young, growing horses and lactating broodmares.
Good hay is free of mold, dust, and weeds and has a bright green color and a fresh smell.  It is leafy, soft, and dry but not brittle.

Feed about 2 pounds of hay per day for every 100 pounds of body weight. A 1000 # horse would get 20 pounds split into two 10 pound feedings. Feed hay by weight not flakes. Two flakes of dense alfalfa hay could weigh as much as 14 pounds while two flakes of fluffy, loose grass might only weigh 4 pounds!

Grain should be fed only to horses that require it; many do not.  Young horses, horses in hard work, pregnant mares, and mares with foals usually need grain and supplements.  Oats provide fiber (from their hulls) and energy (from the kernel) and are the safest horse grain.  Corn has a very thin covering so does not provide much fiber but provides twice the energy content as the same volume of oats.  Commercial feeds come as pellets or grain mixes.  Pellets can contain both hay and grain.  “Sweet feed” grain mixes are usually made up of oats or barley and corn, molasses and a protein pellet.

Grain should be fed by weight, not volume.  A two pound coffee can holds 1.1 pounds of bran, 2.1 pounds of sweet feed, and 2.9 pounds of pelleted feed so feeding by “the can” is inaccurate.

To avoid competition, fighting, and unequal rations, feed each horse individually.  If a horse gobbles his grain, it can cause choking, inadequate chewing and poor feed utilization.  To slow him down, feed hay first, and then grain.  Add golf ball sized rocks to the grain and use a large shallow pan rather than a small, deep bucket.

Minerals Because soils, hay and grain vary widely in their mineral content, your horse needs free choice trace mineral salt.  Trace mineral salt is regular “table salt” (sodium chloride) with important minerals added.  An even better mineral block is a 12% Calcium/12% Phosphorus Trace Mineral Salt Block.

Water If a horse lacks water, he can lose his appetite and colic.  A horse drinks about 8-10 gallons of water a day usually an hour or two after eating hay.  But be sure a horse always has good quality, free-choice water.
In winter, a horse should not be expected to eat snow, as it would take too long and too much body heat for him to melt it.

When a horse is hot from exercise, only let him sip water.  Walk him in between sips.  When he has stabilized, feed him grass hay and allow him his fill of water.

Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage Pasture Since pasture provides excellent exercise and nutrients, make best use of it by grazing it when it is 4 to 6 inches tall.  As soon as it is grazed down, move the horse to another pasture.
Before turning a horse out to pasture the first time, give him a full feed of hay.  Limit grazing to one-half hour per day for the first two days; then one-half hour twice a day for two days; then one hour twice a day and so on.  Pasture horses can quickly become overweight or founder from too much lush pasture.

Feeding Safety Since the digestive system of horses is designed to handle small frequent meals, feed two to three times every day.  Feed at the same time every day.  Horses have a strong biological clock; feeding late or inconsistently can result in colic and unpleasant stable vices and bad habits.
Make all changes in feed gradually whether it’s a change in type or amount.  If your horse gets 2 pounds of grain per feeding and you want to increase, feed 2 ½ pounds for at least two days.  Then increase to 3 pounds.

If you are changing hay, feed ¾ “old” hay and ¼ of “new” hay for 2 days.  Then feed ½ old hay and ½ new hay for two days.  Then feed ¼ old hay and ¾ new hay for 2 days.  Finally, feed all new hay.
Don’t feed a horse immediately after hard work and don’t work a horse until at least one hour after a full feed.  If you feed 2 pounds of grain or more per feeding and your horse has not been exercised for a few days, warm him up slowly to avoid “tying up” his muscles.  If your horse will be out of work, decrease his grain ration.  When he comes back to work, increase grain gradually.

Feeding at ground level is natural and provides a horse with a good neck and back stretch.  But if a horse eats sand with his feed, it can accumulate at the bottom of his intestine and he could colic.  Use feeders or rubber mats in the feeding area and consider feeding psyllium to purge sand from the intestines.

Gateway SU-PER Psyllium

Feeders need to be clean and safe.  Moldy or spoiled feed can cause colic.  Sharp edges, broken parts, loose wires or nails can injure your horse’s head.  Tie hay nets securely and high enough so your horse can not get his leg caught in the net.

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