Tag Archives: water

  • 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!

  • Baby, It's Cold Outside

    Written By: Walt Friedrich

    It’s a beautiful time of year, Autumn, with trees decked out in full color, warm days, chilly nights, and our horses enjoying it as much as we do. We’re also keeping an eye on the calendar, because before long we’ve got winter on our hands, when all that brisk comfort has changed to cold and wind. We’re getting ready for it; laying in firewood, making sure windows and doors seal properly, shutting off outside water supply, shaking out winter clothing, “winterizing” the stable…and, of course, preparing our horses for the cold season.

    For those of us in northern climes, it means the annual struggle with the question of whether or not to blanket. It’s odd, isn’t it, that we allow our horses to be just horses most of the time, but come cold weather, we feel the need to step in and overrule Mother Nature by blanketing them to make sure they can stay warm. Can’t blame us – we know the extent of discomfort that an icy cold wind brings in mid-January, and we bundle up for it bigtime, so let’s do the same for our beloved steeds. Right? Well, maybe -- but let me take a moment to tell you a true story about Wally. It is pertinent.

    Wally is not one to accept other people’s opinions without question. It has to make sense to Wally before he buys it, and he’s always researching one thing or another. And so he’s lived the skeptic’s life for some decades, making mostly good, well-thought-out decisions. Wally is also a horse-lover, and he keeps a few on his property. He calls them his “extended family”. Wally has always been strongly concerned over their welfare. Very early on in developing his horsekeeping methods, he agonized over whether or not to blanket, just as you and I have done. Blanketing seemed so logical because he knew well how the cold feels, and he wore a coat, so why shouldn’t his herd get the same protection? Yet highly respected horsepeople made strong arguments in favor of NOT blanketing – surely there must be something to it.

    So one winter, Wally crossed his fingers and kept the horse blankets stowed away. Their coats had come in long and thick, and if it got “bad” enough, he could still break them out. Things went well; he noticed those thick coats seemed even thicker on particularly cold days, and when he investigated, he found that all those long hairs were actually standing on end, sticking straight up! And his fingers actually felt warm when he ran them through that bristling coat. Things looked promising, so he stuck at it.

    And then one morning he woke to an outside temperature of -10 degrees F, quite cold for a northeast Pennsylvania winter morning. Wally headed to the stable, wondering if he had a herd of “horsickles” out there, waiting for some hay.

    Well, he didn’t. His herd appeared to be enjoying the “delightful” weather, and that did it for Wally – he was convinced that his gang did quite well au naturel. And then the icing on the cake: the following morning it was almost -20 F – almost unheard of in these parts – and his horses were still totally unfazed. And so the heavy blankets remain folded and stored away, haven’t been used in years, and the horses continue to enjoy the cold winters as only horses can – bareback and outside 24/7.

    What Wally discovered is the truth that it’s usually not the cold that’s their winter nemesis, it’s not even being wet – they love walking about looking like a snowman horse, and snow seems to actually help keep them warm. No, the problem is lack of shelter from the wind. Not all of us can prevent their being exposed to wind, but if we can’t, we must provide at least some respite. Anything will do – a stand of evergreens is ideal if there’s no stable or run-in shed available. We can even create a windbreak shelter by making a wall out of hay bales,  three or four bales high – they’ll have their shelter and eat it, too!

    But let’s be fair about this subject: horses are individuals, even as you and I, and some may not take winter weather as well as most others.

    Blanketing may be called for if your horse is shivering, or even just visibly uncomfortable in cold weather; older horses as well as ill horses and very young horses may appreciate a blanket despite their bodies’ natural coping abilities; if your horse is clipped, he has no protective coat, and can use all the help he can get; horses that don’t grow a sufficient winter coat are obvious candidates. Consider your options carefully, and remember that although you may need to override it, the best solution is usually the natural one.

    If you believe blanketing is truly justified and not simply the result of “humanizing” your horse, do your homework. Blanketing is not a “one size fits all” situation, and there are many specific considerations you need to evaluate. There are countless websites on the Internet, providing information to help you decide, well worth your time and your horses’ comfort for you to study.

    Beyond blanketing, there are other considerations to consider as winter approaches. For example, in winter horses do not need a cozy stall bedded with shavings –  it’s a lot of work and it won’t help; likewise, there’s no need to heat the barn – presumably inside the barn is already dry and reasonably windproof; they do not need extra grain – if you must increase their food intake, increase forage; and limiting movement is unwise – adequate movement is always best for horses no matter the conditions.

    But what they do need is plenty of free choice grass hay, and adequate water (more on this in a moment). Be sure there is unlimited, free choice, loose, unrefined salt – preferably sea salt. And a horse that has trouble keeping weight on will need additional nutritional support, but not grain.

    The other major cold-weather threat is colic. Colic refers specifically to nothing more than a pain in the belly. But the devil is in the actual cause of the pain: gas bloating sometimes hurts, but it usually makes a noisy departure leaving no tracks except for a trailing scent. An impaction, on the other hand, doesn’t go away without some help, like walking the horse for half an hour to stimulate fecal movement within the intestinal tract (terminated by, we hope, the deposit of a brown pile behind the horse). Sometimes an impaction needs still more help, commonly a vet will perform a procedure known as “tubing”, that will help clear the blockage. The most serious form of colic is hard clogging within the intestine that requires immediate surgery to correct. No matter the cause, if prompt action is not taken at the first indication of pain, the situation can develop into a serious condition.

    Probably the primary cause of a winter colic attack has to do with water. As we head into the season, the horse’s digestive system continues to need a large volume of water, but his water intake drops along with the temperature, and the colder the water, the less he’ll drink. But he’s still got to digest his food and keep it moving down his intestinal tract, so lack of sufficient water can become a serious problem –potential intestinal upset and a colic attack. Complicating matters, with little or no water-rich grass to graze, only dry stubble, the need for water multiplies even further.

    It seems as though the deck is stacked against him, and it is, but you can help prevent a colic attack  just by ensuring that his digestive system is functional and efficient. Here are the simple rules of prevention: first, use in-tank heaters to keep his water at a constant 50 degrees F; keep a reliable supply of hay (and grain, if you’re feeding it) to keep his diet constant; make no sudden changes in his diet; maintain his deworming schedule; use a prebiotic product to keep his intestinal gut garden healthy and thriving, providing consistently efficient digestion; feeding a simple mash every day is a great idea – just soaking hay cubes, or maybe beet pulp in water, adding an ounce of salt, can give him a couple extra gallons a day of water;

    Finally, a few ideas and tips to make cold weather a little easier, especially on the senior citizens:

    Spend a little quality time with him as often as you can. You are important to him -- he knows you and he relies on you.

    Get him a little regular exercise; longe or ride him for 30 minutes or so every week – it’s not much, but it will help keep his digestive system healthy, and in cold weather he’ll especially enjoy the activity.

    Be patient with him; older horses especially may stress out in cold weather. New horses joining the herd, trailer rides, illness, vaccinations and deworming are all potential stressors. Avoid those that aren’t really needed.

    Keep drinking water at a comfortable temperature.

    Supplementing protein, calcium and phosphorus will help older horses through the cold season, as will a cup of oil per day for those hard keepers. Canola, flaxseed or rice bran oil would be good choices.

    Don’t forget that daily ration of salt. Free choice loose salt is probably best, but a white salt block that’s always available is effective and easy to do.

    Keep the farrier coming on schedule – their hooves keep growing regardless of the temperature.

  • What Do Goats Really Eat?

    Written By Janice Spaulding, founder of Goat School

    Volumes can be written about this subject alone. This article will cover basic information on feeding and minerals.
    A few years ago we lost a beautiful doe in her last few weeks of pregnancy. Opting for a necropsy was one of the wisest decisions we have ever made. The necropsy gave us “inside” information on how a goat makes and distributes fat throughout their body. The outward appearance of a goat is not always informative on the inside condition.

    This was a large doe, though not one that would be considered “fat”. As it turns out, her problem was the internal fat storage she had developed throughout her life. We had only owned her for about six months, so, we were not privy as to how she had been fed in her early life. This fat, which packed her internal body cavity, was a major contributing factor to her demise. Her liver had caramelized and her systems had shut down.

    It is difficult when those big, beautiful caprine eyes are looking at you with the “please feed me, I’m melting away to nothing” look.  Don’t give in to it!  Over feeding can eventually kill your goat. Under feeding will do the same thing.  So how do you reach a happy medium?

    Hay, hay, hay, lots of good quality hay is a major component to raising healthy, happy goats. A goat needs four percent of its body weight in dry matter per day. That’s what they will actually eat; it does not include the other two or three pounds that they spilled on the ground trying to get to that little choice morsel that they see in the very center of the pile. Of course, once it’s on the ground, it has gotten stepped on, peed on, and pooped on, so don’t expect to ever see your goats bend down and eat it!

    Now, let’s talk water.  It doesn’t matter what kind of container you use, but you have to KEEP IT CLEAN! Goats will not drink dirty water. With the bucks, you can run into problems with urinary calculi from not drinking enough water to balance the phosphorous and calcium they ingest. Angora goats are even fussier than meat or dairy goats are! One little piece of poop and they will avoid that water like the plague.


    If your water containers start building up algae, you are doing a poor job in your management program. Washing with a little bleach, swished around with a brush and rinsed with water will keep your containers clean. Goats are not dirty animals, don’t treat them that way. If you wouldn’t drink out of it what makes you think your goats will?
    Salt blocks are a necessity!  Our motto has been “keep your goats thirsty”, especially your boys, so that they will drink plenty. Just like humans, the more water they drink; the healthier they will be! A red salt block, also known as mineral blocks or brown blocks is a good choice because they contain not only salt, but also trace minerals such as iron, manganese, copper and iodine.

    Now you get my “feed sermon”, sheep feed is for sheep, goat feed is for goats, cattle feed is for cattle, and etc.
    If you buy a bag of feed that says it is for sheep or goats, you are buying health problems for your goats.
    There are so many great goat grains on the market, why jeopardize your goat with a grain formulated for another type of animal?

    Having the tags from several different brands of grains and comparing them, I noticed that one of them specifically says “Do not feed to sheep, product contains copper”, another states “this feed contains supplemental copper, do not feed to sheep” and still another says it’s a Sheep and Goat Feed and it’s for “growing, breeding and lactating sheep and goats”. What do you see wrong with the third one?  Could it be that there is something missing in it that goats need but could poison sheep? Your right, it’s copper. GOATS NEED COPPER. Excess copper will kill sheep.

    An interesting disclaimer that one of the brands listed was: “Results from use of this product may vary based upon differences in customers’ management, health and sanitation, breeding, genetics and feeding”. Even the grain dealers understand about health, sanitation and feeding!

    Copper is necessary for the absorption and utilization of iron in all goat breeds.

    Copper deficiency in a goat is an ugly thing! It causes the goats bones to become brittle  just like a human’s bones when they have rickets.

    Without iron the goat will rapidly develop anemia.  Iron also helps oxidize other vitamins for muscle growth, formation of red blood cells and bone structure. It is stored in the liver and is supplied through the intestinal walls.

    The daily ration should be approximately one pound per doe and one to two pounds per buck (depending on size).
    Another factor in keeping a healthy goat is plenty of “outside” time. Remember vitamin D comes from sunshine and it helps utilize other vitamins in the system properly. You need to get those “barn potatoes” outside! A good indication of lack of vitamin D is “ring around the eyes”. Sometimes the hair actually falls out in this area.

    Kids need proper nutrition too!

    Creep feeding is a means of providing feed for your kids. If you notice your kids at feeding time, they try desperately to get to the feed and keep getting knocked to the side by the bigger stronger goats!

    Adult meat goats are very possessive about their feed and will not let kids other than their own near the feed. Angoras on the other hand are much more laid back and share the feed. Of course, your dairy goats are being fed at milking times, so they will always get the feed they need.

    A separate area that adult goats cannot access will help grow the kids really quickly. They will be in and out of the creep feeder almost constantly snatching little snacks throughout the day.

    Why creep feed?
    It will increase weight gain, kids will reach a target market weight and can be marketed at a younger age. Creep fed kids will have a greater weight per day of age. The conversion of creep feed to body weight gain is a very efficient process.
    Kids begin to nibble hay and feed at a very early age. Some kids may have a functional rumen and be chewing their cud by two weeks of age.

    A creep feeding areas should be located near water, in the shade if possible and near the place where the kids like to loaf. Make sure the feed in the creep is dry and fresh. Never let it run out of feed completely. Clean it out in a timely fashion.  Remember, kids are incredibly fussy and will pick through the grain to find what they are interested in eating.

    Lastly, and, most importantly, for peace of mind, is a good mineral supplement. If you are feeding your goats anything but a well formulated goat feed please make sure you are adding a good supplement to the feed, otherwise you are doing a great disservice to your goats.

    If your goats are on a browse based nutrition program, please remember that a supplement becomes a critical component to their well-being. While the nutritional value of browse often reaches its peak in mid-summer; other times of the year it may not contain enough nutrients to provide your goats with a balanced diet to meet all of their needs.

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