Grazing Muzzles

I personally love grazing muzzles. A muzzle means my horses can be out grazing 23+ hours per day. Without them they would be strip grazed (trashing my natives pastures in the process) or locked up for extended periods, which for gut and mental health is not ideal either.

But they come with their challenges. They can rub if they don’t fit properly. If you don’t have one your horse is OK with they can create behavioral issues (rearing while trying to put them on or being impossible to catch to put them on) and I find certain brands can be too hot to wear in hot climates.

And of course there is always that unknown of how long you should leave one on for your particular muzzle+horse+pasture combination (which if you are like me causes a bit of angst for a while until you get it figured out!).

The other thing you need to be really aware of is how they limit normal behavior. My horses love to groom one another, but with muzzles on all the time they can’t do this. So I have to consciously make time to let them have muzzle free time together so they can do some mutual grooming.

Just something to keep in mind for those of you with muzzled horses.

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Too Much Salt Might Be Killing Gut Bacteria

The last two weeks has seen extreme weather conditions for us in my local area in Australia. In the last 14 days, 7 days have been 40 degrees celsius or higher (104 F +) and of the other 7 days only one was below 37 degrees C (99 F). To make things worse, the nights will not cool down, with most nights remaining over 20 degrees C (68 F) and a couple of nights being 26 + degrees C (79 F). On more than one occasion I have checked temperatures between midnight and 3 am and it has been 30 degrees or more in the middle of the night! It is HOT!!!

My horses are crusted in salt from continuous sweating. I took pity on them today and instead of having them out grazing with muzzles on they have hay in their hay pillows so they can at least stay in the shade.

But back to salt. I normally just let my horses eat salt free choice. Their balancer pellet gives them about 5 grams of salt per day and the rest of what they need they eat as loose rock salt.

BUT, the last couple of weeks I have been adding it to their feeds so I know they are getting enough to keep sweating. If horses run low on sodium or chloride they can’t sweat, and that, in these conditions is life-threateningly dangerous.

There is a trend at the moment though for people to add large amounts of salt to their horse’s daily feeds, despite actual requirements or what may be coming from the rest of their diet. Blanket recommendations like ‘add 10 grams of salt per 100 kg of bodyweight’ seem to be commonplace, yet don’t seem to take into account a horse’s specific situation.

Take Poet’s diet for example, shown in the graph below. If I add 10 g/100 kg of BW to his diet his sodium intake is well over 200% of what he needs. In these extreme conditions this may well be accurate, but once it cools off a little this is way more sodium than he needs.

While I was out just now giving them hay I had the thought ‘I wonder what this excessive salt might be doing to the bacteria in their gut’?? Salt is, after all one of the best known and most widely used anti-bacterial agents in the world.

So I did a little research… and while not much came up, there is a recent paper, published in ‘Nature’ (i.e. one of the most reputable journals in the world, so we can trust it) showing that in both mice and men adding more salt than normal to a diet affected the gut bacterial populations, in some cases it entirely wiped out certain strains of bacteria! Eek!

What is really interesting (from a human perspective) is that the researchers were then able to link those shifts in gut bacteria to high blood pressure, which may help to explain (the as yet poorly understood) link between high salt diets and hypertension.

Back to your horses though… feeding excessive salt is unlikely to have any benefit and may be negatively affecting the good bacteria in your horse’s gut. So when using FeedXL, just meet your horse’s requirement for sodium with salt that is added to the diet. Then leave free choice salt (preferably as easy to eat loose rock salt) out so they can top up any extra requirement they may have.

The paper is here if anyone would like to read it in more detail: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature24628

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Iron for Horses: Could Forage Be Enough?

Comparison of equine dietary iron requirements to iron concentrations of 5,837 hay samples

N. Richards and B.D. Nielsen, 2018

Introduction

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. According to the 2007 Horse NRC, Fe requirements are 50 ppm for growing foals, lactating and pregnant mares, and 40 ppm for all other classes of horses. The 2005 NRC suggested a maximum tolerable Fe concentration of 500 ppm using data from other species. It is claimed that excess dietary Fe is causative of horses becoming insulin resistant.

Athletic horses, and particularly those in Thoroughbred racing, are often supplemented with Fe in an attempt to improve performance. Supplementation is commonly carried out without any formal analysis of the diet to determine if additional iron is required. Forages are typically high in iron and supply a majority of iron in all equine diets.

This study looks at the iron concentration in forages typically fed to equines and whether iron from forage is enough to meet the iron requirement of an athletic horse.

Methods

Nutrient concentrations from hay samples submitted for analysis in 2017 and for which Fe was measured were obtained from Equi-Analytical, representing 3,060 grass, 1,193 legume, and 1,584 mixed hay samples.

Iron concentration was measured using inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP). Analysis methodology is available from dairyone.com. Statistical analysis was performed using Proc MEANS of SAS.

Results

Iron was highest in Legume and Mixed Mainly Legume Hays and lowest in Grass Hay (Table 1). All hay types had a mean iron concentration more than five times that required by athletic horses and a median iron concentration more than three times.

From all hay samples (n = 5,837), 707 contained Fe at or above the suggested tolerable threshold of 500 ppm, while only 81 contained Fe at less than 50 ppm. Further, only 15 contained Fe at less than 40 ppm.

Discussion

A 500 kg horse in heavy work has an iron requirement of 500 mg/day (NRC 2007; based on a daily feed intake of 2.5% bodyweight and a requirement of 40 ppm). Forage intake is often restricted by Thoroughbred trainers. But even when fed at 1% of bodyweight to a 500 kg horse, these hays will supply an average 1,060 mg to 2,230 mg of iron per day, supplying more than 200% of daily iron requirements in the forage component of the diet alone.

Fortified grain concentrates are fed at an average 2.5 kg/horse per day in Australian Thoroughbred racing stables (Richards 2003). These concentrates have an average iron concentration of 190 ppm (FeedXL.com), adding an additional 475 mg/day of iron to the diet of these horses. Almost 60% of Australian Thoroughbred trainers then add an iron supplement to their horses’ diets (Richards 2003). It is expected similar trends would be found in the USA.

Based on this broad diet analysis, forage is able to meet the daily iron requirement of athletic horses. When iron from fortified feeds and supplements is added, there would be few racehorses receiving less than 300% of their daily iron requirement. It’s not unexpected that many horses would be receiving in excess of 500% of their daily iron requirement

What About Insulin Resistance

Given the dearth of Thoroughbred racehorses that are insulin resistant, despite Fe supplementation in combination with diets that can easily supply amounts beyond requirements, it seems unlikely excess Fe causes insulin resistance. However, it is recognized insulin resistant horses may have elevated serum ferritin.

References

Council NR. Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.

Richards N, Hinch G, Rowe J. The effect of current grain feeding practices on hindgut starch fermentation and acidosis in the Australian racing Thoroughbred. Aust Vet J 2006;84:402-407.

FeedXL Nutrition Software, https://feedxl.com/, 2018.

HUGE THANKS to Equi-Analytical for providing the data to write this paper, which was presented as a poster at the recent International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP).

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Sunbleaching or Sweat?

I think it must be a combination of both! Poet and I did an unintentional experiment over our Christmas break that seems to show that the sunbleaching that occurs in some horses over summer is a combination of sun and sweat.

Where we live flies can get bad, so my horses have flymasks on during daylight hours. It has been hot (like seriously hot… 40 degrees celcius/100 F plus) so they sweat a fair bit behind their ears where the strap for the masks sit.

Check out the bleaching pattern though on Poet who is liver chestnut and bleaches out in patches every summer… he has bleached severely where he has sweated around the mask strap, BUT under the strap, where it wasn’t exposed to any sunlight, he has maintained his coat color. Funky huh!!

 

Looking at him this morning he is bleached badly around his flanks and on his shoulder where he sweats the most too. So sweat + sun + a certain color and coated horse = bleaching, even when the diet is well and truly adequate for copper and zinc (thanks to FeedXL and pasture analysis I know this).

It’s interesting to note that Popcorn, who has an entirely different coat both in colour, length, thickness and even feel doesn’t bleach anywhere, ever. So specific coats seem to bleach a lot more than others. And our climate obviously contributes significantly too!

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Setaria Grass and Bighead: What You Need to Know

Setaria should really be classified as toxic for horses. It is a subtropical pasture with such high levels of oxalate that it makes it almost impossible to prevent Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism (Bighead disease) in horses grazing this grass.

Grasses like kikuyu and buffel grass readily cause bighead disease with an oxalate content of around 15 g/kg. Setaria contains anywhere between 30 and 80 grams of oxalate per kg of (90% dry matter) pasture… which translates to HUGE amounts of calcium being needed to balance the calcium to oxalate ratio to prevent bighead.

I have seen horses go from normal to severely affected in a matter of months on setaria. So if you have setaria in your pasture you need to be very aware of what you are feeding and how well this is meeting calcium (as well as phosphorus and magnesium) requirements.

FeedXL will help you in calculating the calcium to oxalate, calcium to phosphorus and calcium to magnesium ratios to keep your horse healthy. BUT, the first step is identifying that you have this grass in the first place so you know you need to be on your game with managing nutrition!

I took the following photos of setaria on the NSW mid-north coast… setaria was everywhere! Please take a look at the photos and then in your paddocks to see if you have setaria. And if you do, please do something sooner than later to prevent severe and often life-threatening calcium deficiency.

There is more information on Bighead here too if you need it at https://feedxl.com/25-bighead/

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Teff Hay vs Rhodes Grass Hay

Teff Hay seems to have suddenly appeared as a hay option for many horse owners and because it is sold as a low starch low sugar hay it is starting to be recommended in place of Rhodes Grass Hay.

BUT, if you are lucky enough to have access to Rhodes Grass Hay, I wouldn’t be eager to swap. Here is why:

1. Rhodes Grass Hay is low in oxalate, containing approximately 2.5 to 3 g/kg of oxalate.

Teff Hay is moderate to high in oxalate at 10 to 12 g/kg. This means Teff needs careful supplementation of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium to prevent it from causing Bighead Disease. With Rhodes being so low in oxalate Bighead is not an issue (though you do still need to make sure you correctly balance the diet for minerals and vitamins as forages rarely contain enough to meet a horse’s requirement).

2. Rhodes Grass Hay is more reliable and consistent when it comes to the low starch, low sugar characteristic.

From the analyses we have seen coming through here at FeedXL Teff can be high in starch, with one analysis sent through showing an as-fed starch content of 7.1% and total NSC of of 13.7% which for a laminitic horse is going to be too high. While soaking would more than likely bring this non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) level back down to safe levels it makes for much more time consuming feeding… so if you have access to Rhodes Grass it would be much easier to use this.

3. Teff Hay causes some odd behavioural issues in some horses and this is normally associated with an alkaline fecal pH.

We have no way of explaining this, and it doesn’t happen with all horses on Teff so I don’t know if all Teff Hay is the same or if there is a certain variety that causes this issue.

So while Teff gives people in cooler climates a low NSC option which is welcome, it is not yet well understood and not without its issues. If I had a choice between Teff and Rhodes I would go with Rhodes Hay every time.

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Copper & Coat Color

We often talk about copper deficiency in horses, and specifically its role in coat color. Copper is part of an enzyme called tyrosinase which is essential for the production of melanin. Melanin is what gives the skin, hair and eyes their color.

So it makes sense that copper deficiency would cause a change in coat color! If an animal doesn’t have enough copper, they don’t make enough melanin and if they don’t have enough melanin they can’t color their coat.

Hereford cattle are my ‘copper deficiency canaries’… their coat color fades quite quickly when they become copper deficient. So they show me areas around the country that are low in copper (which is almost everywhere). Where herefords should normally be a rich liver red color, copper deficient herefords become a burnt orange color.

The ones shown in the photo here are on a farm not far from where I live. Having been in drought conditions for well over a year now they are likely deficient in almost everything, but certainly the copper deficiency is showing in their coats!

Copper deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies I see in equine diets. And unfortunately copper deficiency affects many things including hoof and joint health in all horses, increased susceptibility to uterine artery rupture in foaling mares and higher incidence of OCD joint lesions in young horses. Really recommend using FeedXL to check your horse’s copper intake.

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Drought Feeding: Keeping Your Horse Healthy

While many of us in Australia have received some long overdue and welcome rain hay supplies are still short. Increasingly we are having to turn to sources of hay outside of the commonly used lucerne, grassy/meadow, rhodes, clover, oaten and wheaten hays. Not all alternative hay types are suitable for horses however so be careful when choosing an alternative hay or chaff for your horse.

Alternative Sources of Hay and Chaff

Some suitable and unsuitable alternative hays and chaffs include:

Suitable Hay/Chaff Types:

• Well cured grass or legume silage
• Pea hay or straw
• Wheat or barley straw
• Canola hay
• Teff Hay (but don’t feed as the only hay and be aware it can be high in starch and sugars)
• Sugarcane hay (avoid for Cushing’s horses or laminitic horses)
• Vetch hay (don’t feed more than 0.5kg/100 kg bodyweight)
• Barley hay/chaff (feed with caution if it has intact seed heads with long awns, avoid for Cushing’s horses or laminitic horses)
• Triticale hay/chaff (avoid for Cushing’s horses or laminitic horses)

Unsuitable Hay/Chaff Types:

• Lupin hay (may cause lupinosis)
• Sorghum/forage sorghum hay (may cause prussic acid or hydrocyanic acid poisoning)
• Red clover and alsike clover hay/chaff (may cause liver damage and photosensitisation)

Regardless of the hay type you do choose, ALWAYS make sure it is clean and free of mould. If the hay is dusty, it should be dampened down prior to feeding.

And remember, all these different types of hay will affect what else you need to feed to keep diets balanced and meeting requirements. This is where FeedXL can help. Simply enter the hay you are feeding and check that your supplementary feeds and supplements are still able to meet requirements! Even with all the changes of hay, keeping the diet balanced will keep your horse glowing and in pristine health!

Sand and Dirt Accumulation

Horses naturally eat quite a bit of soil! Under normal circumstances however the large amount of fibre moving through their gut acts to move the sand and dirt through their gut and out in their manure… so normally it won’t accumulate. During drought however, the amount of soil they eat increases due to grazing very close to virtually bare ground. And often the amount of fibre they have access to is reduced. So it’s a double whammy… more sand and dirt in their gut and less fibre to clear it. This situation often results in accumulation of sand and dirt, irritation of the gastrointestinal tract and colic or diarrhea.

The best way to clear sand and dirt from a horse’s gut is to feed lots and lots of hay. But this isn’t always possible during a drought. An alternative and also very effective way of clearing it is to feed psyllium husk. Psyllium husk is a fibre that absorbs water in the gut and turns into a really stick goo (technical term!) that is able to shift sand and dirt out of the gut.

Interesting recent research paper here showing significant sand and dirt accumulation being successfully shifted in 4 days using a combination of psyllium husk and epsom salts https://www.sciencedirect.com/…/arti…/pii/S1090023318302648…

For those of you who would like to use psyllium without nasogastric tubing it, we have good success feeding 50 grams per 100 kg of bodyweight per day. Feed it in a single meal, for 5 days in a row, mixed with something your horse loves the taste of. Make the feed very very slightly damp then tip the psyllium in and mix it around. Don’t wet it too much as most horses don’t like the taste and/or texture of wet psyllium. If your horse was showing signs of sand or dirt accumulation (mild colic or diarrhea), give the horse a break for 5 days and then repeat the 5 day treatment. You can continue to do this as long as you feel necessary.

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How to Feed a Horse That Won’t Sweat

Anhydrosis, or the inability to sweat, is a serious condition that affects horses in hot and humid climates. Horses rely heavily on sweating to cool themselves down and keep their core body temperature within a normal range. Sweat wets the horse’s skin and then as it evaporates it takes heat with it, effectively creating an evaporative cooling system for the horse.

In some horses however, for reasons largely still unknown a horse’s sweat glands either partially or fully quit producing sweat. These horses find it very difficult to stay cool and need to resort to offloading heat via their lungs by breathing harder and faster than you would expect them to, which is why horses with this condition are often said to ‘have the puffs’.

In many situations though, puffing is not effective enough, so horses that can’t sweat are at serious risk of hyperthermia which wreaks all sorts of havoc in the body and if not dealt with effectively will eventually result in death.

The right feeding strategy may help

While we don’t understand what causes anhydrosis it does appear that for some horses certain nutritional strategies can help. Tips for feeding horses with anhydrosis include:

1. Always meet electrolyte requirements in the diet

It is likely some horses stop sweating simply because they run out of electrolytes. The major electrolytes found in sweat are sodium, chloride and potassium. The two most commonly deficient electrolytes in a horse’s diet are sodium and chloride and these are the components of ordinary old salt.

Use FeedXL to assess your horse’s requirement for the electrolyte minerals and use plain salt and/or an electrolyte supplement to meet requirements. Horse’s on forage based diets should be receiving lots of potassium from their forage so in most cases all you need to add is plain salt.

2. Always provide access to free choice rock salt

A horse will seek salt out when it knows it needs it, so providing free access to loose rock salt allows them to eat as much or as little as they need to meet their requirements.

In very hot and humid climates avoid the use of salt blocks as it is difficult for a horse to lick enough salt off to meet requirements when they need a lot of salt.

3. Feed controlled amounts of protein

Diets that are too high in protein have a couple of negative effects on horses that can’t sweat.

The first is that protein generates a lot of heat during the process of digestion and metabolism which adds to the heat load a horse needs to get rid of to keep its body temperature normal. For most horses this is usually not an issue as they are able to sweat and easily dissipate the excess heat. But when a horse isn’t able to sweat, it just makes their job of staying cool even more difficult.

The second is that when protein is fed in excess the horse needs to get rid of the excess nitrogen contained in the protein. In a healthy horse the kidneys perform this task without hassle. BUT a lot of water and electrolyte are excreted with the nitrogen, so potentially it can lead to dehydration and electrolyte deficiency, neither of which will help a horse that can’t sweat properly in the first place.

To keep protein in diets low, restrict the amount of forages and feeds that are high in protein like lucerne, copra meal, lupins, faba beans, sunflower/soybean/canola meals, pollard and rice bran and rely more on grassy pasture and hay, oils, low protein fibres like beet pulp and lower protein cooked cereal grains (where it is safe to do so). FeedXL.com will help you to keep track of the amount of protein in your horse’s diet.

4. For horses in work, consider using a lower forage diet

When the fibre contained in forages is fermented in the hindgut a lot of heat is produced which then increases the amount of heat a horse needs to get rid of to keep its body temperature normal. By reducing the amount of forage and therefore the amount of fibre in a diet you will reduce the heat load placed on a horse.

To maintain the horse’s required energy intake you can add oil (the best option as it produces the least heat) and/or cooked grains to the diet. It is essential that you feed well-cooked grains, with extruded grains being the best option, as the starch contained within these grains will be digested in the small intestine. Feeding uncooked or poorly cooked grains will lead to a lot of fermentation and heat production in the hindgut and should be avoided for all horses in hot climates.

Please note: Never reduce forage intake below 1 kg/100 kg of bodyweight and be mindful of the increased risk of stomach ulcers for horses on low forage diets. Using slow feeders is highly recommended. It is also essential to have your horse’s stomach full of forage before it is worked.

5. Make sure the diet you feed is balanced

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that some mineral and vitamin deficiencies may contribute to a horse’s inability to sweat. The best way to counteract this is to make sure what you are feeding is meeting all of your horse’s requirements for macro and trace-minerals and vitamins. FeedXL.comwill make sure you can achieve this!

If you have a horse with anhydrosis it is strongly recommended you seek veterinary advice. Aggressive environmental management of these horses to keep them cool is the best way to manage their condition.

Useful management strategies include:

1. Always provide access to shade and cool to cold drinking water.

2. Keep them under fans and water misters where possible during the day.

3. Turn them out at night only if possible.

4. Only work them if your veterinarian advises it is safe to do so and then only work them during the very early morning when it is coolest and only to the level they can comfortably handle.

5. Cool them down quickly and effectively with hosing and fans post work until their rectal temperature has returned to normal.

6. If these strategies aren’t effective in keeping your horse’s body temperature within a safe range, the horse will need to be moved to a cooler climate.

Often, and again for reasons we don’t understand, horses will start to sweat again when they move to a cooler environment.

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Grain Free Horse Feed: What Does it Actually Mean?

It can be a bit confusing to get to the bottom of what grain free horse feed really means, especially when you see it printed on a feed bag derived mostly from grain products. In this post we’re unravelling the technical classification of ‘grain free’, and helping you find a suitable feed, even if your horse is grain-intolerant.

How we classify ‘grain free’ in FeedXL

Here at FeedXL we classify feeds in our database as being either ‘grain-free’ or ‘contains grain’, so that if one of our members clicks that their horse is ‘grain intolerant’ they will see the feeds and supplements available to them listed either in black (meaning it is grain free) or ‘red’ (meaning it contains grain).

Occasionally though we are questioned about certain feeds that we have classified as ‘contains grain’ and are sometimes told we have them classified incorrectly because the feed only contains a grain by-product like wheat midds (or bran, pollard, broll, millmix, millrun… many names for similar ingredients).

So does containing a grain by-product mean the feed should be classified as ‘grain-free’ or as ‘contains grain’?

Our position on ‘grain free’ horse feeds

There are companies who make feeds that are almost 100% wheat midds or rice bran and splashed all over the packaging it says grain free! Technically they aren’t but they are classified like this because they only contain PARTS of a grain and no whole grains.

The issue (for us and for horses) is that these by-products, while not whole grains, are derived 100% from grain and still have many of the same characteristics (same proteins, still high in starch, albeit not as high as the whole grains etc). So if someone really needs to avoid wheat or starch for example and they find one of these ‘grain-free’ feeds made with wheat midds there is an issue born from a technical classification that doesn’t tell the full story.

Calling feeds with wheat midds or rice bran ‘grain-free’ would be like saying soybean meal is ‘soybean free’ just because it no longer contains any whole soybeans. Or saying copra meal is coconut free because there are no whole coconuts. Technically yes, they don’t contain the entire original ingredient but for us (and thus FeedXL) we are just not comfortable saying something is grain free when it isn’t.

Imagine the consequences in human foods if manufacturers were allowed to say ‘wheat free’ if a product only contained midds or peanut free if it only contained peanut oil. Much more serious in humans we know but just using them as examples to make the point.

Keep an eye on starch and sugar content!

For horses, what starts to become more important in many cases though is the actual level of starch and sugars in a product. So if we were looking at a diet for a laminitic pony and considering using a feed with wheat midds in it, the important thing is how much starch are those midds contribution to the final feed. If total starch and sugar content is still below 10 to 12% then it should be OK. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t matter how much a feed might claim to be grain free, its analysis says it won’t be safe based on its actual starch and sugar content.

Here at FeedXL, we firmly believe we need to stop confusing horse people with technical classifications to allow loophole claims on feed packaging. This is just our opinion but we have seen pretty devastating effects in horses because they have been fed a feed claiming to be grain-free and therefore their owners believed it would be safe to feed. It is something that shouldn’t happen!

How FeedXL can help you choose the best feed for your horse

When you click ‘grain-intolerance’ in FeedXL you will be able to see which feeds are truly grain free and which are not. If you select that your horse has laminitis or insulin resistance you will see the feed ingredient options classified instead by starch and sugar content.

If you want to save yourself some time finding suitable feeds for horses with conditions that require either grain-free or low starch and sugar feeds give FeedXL a go! Check out our plans and pricing here.

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