Buying Hay, What Questions Should You be Asking?

hayOur friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have created a great guide to questions you should be asking when buying hay. Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some helpful suggestions below:

Q: What questions should I ask when buying horse hay?
A: Here are some questions horse owners should ask when purchasing hay:

  1. Have you sold to horse owners before or do you specialize in horse hay?
  2. What is the average weight of the bales? This is very important if buying hay by the bale.
  3. How mature is the hay? Maturity is the main driver of forage quality.
  4. What species are present in the hay? Legumes and grasses have different nutrient values.
  5. Where was the hay harvested? Rule out ditch hay.
  6. Was the hay rained on? Rained on hay is a good choice for horses with metabolic problems; it tends to be lower in nonstructural carbohydrates.
  7. Was the hay stored inside or under cover after baling? Hay stored inside or under cover has less storage loss.
  8. Was the hay field fertilized and/or sprayed for weeds? Show good management and likely a better quality product.
  9. What are the payment options?
  10. Is delivery available and if so, what is the cost?
  11. What is the price? Is there a price break for volume or cash?
  12. Is assistance available with onsite handling and stacking of hay, and if so, at what cost?
  13. How much hay do you have/bale each year? Helps ensure a consistent supply of hay.

This article is reprinted 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/.

Fall Health Concerns for Horses

Fall HorsesFall can be a beautiful time of year for horseback riding. However, falling leaves and frost can negatively impact horse health.
Ingestion of dried or wilted, but not fresh, maple leaves is associated with the toxicosis. Dried leaves are not generally believed to retain toxicity the following spring. Toxicosis normally occurs in the autumn when normal leaf fall occurs. Although studies indicate that leaves collected after September 15 are more toxic, cases of toxicosis in horses due to wilted leaves after summer storms have been observed. Horses are the only species for which maple leaf toxicity has been reported. Horses are often depressed, lethargic, and anorexic with dark red or brown urine after the first day of ingestion. They may progress to going down with labored breathing and increased heart rate before death. Horses should be fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are plentiful.
Prunus species (species in the cherry family) contain cyanide and should be removed from horse pastures. Cyanide is released after chewing the plant or seed, or when the plant material wilts (after a frost). Animals are most commonly found dead within minutes to a few hours of ingestion of the plant.
There are no reports of toxicity of horses grazing frost damaged pastures (includes grass and legume species). 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 reduce the chance of adverse health effects, it is recommended that horse owners wait up to a week before turning horses back onto a pasture after the first killing frost. Subsequent frosts are not a concern as the pasture plants were killed during the first frost.

This article is reprinted 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/.

Understanding a Horse’s Topline: The Impact of Nutrition

A horse’s topline — the muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters — plays an important role in how a horse performs, looks and feels. Nutrition is the single most important factor in achieving a healthy topline. To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Identifying & Evaluating Your Horse’s Topline

A horse’s topline — the muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters — plays an important role in how a horse performs, looks and feels.

Awareness about this topic, however, is limited. Those who do understand the need for a healthy topline have likely heard a lot of lore and conflicting information about how to achieve it. Exercise, saddle fit, genetics and age are most frequently blamed for a poor topline. Nutrition plays the most critical role, and is often overlooked as a solution to build and maintain the topline.

So What is Topline?
Topline, simply put, is the muscle groups that run along a horse’s spine. The topline of a horse stretches along the vertebral column (spine) from the end of the neck at the wither area, down the back and loin, and over the top of the hip into the croup region. Three main muscle groups surround each side of this boney column. The longissimus dorsi is attached to the pelvis, the entire thoracic vertebrae and the last four cervical vertebrae. The latissimus dorsi attaches the upper and mid back vertebrae to the lower lumbar vertebrae. The thoracic trapezius attaches the neck and mid back vertebrae to the shoulder blade. Topline can be affected to some extent by conformation, specifically as it pertains to the angle of the hip and shoulder.

Evaluating Topline
The Topline Evaluation Score (TES) allows horse owners to easily grade their horse’s topline. This evaluation system assigns a score to help determine the stages of topline development.

TES breaks the topline into three sections:
1. Withers and mid back
2. Loin
3. Croup area

Begin by visually examining the horse in these three areas. If any areas appear sunken in on the sides of the spine, improvement is needed.

Horse owners should also observe whether musculature along the spine is adequate. An ideal topline can be described as well-muscled, displaying a full and rounded athletic appearance, lacking concave or sunken-in areas, providing ability for sustained self-carriage. This region of the horse is a good visual indicator of the whole body amino acid status. Concave, or topline areas that appear “sunken-in,” are never acceptable. Flat areas may be acceptable based on breed and/or genetics, and some breeds/genetic traits may exhibit a bulging muscle around the spine.

The topline of the horse is predominately muscle. However, once a horse gets to a BCS of 8 and above (considered obese), the subcutaneous fat layer over the topline musculature becomes visible. The goal is to maximize the topline musculature without adding fat.

Hands-On Identification
While a visual examination is a good tool to evaluate topline, the addition of a hands-on evaluation is recommended. Visual examinations alone can be misleading, especially with winter hair coats.

Follow these steps to conduct a hands-on evaluation.

Step 1.
Place the palm of your hand on the side of the horse’s withers. Does it fall inward? If so, some muscle is gone. If it remains flat, depending on the breed/horse, the amount of muscle may be adequate or can still use improvement. If your hand flexes outward there is adequate muscling in that area, unless the horse is obese. When palpating, note the presence of muscle or fat (muscle will feel firm, while fat is spongy).
Step 2.
Place your fingertips on the horse’s backbone with your palm facing downward, toward the ribs. Use the same assessment above to evaluate the muscles.
Step 3.
Follow the same process for the horse’s loin and croup.

Assessing Your Horse’s Topline – Evaluation Criteria
To evaluate a horse’s topline, refer to the visual descriptions in the chart below. Then assign a grade for each area. Add up the number of areas that are adequate-to-good to determine your horse’s TES grade.

All 3 areas adequate to good = TES score of A
2 of 3 areas = B
1 of 3 areas = C
0 of 3 areas = D

Topline Score: A – Ideal
This Horse Has Ideal Muscle Development:
•The topline muscles are well developed in all three areas, the spinal processes cannot be seen, and the muscles blend smoothly into the ribs
•The wither/back and loin of the horse is full and well rounded
•The croup and hip are full and the stifle muscle is well defined

Topline Score: B
The Sides of the Wither are Concave, as is the Back Between the Vertebrae and the Top of the Ribs:
•The loin muscles are well developed and are the same height as the spinal process
•The croup and the hip muscling is adequate; pelvis to point of hip is rounded

Topline Score: C
The Wither/Back and Loin Areas, Between the Vertebrae and the Ribs, are Concave:
•The ‘spinal process’ in the loin area is higher than the muscles beside it and can easily be seen and palpated
•Muscles over the croup and hindquarters are well developed and rounded

Topline Score: D
The Entire Topline, Including the Wither/Back, Loin, and Croup Areas, are Concave:
•The croup appears pointed at the top since the vertebrae and hip bones are higher than the concave muscles in between them
•In a severely affected horse, the width of its stifle is narrower than the width of the point of hip

Next Steps in Improving Topline
One of the key ways to impact topline is with the right nutrition comprised of quality protein. Since the topline is comprised of muscle, any nutrition that influences muscle will influence the topline.

To determine what nutrition best fits your horse’s needs, take the Topline Balance assessment for a customized nutrition plan.

Information compiled by: Emily Lamprecht, Ph.D., Russell Mueller, M.S. PAS and Abby Keegan, M.S. – Cargill Animal Nutrition

Feeding Foals During Weaning & Post Weaning – An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Baby SeamusProperly preparing the foals to be weaned can make the process much easier for everyone!

Keep in mind that weaning can be a high stress period for the foal.  With that in mind, other high stress events should probably not take place at the same time as weaning.  The following management practices should be in place before the foal is weaned:

  1. Make certain that the foal is consuming at least 1 pound of a feed per month of age of a feed designed for foals and weanlings.  If a foal is 4 months of age, it should be consuming at least 4 pounds of feed per day. If a foal is 6 months of age, it should be consuming at least 6 pounds of feed per day.  Appropriate feeds will be 14-16% protein with controlled starch and sugar along with amino acid, mineral and vitamin fortification.  Keep in mind that past 2 months of age, the milk produced by the dam is not sufficient to maintain adequate growth, so the foal should be creep fed if possible as not all mares allow the foal to eat with them. The day you wean the foal is NOT the day to change feeds!  The foal should also have access to high quality forage, loose salt and fresh, clean water.
  2. Make certain that the foal has been vaccinated for appropriate diseases according to your health care plan.  Vaccination is a stress on the animal, so you do not want to do this at the same time you wean the foal if that can be avoided.
  3. The foal should also be de-wormed prior to weaning.
  4. The foal should have been handled, taught to lead and have had its feet trimmed.

There are a number of ways to separate the foals from their mothers and many farms manage in different ways.

Monitor the new weanlings fairly closely and increase feed intake to maintain growth and body condition, feeding according to both weight and Body Condition Score.  Some weanlings become a bit pot-bellied and look a little rough following weaning.  This is frequently due to inadequate feed intake and too much forage.  The cecum is not fully developed in the weanling, so it cannot digest forage as efficiently as an older horse.  This limits nutrient availability and may limit growth and development.

Proper preparation can minimize the stress of weaning for foals and help maintain uniform growth and body condition.  Uniform growth and maintaining target body condition is essential to reduce risk of certain types of Developmental Orthopedic Disease.  One of the things we want to avoid is letting the weanling get off normal growth rate, then deciding to push for rapid growth as a yearling to hit target for show or for scheduled sales.

Feeding and Managing Pregnant Mares-Fall Check List

Animal protein products provide lysine, an important amino acid for young growing foalsOne of the most important development periods in the life of a foal is the last 6 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 6th 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 6th month of gestation, so a fall check-up is an excellent idea.

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

  1. Maintain appropriate body condition score.  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!
  2. Adequate protein/amino acid intake.  Lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids, need to sufficient in the diet for placental and fetal development.
  3. Adequate mineral and trace mineral intake.  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.
  4. Vaccinations and deworming.  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.
  5. If a mare was bred during the breeding season and is NOT pregnant, this is a good time to have this mare checked over carefully to determine why she did not settle or if she settled and aborted.  She may require treatment to have her ready to breed in the next breeding season.

Good quality pasture or forage may provide sufficient energy thru late gestation, but may not provide adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. An appropriate ration balancer product may be used from month 5 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.

Biosecurity for Horses at Home

Participation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses and owners generally like to show other people their horses when guests visit their farm, ranch or stable. This also means that that the horses are at risk, even when at home, from potential biosecurity breaches.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines as you think about biosecurity at home:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses your home herd and horses that travel. This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian. Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.   If you have new horses coming to your barn, you may want to make certain they have been vaccinated as well.  Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate when horses are shipped. This may be a requirement for horses arriving at your facility.
  2. If possible, have a visitor parking lot and unloading area that is separate from your barn area. Try to avoid spreading manure that might come off trailers on your pastures.
  3. Consider having a disinfectant footbath for all visitors to walk thru before they enter your barn. Have waterless hand solution available as well.
  4. If you have planned guest visitors, graciously suggest that they not wear the same clothes, particularly boots, as they wear in their home barn, particularly if you are aware of any outbreaks in your area. You may want to have disposable plastic boot covers available.
  5. If possible, have an isolation area where new horses are stabled for 30 days before they are introduced to the herd or have nose to nose contact.
  6. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  7. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.
  8. Biosecurity can be particularly important if there are reported outbreaks of strangles or Equine Herpes Virus in your area. Be aware of any recent reports as appropriate.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal-health/equine-health

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help reduce the risk of introducing diseases to your horses at your facility!

Fall Pasture Management

Fall provides an ideal time of year to improve horse pastures. August 1st to September 15th is an ideal time of year to seed or overseed pastures and rid pastures of perennial weeds. Fall is the best time to seed or re‐seed pastures due to the usually adequate moisture, less weed competition and cooler weather conditions. Fall is also best for perennial weed control since perennial plants are storing carbohydrates in their roots allowing the herbicide to be translocated into the root for effective control.

Make sure to check fences; especially posts. Fix broken posts before they are frozen into the ground. Finally, make sure the pasture grasses have 3 to 4 inches of re‐growth going into winter. This will help with winter survival and a quicker spring growth. Keeping horses on pastures over winter causes damage to plants and offers the horse little nutrition. Keeping the horses in a sacrifice paddock (dry lot) with access to hay, water and shelter is recommended.

Horse owners should use caution when grazing after the first killing frost of the fall. Frost damaged pasture forages can have higher concentrations of non‐structural carbohydrates following the first killing frost of the season. This can lead to an increase in the potential for laminitis and colic, especially in obese horses or horses diagnosed with laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. To reduce the chance of adverse health effects, it is recommended that horse owners wait one week before turning all horses, including healthy horses, back onto a pasture after the first killing frost.

This article is reprinted 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/.

Biosecurity for Horses When Traveling

HorseBlanketParticipation in horse shows, trail rides or other equine events is frequently a key reason why people own horses.  Proper attention to biosecurity can help make certain that all are able to enjoy the events all year around.

Biosecurity simply means life protection.

The following steps may be useful guidelines to keep in mind as your travel with your horse:

  1.  Work with your veterinarian to establish the appropriate vaccination program for horses that are going to travel.  This may vary around the country, but will generally include Equine Influenza, Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE, WEE, VEE as appropriate), Tetanus and Strangles. Additional vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian.  Equine Herpes Virus (EHV1 and EHV4) has become a major concern.
  2. Many states or events require a current negative Coggins test (Equine Infections Anemia or EIA) and a current health certificate that you need to show when you arrive at the event.  Regulations vary by state, so know what states you will be traveling in or thru.
  3. When you arrive at the show, check the stalls before you unload your horses to make certain they have been cleaned and do not have physical issues such as nails, broken boards etc.  If stalls have built in feeders, make certain that they have been cleaned.  If in doubt, consider bringing some disinfectant with you when you travel and cleaning those corner feeders or built in feeders.
  4. Do NOT use a communal water trough.  When using a water hose or faucet, make certain the hose is not stuck into your water bucket when you are filling buckets.
  5. Do not share buckets or grooming tools with other stables or owners.  You should have your own equipment and should disinfect it when you return home.
  6. As much as possible, avoid direct contact with animals from other farms or stables.  (Easier said than done!)  Keep an eye on horses in stalls adjacent to your stalls.  Try to avoid any equine nose to nose contact!  Some things that are cute may not be good biosecurity.
  7. If you groom or handle horses from other farms or stables, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle your own horses.
  8. If you travel with horses, consider how your home facility is laid out so that when you return home, you minimize risk to your other horses, particularly young horses and breeding animals.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has useful Biosecurity Guidelines at their web site www.aaep.org. You can also contact your local veterinarian or local extension office for additional information.  The United States Department of Agriculture also has a web site which provides very good information at www.aphis.usda.gov.

Being aware of good biosecurity practices can help you travel safely with your horses.