Monthly Archives

June 2017

Hoof Health — More Than Meets the Eye

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses No Comments

If your horse has “good feet”, it’s easy to overlook potential issues when they start to develop. If you have struggled with any sort of hoof issue then you already know how much time and energy it can take to keep your horse’s feet in top shape. With dozens of hoof-specific supplements on the market, it can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t see results, even after following the directions and waiting the recommended amount of time. So, what gives?

What’s in a Hoof?

Horses are known as Perissodactyls. This essentially means they are single-toed animals, as opposed to other ungulate mammals, such as cattle and goats, who have two toes. Your horse’s hooves, much like your own fingernails and toenails, are made up of proteins called keratins. These proteins develop a thick, protective layer around the inner structure of the hoof. Obviously, a horse’s hooves are like singular, giant toenails. Each of their hooves has to support a great deal of weight and take an enormous amount of pressure and impact. Because of this, it’s essential that the keratin wall is as strong as possible while maintaining some flexibility to prevent splitting or fractures.

A Gut Feeling

Hoof health, just like every other part of your horse’s body, begins in his gut. His health is directly related to how well he can digest his food and assimilate the nutrients released from that feed. Regardless of whether you’re feeding an all-forage diet or mix it up with some concentrated feeds (such as sweet feed), his ability to absorb and utilize the different components of that food depends wholly on his overall gut health. By the time his body gets to his hooves, there may not be adequate amounts of nutrients available to build and maintain strong, healthy hoof tissues.

There are many reasons your horse may not be able to absorb the necessary level of nutrients. He may have active ulcers or a subclinical ulcer condition that is keeping him from being able to completely digest his feed. There could be damage to the digestive tract from a previous illness or he didn’t receive adequate colostrum as a foal. The possibility of a burgeoning parasitic load could be keeping him from receiving nourishment. Regardless of the reasons, one of the first places you may see the effects of poor absorption is in his hooves. At this point, the most important thing is to get his digestive system in top shape.

Developing a Healthy Digestive System

Before you start throwing money at numerous expensive “hoof health supplements”, there are several things you can do to help improve your horse’s gut health and thus, his hooves. Here are some things you can do to combat poor nutrient absorption.

  • Feed only high-quality forage. Forage includes things like hay or alfalfa. If your horse is on pasture, have your grass tested to make sure it is nutritionally balanced. Your veterinarian can help you determine your particular horse’s health requirements.
  • Use a dewormer as directed by your vet. Some regions of the U.S. experience much higher incidences of intestinal parasite infestation than others. If you are unsure about whether or not to have your horse on a regular deworming rotation, consider having a fecal analysis done to determine if there is an existing worm burden.
  • Don’t overfeed concentrated feeds. Your horse’s digestive system is not set up to handle large amounts of concentrated feeds such as grains. Use only what is needed to help maintain his health. If there is no need for concentrated feeds but you enjoy giving him treats, consider cutting the amount back significantly, or switch to pelleted alfalfa or horse-specific treats, given in moderation.
  • Rule out ulcers. If your horse is in poor body condition but is receiving adequate nutritional support, consider having ulcers ruled out. A horse can have subclinical ulcers, meaning that there are no outward signs but they can still be wreaking havoc within. Even if there are no ulcerative lesions, if your horse produces an excess amount of stomach acid, it can affect the gut flora and fauna balance, making digestion and absorption less effective.
  • Use a feed additive that will balance gut pH. Just as in humans, a horse’s gut is very sensitive to pH levels. If the pH is off in either direction (too acidic or too basic), it can disrupt the ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients. A feed additive that focuses on keeping an ideal pH will go a long way towards improving gut permeability and allowing nutrients to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Make sure there is adequate, clean water available at all times. A horse’s digestion depends on access to clean, fresh water at all times. Horses require up to 10 gallons of water per day (depending on the size and activity level of the animal; some may require even more).

There is obviously more to hoof health than just good nutrition but it is the most important place to start. Other considerations should include footing, exercise and bedding conditions. If you suspect your horse has hoof issues, always consult with your veterinarian and farrier. They may be able to pinpoint the exact issues and get your horse on the right path to hoof wellness.

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Heat Stress and Your Cattle

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning 3 Comments

Heat stress is an age-old problem and can have a detrimental impact on your herd. Your cattle may be particularly sensitive to high dew points and extreme temperatures, resulting in heat stress. This only worsens if there is no significant cooling period after the sun goes down and throughout the night. Essentially, this will guarantee that they won’t have any opportunity to cool down, putting a great deal of strain on their bodies and resulting in heat stress.

What to Watch For

Heat stress isn’t difficult to spot — it’s very obvious when an animal is in distress. They will display symptoms such as:

Early stage heat stress:

  • increased respiratory rate
  • open-mouth breathing
  • slobbering

Should the heat stress advance, cattle are likely to:

  • lose coordination
  • tremble
  • stagger

If a cow goes down as a result of heat stress, the chances of them getting back up and being able to recover are very, very low.

How to Avoid Heat Stress in Your Herd

To help your herd transition through these relentlessly warm days and nights, we’ve provided a short (but thorough) list of things you can do to safeguard your cattle. If your cattle are showing signs of heat stress, it’s integral that you provide immediate intervention. If possible, help the process in the evening after the sun has set to help them maintain a fairly natural heat dissipation pattern.

Keep water fresh and provide additional water sources. If your cattle are on pasture, give them access to more water. For example, if there is only one tank in each pasture, add one or two more spaced out a bit. Stay on top of the water — make sure it is clean, free of foreign material and top it up regularly.

Keep handling to a minimum, or avoid it altogether, if possible. This includes moving, processing or transporting your cattle. If it’s absolutely necessary, work during the early morning hours when the temperatures will be at their lowest for the day. Always try to practice low-stress handling techniques, but especially during inclement weather, such as extreme heat.

Provide adequate shade. This is sometimes easier said than done, but your herd’s well-being depends on being able to seek relief from the sun’s burning rays. Dark-colored, young and old cattle have a particularly difficult time handling the direct sun. The easiest ways to provide shade are to move your cattle to pastures that provide natural tree cover or even holding pens that offer open buildings.

Create adequate air flow in enclosed barns. If you keep your animals in a setting such as a dairy operation or feed beef cattle indoors, be sure that there is adequate ventilation. If possible, open up the sides of the barn or use fans to keep the air moving through the structures. If possible, move any cattle that don’t need to be indoors to outside pens with shade. Overcrowding can push the temperatures up even more. In humid areas, refrain from using sprinklers, as this can raise humidity levels, but do little to help cool the cattle themselves.

Keep an eye out for unusual behavior. As with any animal, stress combined with heat can be a recipe for disaster. If your herd becomes stressed for some reason, watch carefully for unusual behavioral patterns (moving around too much, or not enough; aggression; lethargy, etc.).

Always be prepared. The worst thing you can do is enter into the hot summer season unprepared. For instance, have a contingency plan should your well or water source become unavailable. Be sure you have the ability to obtain enough water to keep your herd adequately hydrated. Should power go out in your fan-cooled buildings, make sure you have adequate outdoor space you can transfer your cattle into or that you have functioning backup generators to power the cooling system.

Keeping an eye on resources such as heat index maps can help ensure that you’re a step ahead of the weather. Keeping your cattle cool and healthy may take some extra effort but in the end will be well worth the effort.

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Foal Diarrhea 101: Signs and Symptoms

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses No Comments

Foal diarrhea can be a difficult health issue to pinpoint and treat. By learning to recognize the symptoms of this condition, you are one step closer to untangling the causes and determining how to best approach treatment.

How to Recognize The Symptoms

There are several signs of foal diarrhea that aren’t purely visualizing the loose stools. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know whether you are dealing with a viral or bacterial cause, or if it’s something different altogether. Anytime you have any doubt, it is wisest to seek immediate advice from your veterinarian. Foals are more delicate than adult horses — they have much weaker immune systems and tend to suffer from dehydration much more quickly than mature animals.

If not caught and treated quickly. dehydration will prove fatal in many cases. Some signs to watch for in compromised foals include:

  • Feces on the tail and hindquarters. This is obviously the most recognizable sign that something is amiss with your foal. The consistency and odor can often tell you a lot about the severity of the illness you are dealing with.
  • Lack of appetite. Foals that have diarrhea and are refusing to feed can be in big trouble. A foal that is unwilling to nurse will suffer from dehydration much more quickly than the foal that is still nursing.
  • Lethargy. Foals that are lacking energy are usually already in distress.
  • Tail odor. Foals may not have remarkable amounts of diarrhea on their rumps, but if their tail smells horrible it’s likely they are suffering from a pretty severe case of diarrhea.
  • Dehydration. Using the “tent test“, you can determine if your foal is suffering from dehydration.
  • Temperature. Most foals will feel hot to the touch if they’re fevered, but it’s best to use a thermometer to check for true fever. The normal range for a foal is 99.5° F-101.5° F. Conversely, a foal whose temperature is below 99° F may be going into shock. If you have temperature deviancies in either direction, contact your vet right away.

As with any baby animal, regularly checking on and assessing them will help ensure that you catch anything amiss quickly. A large part of good husbandry is being able to recognize problems and take the necessary steps to remedy those issues quickly.

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Mineral Supplementation: A Summer Essential

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments
It’s hot. Your cattle sweat. They need to consume more water. Because of this, they also need to be receiving adequate mineral supplementation to maintain proper balances to thrive. Minerals provide a wide array of necessary nutrients, from electrolytes to maintain adequate hydration and cardiovascular function to calcium for strong bones. It may be hard to keep up with the demands of checking and filling feeders or replacing blocks regularly, but it’s in your best interest to ensure your cattle have 24/7 access to adequate mineral supplementation.

Choosing the Right Supplements

It can be daunting to figure out which minerals your cattle need and which they don’t. It all comes down to the feed they’re consuming, the presence of naturally occurring minerals in the water source, etc.

  • Forage. Forage contains many different minerals your cattle may need. Depending on what the forage is, what type of soil it’s grown in and so on, it can be determined what gaps you need to fill. Testing is available on hay or pasture to determine what the nutrient content (including minerals) is present in your feed. Soil testing may also provide you with valuable information on what your land is capable of providing.
  • Concentrated feed. Concentrated feeds are often fortified with vitamins and minerals. The labeling on these feeds should include the different mineral contents. Depending on how much concentrated feed you’re offering, you may need to supplement or scale back mineral supplementation.
  • Water. Some areas produce water that is naturally rich in certain minerals. If your cattle drink consistently from the same well, creek or municipal water source it would be prudent to have the water tested for mineral content. As an aside, it’s important to note that water with strange odors or objectionable flavors (such as water with a high sulfur content) may discourage adequate water intake. Water additives can help increase palatability and thus, consumption.

Mineral Supplementation

Once you’ve determined which gaps you need to fill in your cattle’s mineral profile you can begin supplementing. In many cases standard mineral blocks are adequate. This is a convenient way to supplement cattle on range or pastureland that are eating a diet of grass and forage. If you’re keeping cattle in this setting, place the blocks in areas where they spend a lot of time. These can include areas near water sources, shady areas, loafing sheds, etc. This allows them maximum opportunity to consume optimum quantities. A common rule of thumb for free-access is to have one mineral station for every 30 head. If you are feeding a concentrated diet, you can use a feed additive with the right mineral balance to meet your cattle’s needs. Some companies will create customized mineral supplements to meet the specific needs of your cattle and their environment.

Observing Mineral Consumption

It’s important to keep an eye on how well your cattle are consuming their mineral supplements. Replace them as needed to ensure that there is always a constant supply. It can become tricky if your veterinarian has recommended medications to include in a mineral combination. This will make it even more important to observe consumption to ensure that your cattle are receiving not only adequate minerals but also the proper amounts of medication. If those medications include antibiotics, you’ll need to establish a “Veterinary Feed Directive” (also known as a VFD). Your herd veterinarian can work with you on determining what is right for your herd’s management.

Proper mineral supplementation can mean the difference between your cattle thriving or merely surviving. Taking the time now to ensure your animals are receiving what they need will eventually find its way to a healthy bottom line.
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Emergency! Are You Prepared?

By Cattle, Horses One Comment

Tornadoes. Floods. Fires. These are all terrifying events that can cause a great deal of devastation. As a horse or livestock owner, you have probably considered what you might do in the case of an emergency. You might even have an emergency procedure outlined. If not, it’s important to have a concrete plan should such an occasion ever arise.

Making a Plan

It may seem like a daunting task, but creating a thorough emergency plan could save you lots of time, heartache and money in the event of a disaster. The Center for Food Security and Public Health at the University of Iowa has created an excellent printable checklist to get your plan in order. Some of the things they recommend include:

  • Assessing your animals’ housing. Is it indoors, outdoors or both? Do these areas pose any threat to the animals’ well-being in the event of an emergency?
  • How many animals do you have on your property? Do you know where each of them is located at any given time?
  • Are they all clearly marked with brands or ear tags? Do you have vaccination and health records? How about records of ownership in the event that they become lost?
  • What are your plans for alternate water or feed sources? Would you have access to alternate power sources, as well?
  • Prepare an evacuation kit. This includes everything from buckets, supplements, and medications to flashlights and a storm radio.
  • Know where you’ll evacuate your animals to and ensure that you have adequate transportation such as trucks and trailers that would be available in case of such an event.
  • In the event that you wouldn’t be evacuating, be sure that areas that your animals would be dwelling or moved to are safe and secure for the duration of the emergency (for instance, finding high enough ground during a flood to move and hold them at).

Other Emergency Plan Considerations

While you’re laying out your livestock emergency plan, consider developing one for your pets at the same time. Most of us already have a disaster plan in place for our family, but often times the pets get forgotten in the mix. Prep4threats.org has great resources and suggestions for helping you get organized in case you need to move your pets quickly. They cover everything from planning transportation for those unusual critters (think fish and guinea pigs) to making sure your dog or cat is microchipped.

You can’t prevent emergencies and disasters from occurring, but with some careful planning and preparing, you can ensure that you and your animals are ready for whatever might blow your way.

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Securing Herd Health for Vaccination Efficacy

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Branding, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

Stress on cattle is inescapable. Just as with humans, daily occurrences can create stress reactions. In cattle, the long-term effects can have detrimental effects on herd health, including reduced milk production and quality; poor weight gain and vitality; reduced immunity to both common and less common pathogens; lower-grade meat; and, ultimately, lower bottom lines.

In a Catch 22-like scenario, the healthiest and strongest cattle are those that have high functioning immune systems. In order to support that high level of functionality, they most benefit from a well-planned vaccination program. Thus, in order for the vaccination program to work, herds must be in the best possible health prior to receiving vaccinations. This is where proper herd management comes into play.

The most effective way to ensure that a herd is primed and ready for vaccinations is to address their rumen health. As mentioned above, rumen pH is perhaps the most important factor in maintaining a viable and highly functioning rumen. Key points for maintaining a healthy rumen include:

  • Avoiding stressful situations for the cattle that will consequently increase cortisol release.
  • Feeding a balanced diet that promotes beneficial microbial growth within the rumen.
  • Maintaining a proper pH balance within the digestive system.
  • Encouraging adequate hydration.
  • Reducing the use of antibiotics when possible.

The bovine digestive system and immune system are indivisible. When they are both working at their optimum levels, they ensure disease resistance and stress resilience. Through careful behavioral and dietary management, every herd has the potential for top production and healthy profit margins.

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Stress and Cortisol Can Undermine Your Herd Vaccination Programs

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Branding, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

Over the past several weeks it has been mentioned that high levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on a cow’s immune system. Just as in people, cortisol can set into motion all sorts of systemic issues that can be hard to reverse. Careful management practices can go a long way toward helping your cattle avoid stressful situations and in turn have stronger immune systems.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is the main hormone released during stressful events. When there are high levels of cortisol in the system, immunity, in general, can be compromised. It has been widely noted that stress is associated with higher fail rates compared to any other factor (aside from inappropriate storage or incorrect use/administration) when considering the numbers for vaccination program failures. Dr. Rob Callan states in his paper titled “The Limitations of Vaccines“: “Many management factors can limit the effectiveness of vaccination including nutrition, environmental conditions, exposure to disease, and vaccination administration. Protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins are all required to develop and maintain a strong immune system. Specific vitamins and minerals associated with optimal immune function include vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, copper, and zinc. Harsh or stressful environmental conditions can have significant detrimental effects on immune function. In addition, crowding and poor sanitation increase the exposure to infectious agents which can overcome even high levels of immunity. These factors contribute to the increased disease rates associated with climate changes, weaning, herd expansion, shipping or other changes in animal management.”

How Does This Affect Vaccine Efficacy?

Vaccines work by taking a pathogen and weakening, altering or killing it to trigger an immune response in the body. By imitating the disease and infection process (typically asymptomatically in healthy individuals), the body is fooled into believing that an infection is present. The immune system then produces antibodies and T-lymphocytes that attack and create defenses against the isolated pathogen. Because the immune system has a sort of innate “memory,” it stores the primed T-lymphocytes for the next time the body encounters the disease.

A compromised or suppressed immune system will not be able to adequately produce immunity-building cells, resulting in a weak or nonexistent defense. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, works by suppressing the immune system against perceived threats. Obviously, as this occurs, it will be difficult if not impossible for a cow’s body to develop its immunity to the proper levels to prevent infection in the face of an outbreak. The only real way to ensure a vaccine program’s efficacy is to administer vaccinations at the right time and to the most healthy animals possible.

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Five Ways to Prepare Your Horse for Summer

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

Summer is THE season of the horse — longer days, warmer weather and a couple of long holiday weekends. What’s not to love? It’s important to remember, despite the seemingly more temperate weather, your horse will need just as much (if not more) care and attention than they receive during the winter months. Here are five tips for keeping your horse in top shape throughout the summer months.

5 Ways To Prepare Your Horse For SummerClean, plentiful water 24/7

Your horse depends on water for not only keeping their muscles and tissues properly hydrated but also to support proper gut function. A horse that isn’t receiving enough water during the summer months is just as at risk for colic as during the winter months. Be sure that your horse has access to clean water 24 hours a day. This includes times at shows, events, on the road or on the trail.

If your horse refuses water from outside sources, such as at events, be sure to bring an adequate amount of water from their regular source to ensure that they will more readily drink. If this isn’t possible, consider adding a flavor enhancing supplement that will encourage water consumption.

Keep Up-to-Date

Summer is rife with all kinds of pests and diseases making the rounds. Intestinal parasites and other pests can take their toll on your horse quickly. Make sure you keep up with vaccinations to help protect your horse against diseases such as West Nile virus. Your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate vaccines to administer for your region and those that would be necessary for any areas you may be traveling to.

Additionally, regular worming is essential in areas where intestinal parasites linger in the soil. If you’re unsure whether or not you need to be worming your horse on a regular rotation, consider having your veterinarian run a fecal test to look for parasites and their eggs.

Muck Out Regularly and Use Fly Protection

For obvious reasons such as hoof health, it is best not to let your horses stand around in manure. Thrush and other hoof problems such as abscesses can develop due to the prolonged exposure of the hoof to feces and wet ground. During the summer this is doubly true, as the heat and moisture can increase the growth of bacteria and fungi.

During the summer it is doubly important to clean your horse’s stall or pen regularly, as flies love to multiply at an alarming rate in manure. Nonetheless, even the cleanest of horse facilities will see an increase in fly populations during the warm months. Horses can insure themselves kicking, stomping or biting at flies. They can also experience allergic reactions to the bites or rub themselves raw trying to relieve the itching and discomfort.

In addition to good cleaning and sanitation practices, using fly sprays and protective wear such as fly masks, fly boots and fly sheets can go a long way towards keeping your horses protected. Other options such as fly traps and strips can also help reduce the number of pests. Many people swear by the parasitic fly wasps. Whatever your fly prevention regimen, be sure it is keeping your horse adequately protected.

Provide Shade

It’s not uncommon to see horses standing in pens without shelter from the sun and other elements. This can be downright cruel in areas where the temperatures climb into the 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. Horses, just like people, can suffer from heat stroke or other heat-related problems. If your horse is stabled but turned out to pasture without shelter, make sure it’s during the cooler parts of the day.

Relentless sunshine isn’t the only issue during the summer months. In many areas, hail or aggressive rain can also be a problem. If you’ve ever seen a car dented up by hail, you can only imagine how badly that could hurt a horse if it doesn’t have any way to get out of the weather. The same goes for driving downpours — the speed and velocity at which the rain is traveling can be painful and even injure a horse that is left out in it.

If your horse doesn’t have shelter, consider a lean-to. Lean-tos are an inexpensive way to provide shade and shelter from the elements.

Work Wisely

Just like people, many horses come out of winter a little out-of-shape. It’s important to not push your horse too hard right away. Work up to helping them build their stamina. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon after a long winter spent indoors, nor should you expect your horse to be able to handle a full workload right away. If they have been on pasture and seem thin, make sure they’re receiving adequate food to regain any weight lost. Not sure if they’re not in optimal condition? Check out the Body Condition Scoring presentation here.

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