Recurrent colic – risk factors identified

Colic instills fear into the heart of horse-owners worldwide, and so it should. Despite all that we know regarding prevention and treatment, it still remains the number 1 killer of horses.

While a number of management factors have been repeatedly implicated in increased risk of colic, there is little information as to how these risk factors affect the risk of recurrent colic.

Researchers in the UK recently investigated factors that placed the horse at greater risk of recurrent colic bouts (in this study, defined as a second bout of colic within 48 hours of the first colic being resolved).  In particular, they identified that increasing the amount of time spent at pasture decreased the risk of recurrent colic.

This supports findings reported  in previous studies and likely reflects the combined benefit of grazing, hanging out with friends in a more natural environment, and moving around…i.e. Forage, Friendship, Freedom.

While cribbing and windsucking have been previously linked to increased risk of colic, this was the first study to report an association between weaving behavior and an increased risk of colic.

Weaving has generally been considered a locomotory stereotypy that arises when movement is restricted. However, if we consider HOW a horse grazes, it is not surprising there is a link between inhibiting this behavior and the development of colic.

Interestingly, the researchers in this study also found that horses who had fruits and vegetables in their diet (i.e. variety!) showed a decreased risk of colic….succulents were always something we were advised to feed back 30+ years ago, yet we seem to have moved away from this.  However, the amount/type/frequency was not defined in this study, so don’t go too wild at the farmer’s market this weekend!

In short, the horse is meant to trickle feed on a huge variety of fresh green stuff.  We can create an environment that better meets his nutritional and behavioral needs, and in doing so, we can significantly reduce the risk of the incidence of colic, and other such management and feed-related maladies.  Be aware that any sudden change in nutrition or management can bring with it an increased risk of colic.  Make changes gradually and seek professional help if you are at all concerned or worried.

I’ve included the link to the full paper here, for anyone that would like more in-depth info.

Jaynex

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Can my horse eat Kale?

Can my horse eat Kale?

So, my wholesome herd of well-fed fillies, you know a superfood when you see one…just in case you don’t I’ve included a pic of a fresh bunch I picked up from the markets this morning!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets - yum, get in my tum!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets – yum, get in my tum!

I’m all about adding forage vitality and variety to our own and our horses’ diets, and I often get asked if ‘human’ foods are also appropriate to feed to our horses.  For the most part, horses can eat just about anything we do (they’ve even been documented as eating meat and fish…I know, I was shocked too!) BUT it doesn’t mean to say they always should!

Kale belongs to the ‘cruciferous’ family of vegetables, along with things such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, Brussel sprouts, to name a few (oh how I LOVE Brussels!).  It’s low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol (not a big deal for the horse).  It’s a good source of Dietary Fibre, Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. 

Now, while it is packed full of nutrients and is touted as a superfood in the human diet, it has been shown in studies to affect iodine metabolism which can lead to thyroid damage over time.  True hypothyroidism in horses is very rare, however, we do not have any controlled studies on the effects of feeding kale in large amounts, over long periods of time.

So, add it in for a bit of variety…sure, but limit it to occasional ‘treats’ of about 2-4oz (60-120g) per day, or about half of a typical bunch (2-3 stems), to avoid any potential issues with feeding it in large amounts.  Make sure you change it up in your own diet too!

 

 

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The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet

We all want to do the best for our horses, and feeding is no exception.

We go to great lengths and expense to carefully construct our horse’s meal plan…striving to balance a diet that in reality, only the horse holds the key to.

The feeding and supplement industry is a multi-million dollar global industry, yet the health and well-being of our horses continues to spiral downwards, and we’re battling an epidemic of overfed-undernourished horses.

Despite all of our advances in feeding technology and nutrition research, we’re still overlooking the most fundamental ‘nutrient’ in our horses diet, and I’m going to share with you what I believe that is.

But first, let’s talk monkey business!

What the heck have primates got to do with feeding horses I hear you ask, well pull up a hay bale and  indulge me for a few, all will become clear!

Some years ago, Dr Richard Patton, my favorite all-species nutritionist, was asked to help figure out an issue with the primates at a zoo in the US.  Despite providing what they thought was adequate nutrition, the zookeepers were faced with an entire collection of primates, with poor quality hair coats.  From a nutritional perspective, this is a pretty common problem and a relatively easy ‘fix’ so Dr Patton did his usual protocol, convinced this would take care of the problem.  Except it didn’t, and despite a correctly formulated diet, hair coats were unaffected.  They remained dry, brittle and thin.  Dr Patton was puzzled as to why his ‘hair coat’ cure hadn’t worked!

One day, a zookeeper forgot to include the peanuts in the daily ration for all the primates.  He decided to save time and just thrown them into each of the enclosures and what happened next, in each and every cage, revealed a very simple, yet profound insight and solution to the problem.

What the zookeeper noticed was that the primates went in search and found every one of the peanuts buried in the hay that lined their enclosure floors.  Even after all the peanuts were found and eaten the monkeys continued on their foraging crusade, driven by a repressed urge to behave like a monkey!  The zoo keepers were delighted by this show of ‘normal’ behavior and continued to scatter the peanuts in the enclosure.  Within one week hair coats began to improve, and within two months they were restored to their full lustre.

So, happy ending to monkey story, but what the heck does that have to do nutrient-related problems in horses?

Well, the missing ‘nutrient’ for these monkeys was behavior…the way they were being managed and fed was not allowing them to perform essential monkey foraging behavior.

Hooves down, behavior is the most common missing ‘nutrient’ I see in horses.

As with all species, the horse has highly-motivated, hard wired behaviors that he must be allowed to perform, in order to be a horse.  They are known as the 3 F’s, Forage, Friendship, Freedom, and they are the cornerstone of each and EVERY issue I am called in to help with:

1)      Forage – your horse is a fiber processing machine that engineers could only ever dream of replicating!   He needs lots of (preferably fresh) varied green stuff, available 24/7.

2)      Friendship – your horse gets by with a little help from his friends.  As a prey animal he relies on constant social contact with his buddies to keep him safe and to allow him to perform a variety of essential maintenance functions, such as sleeping soundly!

3)      Freedom – as a nomadic animal, regularly covering 80km a day in search of food, water and lurve, he needs to be allowed to move freely.  Also included in this is allowing him the ability to make choices in his own environment.

Nutrition problems are largely man-made problems, brought about by altering natural behavior.

If you are really seeking the very best for your horses, as I believe we all are, make it your mission to do everything in your power to ensure your horse has these  3 needs taken care of.

Ensuring the 3 F’s needs are met will give you the solid foundations for a happy-healthy herd that no amount of number crunching will ever offer you, and will keep a host of nutrition and management related problems at bay.

So, what measure have you taken or could you take to improve the provision of the 3 F’s for your horses?  Do you have your own 3F transformation story you’d like to brag on?

Be sure to  share them with us in the comments below, and sprinkle the 3F love far and wide!

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10 things you may not know about me…that I’m prepared to admit in public!

redhills profile pic

Things have been a bit stuffy around here lately so let’s freshen the air with a few things you may not know about me!

  1. My colleagues refer to me as Research Roberts – me and the research archives have a thang going on!
  2. I was an Equine Vet tech for 10 years, wrestling rednecks and rattlesnakes in the hot & humid swamps of South Georgia.  My souvenirs include a prized rattlesnake skin and a preserved 3 month old foetus, named Mr. Pickles!
  3. I am a down-to earth, practical mare that you really want around in a crisis.  I have been known to smoothly negotiate a bottle of triple-drip anesthesia, a surgically prepped testicle, and a gorked out horse…while grown men dropped like flies.  Where there’s a will there’s a way.
  4. I’m always up for a challenge (see point 3).  Taking on motherhood and a Masters thesis has to rank on up there as one of the toughest.  Never did I think changing diapers would make for a welcome break from research!
  5. I am officially a science geek and proud as punch I had my equine nutrition research published in one of the one of the most highly regarded academic equine vet journals.
  6. In reference to point 5, I’m not comfortable with claiming bragging rights, but apparently ‘It ain’t bragging if you done it.”
  7. My most favorite place on this earth is Cape Town.  If I ever go MIA check Table Mountain or a fine winery in the Stellenbosch region.  Come join me for a glass bottle!
  8. I abhor the practice of trimming horse whiskers.  You wouldn’t chop your child’s fingers off because they looked messy….why in the hell would you remove such critical structures off your horse’s face???   SERIOUSLY!
  9. My favorite bit of horse equipment is my Kieffer Ulla Salzgeber Rusty dressage saddle.  Diamonds don’t come anywhere close.
  10. I believe we should not be feeding (or eating) foods that began the process of digestion in the feed mill. Period.
  11. I have a strange and, some might say, twisted fascination with pus.  Horses tend to be really good at making it. I’ve expressed and expunged a lot over the years…including off my bare legs.  I find this to be a really interesting topic of conversation at dinner parties.
  12. I have always been a nutrition nerd, and technically I am an Equine Nutritionist.  However, that’s only a small part of what I do to keep our horses happy and healthy.  I also enjoy helping to keep their humans happy and healthy too!
  13. Yes, it was supposed to only be 10 things but I have always had a problem sticking to word counts!

What about you?  What quirky things would you like to share?  Add them to the comments section below; I’d love to know more about you!

 

 

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Monday Myth Blast…

“Feed hay before grain (pellets/course mix/concentrate/hard feed)”

I often hear people say that hay should be fed before grain…it’s one of those ingrained (no pun intended) misconceptions that continues to be a source of much frustration.  So when an article by Dr. Martin Adams, PAS Equine Nutritionist for Southern States popped into my inbox, talking about the very subject, I thought it was a good time to jump on it for a Monday Myth blast!

So what reason do people give for hay before grain?

1)  “It helps to slow down the horse’s eating rate so he does not to bolt his feed and choke.”

2)  “Feeding hay first slows down digestion rate and prevents the hind gut from becoming overloaded by starch”

However, as Dr Adams notes neither of these objectives is reached with this practice.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, horses are smart, and when it comes to such a highly motivated behavior i.e. eating, they get REALLY smart!!!  Your horse figures out quickly the candy is coming after the salad so they leave their hay and wait for the grain…and they become very impatient in doing do.  This actually results in the opposite desired effect and they will guzzle down their grain or concentrate even more rapidly, which puts them at risk of choke and colic

There’s been quite a bit of research done on the timing of hay and feed and we know that offering hay before grain does not slow down the rate of passage through the digestive tract.  In fact, if hay is eaten within a few hours before or after grain, it flushes the grain through faster.

Why is this?
A horse will drink more water when they are fed hay, compared to a grain or concentrate feed.  Horses need to chew hay more (about 4 times more) than grain.  As chewing stimulates saliva production and saliva is mostly water, this means the stimulus to drink more water increases…so they do just that!

In addition, hay results in a huge water shift in the digestive system…much more is retained in hind gut (which is a reason why forage only diets can be so beneficial for hydration status in travelling and competing horses).   So, the increase in water intake, plus the fluid shift due to hay consumption will result in grain being transported more rapidly through the GI tract.  This occurs regardless of whether you feed hay before or after grain.

Sooo, in short, “offering your horse hay before you give them grain has no advantage over feeding both hay and grain at the same time or offering grain first and then hay, which is the practice that most horse owners follow.

Why is grain being rushed through the GI tract so bad for my horse?
Ideally, you want starch to be digested in the small intestine, and there’s not much time for this to happen under normal circumstances.  If undigested starch passes into the large intestine, it is fermented by the resident gut microorganisms, and it will wreak havoc…think colic, laminitis.

The best way to maximize starch digestion in the small intestine is to leave the horse without hay for at least 1 hour prior to feeding grain. Then after feeding grain, you need to wait 2 hours before feeding hay…not very practical huh?  Nope, nor is it very considerate of equine behavioral needs, physiological health, or welfare.

So what’s the best way to feed?

…as nature intended.

Feeding starchy grains and highly soluble carbohydrate feeds (i.e. bagged feeds…often the equivalent of a bag of candy or a Maccy D’s :)) to an animal that has evolved to eat a variety of low starch, structural carbohydrate forages, and a lot of them, is an outdated, often dangerous and largely unnecessary practice that keeps feed companies in business and vets busy – believe me, we take no pleasure in emergency colic callouts. 

We’re competing horses on forage only diets, including pasture only, very successfully. Emerging research is demonstrating it has superior benefits in many respects, including faster exercise recovery times and improved hydration status.  Not to mention a healthier, happier horse! 

We have no reason to be feeding large concentrate diets with inadequate forage to our horses…at any level. It’s a deep seated tradition that needs to be drop kicked out of this industry. The more we take responsibility for learning about good pasture management and making friends with our conserved forage manufacturers…the better off our horses will be, and the less we will need to fret over timing of feeds and unnecessary vet bills.

Any efforts taken to provide a predominantly varied forage diet will pay you back exponentially and your horse will be forever grateful!

Your horse is a horse and needs to be fed as such…we can and we must do better.

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Barn Fires – not a ‘shame’…a PREVENTABLE tragedy

I woke this morning to gut wrenching news that a big barn in my second-home state of Georgia, USA, had lost 18 horses in a barn fire.  My heart and deepest sympathies go out to everyone involved, especially the horses that perished.  Yet I cannot help but get downright pissed off, that such stories serve as a sobering reminder that too many innocent horses suffer as a result of human shortfalls in duty and care.   Year after year.

Barn fires are DEVASTATING, but they are largely PREVENTABLE…

…but NOT by relying on well-meaning, yet under-informed posts like this one currently being re-circulated, touting modified headcollars as great barn fire “safety measures”.

It’s a common belief that if you leave a halter and lead line on your horse’s stall, in the event of a fire, a firefighter or first responder can halter and lead your horse out of the barn to safety.  It’s what I believed up until a couple of years ago. What I learned through research and TLAER training is that in reality, it’s just not that simple, I wish it were. In fact it’s a dangerous myth that needs to be committed to the ashes.

Admittedly, easy slip halters come in handy, they were an integral part of a good barn management plan when I grew up.  However, I want people to be FULLY aware that if they are overlooking barn safety mitigation and early detection and fire suppression systems for the old halter on the door method, they are giving themselves FALSE HOPE, and putting the lives of horses and people at risk.

First, a bit of a reality check.  A burned horse is something you never want to experience.  They look like a plasticized carousel horse, and the smell will imprint onto your nostrils until eternity (this is actually a horse found after a bush fire, but same effect).

All too often, we will spend fortunes on unnecessary barns, designed and built with human comfort and convenience in mind, and don’t give a thought to early detection or fire suppression systems. The usual excuse is ‘well they’re too expensive’ …just spent a few hundred $$$ on a barn and cannot ‘justify’ an early detection & sprinkler system that’s about 10% of the overall cost…NO EXCUSE!!

So, why are early detection/barn fire suppression systems worth the investment?

Quite simply, they SAVE LIVES and there is NO price you can put on that. Yet still, many people have not even given it a thought.  If you speak to someone who has been through the devastation a barn fire brings, you’ll soon realize, such preventative fire safety measures are as critical as the foundations upon which the barn is built.

In an ideal world, horses would not be subject to being locked in individual cages, AKA stalls/stables/loose boxes.  However, that’s an issue for another time.  We live in the real world and that’s far from ideal for many horses, so the VERY LEAST we can do is take measures to be responsible for their safety and welfare whilst they are subject to our imposed confines.

How common are barn fires?

Quoting from a presentation given at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners conference, by leading expert in this field, Dr Rebecca Gimenez, “barn fires are the No 1. local emergency that affects everyone from horse owners to veterinarians, and property owners to the horses themselves. Barn fires kill more horses annually than any other type of nonmedical emergency. Of 11,500 agricultural storage facility fires per year, 88% are barns or stables with animals, resulting in about $250 million in property losses annually. In 87 horse-barn fire incidents reported in 2006 and 2007, 461 horses died and an unknown number were injured.”

Although actual barn fire statistics go grossly under-reported, we know that each year hundreds of animals die in largely preventable barn fires.  Stables tend to be wooden structures that are well-ventilated (ideal for horse health and feeding fires!) and filled chock-a-block full of highly combustible materials. Although this seems pretty obvious, in most cases where a barn fire has occurred, owners believed their barns were not at risk of fire.

The majority of barns burn RAPIDLY, giving you a window of about 3-5 minutes to get all humans and animals out safely.  This means, unless you live next door to the Fire Department you’re likely to be the one doing the rescuing!  So, how informed and prepared are you?

When are fires more likely to happen?

Well, pretty much anytime really, however, statistics show a greater incidence during the winter months (when heating equipment tends to be used), and also during normal working hours (7am-7pm).  It’s estimated that 80-85% of horse barn fires are started accidentally through human error (e.g. smoking cigarettes) or electrical malfunctions.  Although not a common cause, arson, i.e. the willful and malicious setting of fire to a structure, accounts for about 15% of barn fires.

A little insight into fire behavior – fascinating but terrifying

For those that paid attention in physics, or just have incendiary tendencies, you’ll remember that a fire requires 3 ingredients to burn:

  • Ignition source (spark, flame, intense heat)
  • Fuel source
  • Oxygen

Depending on the availability of these three ingredients, a fuel source can begin to smolder e.g. hay stack, manure pile.  It can go like this for hours, producing small amounts of heat that are undetectable to humans or commercial detectors.  While these kinds of ‘smoldering’ fires, can be more easily brought under control, they can also be the most difficult to detect and extinguish. Anyone who has tried to extinguish a smoldering hay stack can attest to this.

Straw bedding can reach a burning temperature of 148 °C (300 °F) in one to five minutes, during which time it can burn an area about the size of an average stall.  It develops as much heat and burns at the same rate as gasoline!  A short exposure to 66°C (151°F) is about all living beings can survive.  Anything beyond that and the heat destroys the delicate tissues of the respiratory tract.  Injury to these tissues can occur in as little as ONE MINUTE which is why you have about 30-60 SECONDS to rescue a human, horse or other animal from a burning stall.  Severe damage to the lungs will result in impaired air exchange and the victim will suffocate.  Within THREE minutes of exposure, the victim will be dead.

When flames appear, this indicates more heat is being produced and the fire spreads rapidly.  At this point, it may be too late to save any lives.  After flame eruption, within minutes temperatures can exceed 982°C (1,800°F) at ceiling level.

Temperatures approach ‘flash point’ within three to five minutes.  The flash point is the temperature at which all combustibles in that space of super-heated air will ignite i.e. your barn goes up in flames!

So, if a fire breaks out in your horse’s stall and the fire is less than 1 foot (0.3 meters) in diameter, with a temperature of less than 66°C (150°F), you have 30 SECONDS or less to get your horse out alive and relatively unscathed.  After 30 seconds, fatal internal injuries will result due to smoke and heat inhalation.  As for the horses in adjoining stalls, you MAY have five to eight minutes to get them out.  Fire fighters often report how quiet a barn is when they enter as the animals have quickly succumbed to the effects of smoke and heat inhalation, even though the barn may not be fully engulfed.

Even after a successful extrication, the after effects of smoke can become evident minutes or days after the initial insult.  Toxins in the burning materials can induce severe tissue damage when inhaled.  For example, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide block the absorption of oxygen by hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells, resulting in asphyxiation.  The blood continues to circulate but does not carry enough oxygen to sustain life, and animals and humans often succumb later to pneumonia and lung damage.

Easy to see how a modified fire halter bears into insignificance when you understand the reality of fire behavior…it’s even more revealing when you’re faced with the real thing.  By then, it’s usually too late.

Understanding horse behavior in barn fires

You cannot readily predict how an individual horse will react when it come to a fire situation and they often react in the exact opposite way to what you thought they would. It is important to remember that horses are prey animals and they instinctively seek safety in a herd.  Often horses turned loose will frustratingly turn right around and head back INTO the burning building.  To them, this is instinctively their ‘safe’ zone where their other herd members are likely to be.  For that reason, ideally, barn doors/gates should be closed after the horse(s) are evacuated.

The other disaster scenario involves loose horses running down the road in survival, get- me-outta-here, blind panic mode, posing a danger to themselves, pedestrians, other vehicles, including emergency responders on their way to the scene.  Ideally, you will have a safe designated area accessible by evacuation lane ways leading straight from the barn where containment will not be an additional worry.  This is something that needs to be evaluated in your individual fire prevention and response plan.

Smoke induces a panic response in the horse.  Mix that with human panic, sirens, lights. firefighters in full Darth Vader getup, & loud fire cracking, and it’s can be a scene of shear confusion and chaos. Two behaviors that are commonly reported are horses trying to climb stall walls in attempt to escape, or standing quietly in the corner as if accepting their fate.  Horses that climb the stall walls subject themselves to more dense smoke and are more likely to die.  Severe trauma can also occur while trying to climb out, the results of which can be fatal.  In general, young horses and stallions are more likely to react in this way.  Older horses tend to stand in the corner and do not attempt to escape.

Animals do not voluntarily breathe smoke.  They will instinctively seek a window or other clean air source.  In mock-up practical demonstrations involving fire crews and simulated smoke, horses are observed sourcing stall windows to get air.  If a stall window are not available, the horse lowers his head to get the ‘cleaner air’ at ground level.

So what’s my point here?

While easy-slip halters are a good idea for general use, and really every horse should have one hanging on their door (preferably an outward facing door), the REALITY is people are hiding behind a false sense of security that such ‘simple’ measures will offer a competitive advantage over the potential devastation of a barn fire.  If you do not believe me, do a timed mock-up of a barn evacuation, and see how long it takes you to run in, halter every horse, and lead them out.  Better still, do an artificial smoke emergency evacuation with your local fire department involved, it will give an eye opening, bone chilling hint of how terrifying the real thing can be.

PREVENTION is the key, and your best chance of a positive outcome is an optimal fire detection/alert/response method. Quality early detection and fire suppression systems such as sprinkler systems are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.  There’s a MUST READ article here for more info.

Bottom Line

As horse owners/barn managers, we have a MORAL, ETHICAL, and LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY to ensure we have designed, implemented and PRACTICED appropriate emergency disaster plans for our horses, family or personnel that are likely to be on the property, and any other animals under our care.

Fireproof your barn!  Nothing is fail-proof but you can greatly increase the odds of minimizing complete devastation.  There are some good tips here to get you started. Contact your local fire department to come do a property and barn assessment…their insight is invaluable.

As with most emergency disaster planning, prevention is the key.  Mitigation involves taking steps that will reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to life and property.  Potential loss to life (human and equine) and property can be significantly reduced with good preventative measures in place.

Last say…

After all the training, research, experiences, opinions, insights I’ve engulfed on barn fires over the years, I have an overwhelmingly simple suggestion that, to me, stands out like the proverbial elephant in the room….don’t house the horse in a bloody barn in the first place!!!

The most straight-forward, sensible, cost-effective, life saving solution is not to keep horses in such human-necessitated cages and potential death traps in the first place. When are we going to get our heads around the fact that traditional barns are nothing more than an outdated method of welfare compromising confinement, designed and built purely with human comfort and convenience in mind. The amount spent building individual stalls could easy be put towards an early detection & suppression system in a well designed group housing/shelter system.

Time to remove our head from the sand and get with the 21 century folks.  Let’s start putting a bit of horse sense into our common sense!

For more informed help and guidance on the subject, as well as Large Animal Rescue training opportunities, check out the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) FB page.

Anything by Dr Rebecca Gimenez, Michelle Staples & MaryAnne Leighton on the subject of emergency response, to any possible situation, is worth your time, and could save a life.

Great reference books here, here here!

 

 

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