Thursday, February 18, 2010

Horse Health Care: Have You Done a Rib Check plus Feeding Enough Hay

A fuzzy horse does not necessarily equal a fat horse. I don't know what the whether is like where you live, but here in Colorado we are having the coldest winter in 100 years. That's cold.

What's worse, horses here are freezing to death, and I mean that literally. Horses that look "fat" from a distance are actually dying of pneumonia because they don't have enough fat to stay warm.

There have been enough cases of pneumonia and cold-related horse deaths to really cause alarm, since many of the horses who have died were not old, ill, or otherwise impaired. They were just cold and hungry.

Hence, the need for a rib check.

Horse Health Care and the Rib Check
If you want to take excellent care of your horse this freezing winter (it's snowing in Texas, for goodness sakes!) then do a rib check on your horse every few days. A horse who looks "fat" because he's got a giant shaggy coat may actually be quite thin underneath all of that shag carpeting.

To do a rib check, just wiggle your fingers into your horse's big hairy coat and run your fingers across his ribs. If you feel a lot of bumpity-bumps down the line, you know that your horse needs more calories to stay warm. If you feel nothing but a smooth glide, then you know that your horse at least isn't starving to death.

Also feel for hollows along your horse flanks, by his withers, and along either side of his spine. He should have some fat deposits along his topline as well. If he's got those, you're good to go. If he's got hollows instead of soft pads of flesh up there, you may need to throw more hay.

How Much Hay for Horses is Enough?
Hay for horses … I used to think figuring out how much was enough was a tough equation. You can always go by bodyweight and all the formulas in the textbooks. But textbooks don't take into account weather (like the coldest winter in 100 years) or other factors that might affect your horse's weight.

I have a simpler solution. Regardless of whether you feed grain or not, your horse needs a certain amount of long-stem forage (translation: hay) to stay healthy and warm. That is because hay is digested in the hindgut and keeps your horse warmer than grain during a cold night. To figure out how much hay your horse needs, estimate the amount he will need for one night, and toss that amount over the fence. The next morning, see if he has left any hay or if he has cleaned up every scrap.

If he has left some hay, then you know you have give him too much. Let him clean up the remainder during the day, and then throw a tad less hay that night. Keep going until you find just a few straggles of hay on the ground each morning. That's when you know you are throwing enough hay. Your horse will tell you by not cleaning up every single scrap.

Make sense? It does to me. All the hay producers in this county always give this formula to their clients, and it has worked for many years. Hope it helps you figure what and how much hay to feed your horses! Enjoy!

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