Tag Archives: manure

  • Water Losses in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will discuss the most important nutrient in your horse’s diet, but maybe the most overlooked. Because providing our horse with water may seem obvious, many believe water requirements may not warrant discussion. But how much do you really know about how much your horse should be drinking per day?

    The amount of water a horse needs to consume per day is directly related to how much water the horse loses per day. Horses lose water through four ways: their manure, urine, sweat, respiration, and if a broodmare, lactation. All of these variables must be taken into account when determining how much water our horses should be drinking. When we increase these losses due to variations in diet, work or environment, we must allow the horse greater access to water. Sometime that may mean we need to be creative in encouraging the horse to consume more water.

    One of the greatest water losses to a horse is often overlooked, horse manure. While we tend to think of it as a rather solid form that we must continually scoop, pick up or shovel, horse manure is mainly water. This is especially true if the horse is eating primarily roughages. On an all forage diet, horse manure contains as much as 72-85% moisture. In fact, the water lost through their manure may represent almost 60% of a horse’s daily water intake. If we switch the horse to a grain based diet, the manure actually becomes much drier. Now, that does not mean that this may be a great strategy to minimize water losses. Overly dry feces can lead to impactions and colic, which is certainly to be avoided! When a horse consumes forage, it must be digested through fermentation which requires a fairly liquid environment in the hindgut and therefore normal gut health. In part, this is why it is recommended to always provide at least 1% of a horse’s body weight in forage per day. Consumption of forage therefore encourages water intake.

    Variations in diet beyond just forage versus grain, can influence water losses in horses. The total amount of feed the horse eats will alter its water requirements. As consumption of feed increases, the horse must consume more water in order to allow normal digestive processes to occur. While we mentioned already that forage does increase water losses and thus water intake, the type of forage the horse consumes alters its water needs. Obviously fresh pasture grass contains a much higher moisture content compared to dry feed which is typically only 10-15% moisture. Growing grass may contain as much as 80% moisture. When taking into account the total amount of grass a horse can consume, simple grazing may approach a horse’s basic water requirements. Don’t be surprised then if your horse visits the water trough less frequently while he is grazing compared to when you feed hay.

    Urine obviously contributes to water losses in horses, but remember that the volume of urine may reflect the water balance in the horse. Urine actually represents the most variable water loss in the horse, as other losses are more directly tied to diet, metabolic demands and environment. Some horses simply consume more water than others, and as a result will excrete more dilute urine in order to rid the body of excess water. Alternatively, if we fail to adequately meet our horse’s water needs, the kidneys will act to limit water losses and concentrate the urine. Additionally, if the feed contains components that need to be excreted by the kidney, water losses will increase. For example, when horses are fed protein beyond their requirements, the extra amino acids are broken down into components that can be used for fuel. This process involves the removal of the nitrogen found in amino acids. The kidney incorporates the excess nitrogen into urea, which is then excreted through the urine. Excess electrolytes, in particular sodium and potassium, must also be excreted by the diet. If you have a horse that likes to consume his salt at a greater rate, you may notice that his stall may be wetter than horses which do not perform such a practice. If you own an enthusiastic salt eater, you may want to limit his intake to strictly his salt requirements.

    Sweat represents a tremendous variable in water losses for the horse, dependent on temperature and exercise. Remember that horses are most similar to humans in that we both dissipate heat through sweating, compared to other species that may rely primarily on respiratory cooling or panting. As horses must breathe through their nostrils, panting is simply not an option for them. Increasing the environmental temperature can increase evaporative losses between 45 to almost 400% of the horse’s normal water losses. The addition of exercise on top of environmental losses can quickly lead a horse to dehydration and heat stress if water losses are not replenished. For example, cross country horses have been reported to lose as much as 50-75 lbs of water during a competition due to the sustained duration of activity. Respiratory water losses are also directly tied to temperature and work load as these have the greatest influence on respiration rate. Horses increase respiration rate, either to aid in cooling, or due to the increased demand for oxygen delivery to the muscle tissue. However, relative to sweating, respiratory losses are relatively minimal.

    The good news is that horses, through training or adaptation to their environment, do become more efficient at heat dissipation and begin to minimize their water losses. However, full acclimation to increased environmental temperatures may take up to 3 weeks. While it would be nice if weather patterns would gradually increase over time allowing our horses to adapt, we all know that this is simply not reality. Therefore, when the temperature gage rises dramatically, or even sporadically, we must acknowledge that our horses may not easily be able to dissipate heat. This will require more caution on our part when working our horses during this abrupt changes in temperature.

    Lactating mares also have a significant loss of water through the milk. The amount of milk produced can be very variable between mares, with an average of 2 to 3% of their body weight per day. This will increase their water requirements somewhere between 50 and 75% over their normal requirements. If we also remember that lactating mares have a very high energy demand on their bodies, their feed intake increases as well. Remember that as feed intake increases, the horse must increase their water consumption to maintain digesta flow, and to counter the losses of water through the manure.

    So what does all of this mean relative to what we need to offer our horses? My basic recommendation is to always allow the horse access to water beyond what they are willing to drink. In general a horse will consume around 10 gallons of water per day. This is easily accomplished by offering two full buckets twice a day. However, if you find that the bucket is empty when it is time to refill it, consider hanging an additional bucket. Your horse will thank you!

    Next month we will delve more deeply into the current research on strategies to maximize your horses water intake. We all are familiar with the adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. However, sometimes we really need them to drink! We will also discuss some feeding strategies that may help your horse stay hydrated through the various activities he may encounter such as traveling, endurance exercise, or exercise during hot temperatures. Remember, there is more to know about water than just filling a bucket!

  • Equine Colic: Are You Prepared?

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Most horse owners at one time or another have experienced that dreaded sight of finding their horse rolling or kicking at their belly in their pasture or stall.  After all, almost 1 million horses colic in the United States each year, or about 11 in every 100 horses. It really is not a matter of if, but when a horse in your care will colic.  But now is not the time to panic, but to act logically and calmly.  The keys?  Be prepared, and have a plan.  This month we will discuss what symptoms you may see, what to do, and how to create a firm plan of action.  Next month we will discuss several important strategies you may implement to decrease the likelihood of your ever needing this plan.

    First of all, horses can colic for a variety of reasons. As colic just means a generic abdominal pain, any discomfort in the organs associated with the gastrointestinal tract can be described as colic.  Even other organs, such as the ovaries or uterus in mares, can causepain and thus may show symptoms of colic. So what may lead you to suspect your horse may be colicking?

    My first and strongest recommendation is to know your horse. Every horse has individual quirks of behavior, appearance etc.  The key to successful outcomes in colic, or in many cases of disease or injury, is catching a change quickly.  Any change in a horse’s normal behavior or appearance should immediately trigger a thorough investigation of the horse by the owner or manager.  So what might the horse be doing differently? Colic symptoms can range from the subtle to the severe and downright alarming.  Typically the severity of the colic will mirror the severity of the symptoms, but that is not always true.  Individual horses have a greater or lesser degree of pain tolerance. It is important to know if your horse is the stoic individual that works through an injury, or the type that becomes hysterical if they stubbed their hoof on a ground pole!  Subtle signs include horses which are off feed or water, but may not yet be completely refusing to eat or drink.  A change in behavior, being more depressed, less active or having a duller appearance may be signs of colic. Horses which are restless, or perhaps laying down more than normal, or laying in an unusual position may be colicking.  Pay close attention to foals, as foals can quickly develop abdominal discomfort related to disease, diarrhea ulcers etc.  A foal lying on its back is certain to be experiencing some sort of abdominal pain.  As pain becomes more severe horses may continually look at their belly or flank, kick at their abdomen, repeatedly get up or lay down.  They may begin to roll or thrash violently and can even injure themselves.  In severe pain, horses may break out into a sweat or grind their teeth together.

    Depending on the severity of the colic, your next step is to step in and gather some information.  Obviously, if your horse is in uncontrollable pain, call the veterinarian immediately.  Otherwise, if you can safely evaluate your horse, perform a physical exam on your horse.  That will help your veterinarian know how soon they may need to arrive.  Record your horse’s heart rate, respiration rate and temperature.  It is important that you practice these techniques before you need them!  A horse’s heart rate can be detected in a number of locations, near their eye, under their jaw, on their pastern etc.  Make sure that you have a working thermometer. Now is not the time to discover a dead battery in your thermometer.  Listen to your horse’s abdomen to hear if there is the normal gurgle of healthy gut movement.  An absence of sound indicated gut motility may have ceased.  If you horse is stalled, check his manure. Is there as much as there should be?  What consistency is it? Is it drier or harder than it should be?  How much feed has the horse eaten since his last feeding?  Is his water consumption normal?  Finally, check your horse’s gum color and capillary refill time.  Pale white or blueish gums may mean the horse is severely dehydrated, or may be going into shock.    This information may be critical in making decisions that may save your horse’s life.

    Now that you have some basic information, call your veterinarian.  It is important to have the veterinarian’s phone number readily available. Think about all cases of emergencies.  What if your cell phone has no reception or has a dead battery? Does your veterinarian make emergency farm calls? Will they be able to get here quickly enough to help you?  Discuss these issues with your veterinarian before colic strikes. They may offer some helpful advice on other colleagues they may trust when they may not be able to make the call.  Therefore you may want to post several numbers of veterinarians near your horse.
    You also need to do some hard thinking about the financial reality of colic cases. Some colics can only be resolved surgically.  Are you prepared for this?  Can you financially afford colic surgery?  Realize that is possible for colic surgeries to cost nearly $10,000.  Looking into an insurance plan for your horse can help cover major medical costs.  Do your research and see which plan may be best for you and your horses.  You may also need to at least consider that the outcome of surgery may not be positive.  Discussing these scenarios with family and your veterinarian before your horseever colics is critical.    It will make this emergency scenario much easier on you and allow you to make decisions more quickly.

    If you have made the decision that surgery is a viable option for you, add more details to your plan.  Do you have ready access to a truck and trailer? If you do not own your own, you need to have numbers of individuals absolutely willing to help, and located nearby, close at hand. The last thing you want at this point in time, is knowing your horse needs to get to a clinic, but you can’t find transportation.  Finally, know where the nearest veterinary hospital with surgical capabilities is located.  How long will it take to get the horse there?  This may affect your decision on when to load your horse on the trailer. Should you wait for your veterinarian to arrive at the farm, or should the horse immediately go to the clinic. Know where the clinic is located.  Now is not the time to be looking for directions or get lost in the middle of the night.  Practice!  The more that you have mentally and physically prepared yourself for these emergencies, the better the outcome for both you and your horse!
     

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