Keeping Your Horse Healthy

Keeping Your Horse Healthy

Written by: Mill Jennings, The Mill Equine Specialist

Reduce parasite reproduction and contamination of the environment by creating a deworming program.

The Problem:

Parasites are becoming resistant to current de-worming products. This causes de-worming products to be less effective. Horse health can be adversely affected with a heavy parasite burden (colic, chronic coughing, poor keeper, poor performance, unthrifty, internal organ damages, etc.).


How has this happened?

  • Overuse of de-worming products
  • Inappropriate use of de-worming products
  • Not knowing what parasites were present when de-worming
  • Deworming according to the calendar
  • Treating all horses the same when de-worming
  • Many other factors affecting grazing practices and pasture management

These are just a few of the major contributing factors.


What can we do?

Performing fecal egg counts on a regular basis and tailoring your deworming program based on these results is the single most important thing you can do to improve your parasite control strategy. Treat with the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time, in the right horse.


Good Pasture Management Practices (that may help)

  • Rotate pastures
  • Do not overcrowd pastures
  • Plant annuals such as winter wheat
  • Rotate livestock species in pastures when possible
  • Quarantine and deworm all new horses prior to introduction to the heard
  • Remove feces from grazing areas on a regular basis (every few days)
  • Avoid feeding on the ground
  • Harrow pastures only when climatic conditions (hot summer temps) will kill the developing parasites
  • Leave freshly dragged pastures empty for several weeks to allow the weather to kill the maximum number of parasites.

There are three classes of dewormers

  • Benzimidazoles (Fenbendazole, Oxibendazole)
  • Pyrantel (Strongid)
  • Macrocyclic lactones (Ivermectin, Moxidectin)

How to make sure the proper dose is given

Here is a way to estimate your horse’s weight

  • Measure heart girth (directly behind elbow)
  • Measure body length (from point of shoulder to point of buttocks)
  • girth X girth X length ÷330 = body weight

Consult your veterinarian if there are any questions concerning your horse’s fecal egg count results and recommendations about your deworming program.

Balancing the Equine Diet based on Forage Quality

Testing your hay will help you to know what to put into your feed bucket. All hay is not created equal and will often vary in nutrients depending upon when it is cut, the weather, the soil conditions and differences in fields. Hay analysis can give us specific nutrient values to work with and to help us better balance the horse’s diet. Testing will allow us to understand the overall quality of the hay and how it fits into the total diet.

When balancing a horse’s diet in general it is done in the following order:

  1. Digestible Energy (DE)
  2. Protein
  3. Minerals & Vitamins

Balancing DE in the Equine Diet

We must remember that calorie recommendations are just that – each horse is an individual and we need to feed them according to their body condition. I have included the calorie requirements below. These calorie requirements are designed for the horse’s total diet. We need to keep in mind that when looking at calories for the horse it is important to always keep age, work level and breed in mind.

Daily Digestible Energy Requirements ( 1,100 LB Horse)

Maintenance Horse – 16,500 kcal/day
Gestation – Final Trimester – 21,000 kcal/day
Lactation – 1stMonth – 32,000 kcal/day
Heavy Work – 27,000 kcal/day
Moderate Work – 23,000 kcal/day

Here is a quick example for balancing forage DE in the diet:

1,100 – Horse in moderate work requires – 23,000 kcal/day
Average “Grass Hay” contains – 909 kcal/lb
The horse will eat 1.5 -2% of Body Weight a day in forage – 16.5 -22 LBS of hay/day

In this example the horse will require 25.3 LBS of this type of hay per day to meet calorie requirements only, this does not include protein, vitamins or minerals. In this example, it would be necessary to supplement this horses diet with grain/concentrates to meet calorie requirements.


Balancing Protein in Diet

When balancing protein it is important to balance the total diet, just not the protein in your forage or grain concentrate. Also, protein is important in the diet, but it is the amino acids that the horse requires. Amino Acids are essential in nutrient absorption and utilization. It is important to check your feed tag for lysine and methionine as they are the first 2 limiting amino acids, which help to ensure good hoof quality, muscle maintenance and repair, hair coat and overall topline condition.

Here is a simple calculation to determine the overall total protein in your horse’s diet:

( (LBS of Hay x % of Protein) + ( LBS of Grain x % of Protein) )/Total LBS fed ( hay + grain) = Protein in TOTAL DIET

Equine Protein Recommendations in the TOTAL Diet:
Foals 16%-18%
Weanlings 14%-16%
Yearlings 12%-14%
Mature Horse 10%- 12%
Lactating Mare 12%-14%

Example in a yearling diet:
Protein requirements – 12%-14%
1-2% body weight in Hay – 8-16 LBS/day
Average Grass Hay – 10.8% protein
Grain – 4LBS/day of a 12% Concentrate
( (16LBS x10.8) + (4LBS x 12%)/(16+4) = 11.04% ( this diet is deficient in protein)
Need to increase the diet’s concentrate.


Balancing Minerals & Vitamins

Horses that are fed forage only diets ( hay & pasture) are almost always found to be deficient in the recommended minerals and vitamins. Most forages have their ups and downs in their vitamin and mineral content leaving horses with the same inconsistency in their total diet. These deficiencies will typically overtime manifest themselves into poor hair and hoof quality, as well as general lack of condition in the horse. These visible signs might be good indications that your horse has a mineral or vitamin deficiency or imbalance within their diet, but sometimes deficiency can go unnoticed for months or even years. Overtime deficiencies that are not addressed can cause your horse to be more susceptible to serious diseases, health conditions, and decreased longevity.

It is very important to remember not to rely on just forage to ensure a balanced diet for your horse. All horses require a concentrate or a supplement in addition to their hay.

Interesting facts

  • 20% of the horses harbor 80% of the parasites
  • Worming according to the calendar encourages parasite resistance.
  • Not all horses are equally susceptible to parasite infection.
  • Removing feces from the environment before eggs become infective provides parasite control that is superior to deworming.
  • New additions to a heard can introduce resistant strongyles to a previously “clean” population.
  • More than 150 different parasites can infect horses (only a small number pose a real problem for horses)
  • The most important parasites (the big 4) to target are round worms, Large and small strongyles and tape worms.
  • Younger horses are more prone to problems associated with parasites and should be treated differently than adult horses.
  • The active ingredient in dewormers influences the interval between deworming times
  • Horses pastured with donkeys are more likely to harbor lung worms and should be treated accordingly.

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