Monday, October 14, 2019

Ever Heard of a Fecal Egg Count?

Controlling internal parasites in your horses should be a routine management strategy that all horse owners are familiar with. A tool that is commonly used to determine the effectiveness of that treatment is known as a Fecal Egg Count. This procedure will let you know the number of parasite eggs being shed into the environment through your horse’s manure. Though the summer is the time when parasites are more of a problem, knowing what your horse’s egg count is at any time of the year will provide you with valuable information. Fecal egg counts can monitor pasture contaminations, monitor efficacy of anthelmintics and detect resistance to those anthelmintics. Just like everything however, fecal egg counts have their limitations, there can be animal to animal variation in these tests and you must evaluate the results in context with several variables. Like the time of year, since there can be some seasonal variations, the treatment history of animal, and the animal’s health condition. Also, if the test doesn’t detect parasite eggs, that does not mean the animal is free of GI parasites, they could just have larvae that are not shedding at that time.
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You should consider running fecal egg counts before treatment with anthelmintics and again 10-14 days after treatment. Compare the FEC and you want to see a 90-95% reduction, if this level is not obtained then you might have some resistance. Most horses have a pretty decent immunity to parasites. One of the more common parasites is the small strongyle and according to an extension publication by Penn State,  40-60% of adult horses tend to be low shedders of small stronglyles and 10 -30% are high shedders. Meaning that typically 80% of eggs come from 20% of the horses on the farm. With this in mind, the results of a fecal egg count can tell you if your horse is a low or high shedder and research has shown that adult horses typically shed the same number of eggs throughout their lifetime. Meaning, if your horse is a high shedder they will stay a high shedder so stay on top of deworming them.
Some people think that they don’t need to worry about parasites in the winter. In actuality eggs can hatch at 42 degrees fahrenheit and in NC that can be well into the winter months. Freezing will stop the hatching of eggs and the development of larvae but it does not kill either. In order to kill them you have to compost the manure and allow it to reach a temperature of 104 degrees fahrenheit. The deworming strategy promoted today is to use anthelmintics that have proven efficacy and are administered at the appropriate time of the year based on the parasite burdens of each horse individually. Consider focusing deworming treatments during times of peak transmission when the number of non-resistant parasites are the highest in the pasture, this is normally spring through fall. If at the very least you consider deworming the high shedders only, the number of eggs being shed into the environment will significantly be reduced. Also remember, young horses, under 3 years of age require more frequent deworming times as well as pregnant or nursing mares. These two groups are more susceptible to parasites because of their lower immune system.
How do horses come in contact with parasite eggs? Well think about the way a horse grazes, on the ground and they typically bite as low as they can on a piece of grass so they can get as much as they can in each bite. What else is on the ground, yes parasites. Parasites from their own or other horse’s manure, deer, if you have cattle or small ruminants then parasites from their manure as well.  Most of the parasites can be found on the ground and as high as 3 inches up the grass. This needs to be taken into consideration when making a rotational grazing management plan, don’t let your horses graze down their pasture too much and when feeding hay, don’t feed hay on the ground.
        For help with performing a fecal egg count on your horses, contact your local extension agent.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Managing Your Mare During Late Pregnancy

Most people who breed mares want their mare to foal at the beginning of the year. Mares are pregnant for 342 days, give or take 20 days, which means the mare is nearing late pregnancy in the fall. There are several things to consider as your mare enters her last trimester, especially her nutritional needs and vaccination status.

Most fetal growth will occur during the last trimester which will change your mare's nutritional requirements. Her need for protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A will increase. A mare can gain over 250 pounds during her pregnancy. As her weight increases, her center of gravity will shift toward her rear. This shift will put additional strain on her abdominal muscles making exercise more difficult. During her last trimester, the mare should be allowed to get her exercise in the pasture or paddock rather than in a ring or on a track.

If your mare is on endophyte-infected tall fescue, she should be removed several months prior to foaling. Endophyte-infected tall fescue can cause a thickened placenta, prolonged gestation, retained placenta, lack of milk, and weak or stillborn foals.

Throughout your mare's pregnancy she should be on a regular vaccination, deworming, and hoof care schedule. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best protocol for your farm. It is recommended to make sure your mare is vaccinated for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, influenza, and rhinopneumonitis. Rhinopneumonitis can cause abortions in the last four months of pregnancy. Thirty-days prior to foaling, it is encouraged to get your mare vaccinated for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, influenza, and tetanus. These vaccines will provide protection for the newborn foal through the immunoglobulins in the colostrum. No dewormer should be given during the last 30 days of pregnancy.

Getting to the end of a mare's long pregnancy is fun and nerve wracking all at the same time. Being prepared and having a timeline of what to do when can help ease some of your anxiety. Remember to always consult with your veterinarian when it comes to vaccination and deworming protocols.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Protecting Your Horse from Bots

Late summer and fall generally brings bot flies, but if you haven’t seen the bot fly  hovering over and around your horse, you might have seen the whitish-yellow eggs they have deposited on your horse’s body.  The bot fly, which resembles a honey bee, has non-functional mouthparts and does not bite the horse, but can cause significant internal damage to the digestive system. The eggs of the bot fly are what we are more concerned with, since they contain the bot larvae that can be dangerous to your horse’s digestive tract.   Bot flies usually lay eggs on the horse’s legs, flank and belly area, but sometimes even in the mane, neck, chest, throat and other areas.  There actually are three types of bot flies: the common horse bot fly (Gastrophilis intestinalis), the throat bot fly (G. nasalis) and the nose horse bot fly (G. haemorrhoidalis).  The common and throat bot flies are found throughout the U.S., but the nose bot fly is more common in the northern and Midwestern states.  The female bot fly can lay between 150-500 eggs in her 7-10 day life cycle.  What’s most important is that the eggs are removed promptly, before the horse licks them and the larvae are allowed to enter the mouth and start causing problems. 

Bot eggs require two things to hatch: friction and moisture.  The horse provides both of these if they lick or scratch an area with their mouth.  The small bot larvae will attach to the horse’s tongue, burrowing into the tissues of the mouth.  Some of the bot larvae found closer to the head will even emerge and migrate on their own without the horse’s help.  It takes about one to five days for the egg to incubate before hatching, so its best to remove the eggs as soon as you see new ones on your horse.  After about three weeks, they will leave the mouth area and travel to the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine.  The cycle is complete when the fully grown larvae pass through the horse feces and burrow in the soil to pupate, then emerge as flies after a couple months. 

Damages caused by bot larvae can be extensive.  Horses may lose weight due to the inability to graze because of the pain in their mouth from the burrowing larvae in the tongue, gum, or lips.   They may rub or bite at objects to relieve pain from the burrowing and injure themselves.  In the stomach, the larvae can cause obstruction of the flow of food, colic, or even perforations of the stomach or small intestine wall.  Ulcers, peritonitis, esophageal paralysis, and even rupture of the stomach can occur in very severe cases. 

Controlling bots is not hard, but routine inspection for eggs and frequent removal is required to minimize their effects.  Breaking the life cycle is the key.  Sponging affected areas of the horse with warm water will cause the eggs to hatch, and including an insecticide with the water will kill any eggs exposed once hatched. If you’d rather not use them, a quick method of removal is to either use a bot knife or clip the area.  Oral treatment and in most cases prevention of the horse from bot infestation is done through certain deworming products.  Dichlorvos, ivermectin, trichlorfon, and moxidectin are all effective for bots. It is recommended to deworm both in the late summer and immediately after a killing frost for best results. Best wishes with your parasite control and bot management this fall.

Recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader.  The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned.  Individuals  who use chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label.  Be sure to obtain current information about usage and examine a current product label before applying any chemical.  For assistance, contact an agent of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in your county.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Not All Hay is Created Equal

As we move into the cooler months, bermudagrass and other warm season pastures will begin to transition into their dormancy period.  Many horse owners, especially those without cool-season pastures, are forced to supplement with more hay throughout the fall and winter until spring green-up. As you begin purchasing your hay, it is important to remember that all hay is not created equal. When cruising the internet looking for  hay, you often come across the terms “cow hay” and “horse quality hay”.  So what exactly do these terms mean? “Cow hay” could mean that the hay has a large percentage of weeds or has been stored outside in the elements which creates a favorable environment for potentially toxic mold to grow. Now let’s discuss what “horse quality hay” means.  Obviously you would expect that horse hay costs more and quality would be superior to cow hay. Two common requirements that buyers use to determine quality is  minimal weeds and stored out of the elements. Although you may be paying a higher cost for weed-free, shelter kept hay, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting your money’s worth. Hay quality goes beyond weeds and mold.  Other factors that affect quality can sometimes be overlooked.

Species of hay: A widely accepted claim is that alfalfa hay is generally more nutritious than grass hay such as bermudagrass or fescue. Crude protein content of properly managed alfalfa usually ranges between 16 and 20 percent.  Although alfalfa is a nutrient-rich feed source, it is more expensive in our area.  Alfalfa does not tolerate our acidic soils in North Carolina so a local supply is relatively low.  Some farmers in NC have had success producing alfalfa by selecting fields that are more suitable for production. Keep in mind that an intensively managed stand of bermudagrass and cool season grasses can also meet the majority of your horse’s requirements.

Fertilization:  Especially for grass hay, adequate fertilization is required to produce forage that will meet the nutritional demand of your horse. For example, research at several universities has demonstrated that protein content of property fertilized bermudagrass hay ranged between 12 and 14 percent while unfertilized treatments had less than 9 percent.

Maturity of hay: For any species of hay, maturity of the plants at the time of harvest plays a large role in quality.  Alfalfa that is cut at a mature growth stage still has around 12 percent crude protein. Compare this to mature bermudagrass hay which only has 7 percent crude protein, even when properly fertilized. If a bale of grass hay has a large portion of seed heads then it may have been harvested at a more mature growth stage.

Testing your hay:  The most accurate way to know if your hay is meeting your horse's nutritional requirements is to take a hay sample.  Using a hay probe, collect core samples from multiple bales and combine them in a gallon-sized bag to submit for testing.  The NC Department of Agriculture charges a $10 fee for a full analysis of your hay.  Many Extension offices can assist with this process by explaining how to properly collect hay for testing and interpreting the results of the sample.

As you purchase your hay, it's ok to be a "hay connoisseur".  Remember, not all hay is created equal. Production practices will impact quality regardless of the hay species you feed.  Although you can look for weeds, mold, and seed heads, a complete hay analysis is a best tool to help you make decisions for your horse's nutrition program.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Biosecurity Tips for Travelling with Horses

Here are some tips to use when travelling with your horse to reduce the risk of infection.  Horses are frequently co-mingled at various equine events such as horse shows and trail rides.  One carrier animal can potentially infect not only the other horses at the event, but those pathogens can be taken home and shared with the rest of the horses at the home farm if precautions are not taken.  

Before setting out on the trip, be sure the trailer is clean, as well as all the equipment and tack.  Talk to the veterinarian about any concerns about horse health, make sure the vaccinations are up to date, discuss any disease concerns in the area(s) to be travelled through, and any other health concerns.  Bring along cleaning equipment and the equine first aid kit for use at the event. Hopefully the first aid kit won’t be needed.

Since most contagious diseases are spread through some form of direct contact, don’t share tack, grooming supplies, feed pans, or water buckets. Direct contact not only includes nose-to-nose contact, but contact with surfaces that may have gotten saliva, respiratory secretions, or manure contamination from an infected horse.  Again, be sure to pack the equipment needed so borrowing something like a water bucket won’t be necessary.  If equipment is borrowed, be sure to wash and disinfect thoroughly before allowing your horse to use it.

While at the event, keep the area clean around your horses.  Fully clean and disinfect any stalls to be used before putting your horses in.  Do this even if the event host has already promised that the stalls were cleaned and disinfected.

While at the event, keep an eye on your horses for any sign of illness.  Check for fever, and keep track of feed and water intake while away from home.  If needed, check with your veterinarian for information.  The veterinarian will also demonstrate any “how-to” topics if needed.

When returning from an equine event, segregate the travelling horses from the rest of the horses at home.  Isolating and monitoring for a week or so will give time for any disease that may be incubating to show symptoms.  If symptoms are seen, veterinary care can be given.  If no symptoms are seen and the horse is healthy at the end of the isolation period, the travelling horses will gladly rejoin the horse herd upon release from isolation.

One last chore once the trip is over is to thoroughly clean and disinfect the trailer, tack, and equipment.  This will make it easier to get ready for the next trip to an equine event.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

My horse is barefoot. And sound. And his feet look pretty great, if you ask me. What can I do to keep them this way? Are there special products I should be using or certain ways I should be managing them? What if someday he needs shoes? These are just a few of the many questions horse owners ask about their horse’s feet. Here are a few things that horse owners can do to keep their horse’s hooves strong and healthy.
When buying or breeding horses base your decision on conformation and hoof quality. It’s far easier to have healthy feet by buying or breeding horses that already have good feet. If a horse has poor hoof quality then the owner will fight that problem for the rest of the horse’s life. It can be a constant challenge to keep their feet healthy and sound, as well as their shoes on. Two things to look at, when breeding or buying horses, are the coffin bone and pastern bones. The shape and density of the coffin bone has a direct influence on the outer structure of the hoof. The angle and length of the pastern bones also help determine the angle and shape of the hoof. If a horse is born with upright pasterns, he may have a propensity to be club-footed. If he has long, sloping pasterns, he’ll have a more sloping hoof and longer toe with lower heels.
The most important thing you can do for your horse’s hooves is to schedule regular trims to keep them in proper shape and balance. While some owners think bare feet only need trimming once or twice a year, most horses need much more frequent trims to keep the hoof properly balanced and ensure structures are stressed evenly. Regular farrier visits also keep hooves from cracking and chipping. Trim cycles can span four to eight weeks, depending on the horse, time of year, and the work intensity. Most horses should be checked by a farrier regularly, if for no other reason than to check for abnormal conditions that might benefit from some kind of action. Your farrier might discover problems such as thrush, white line disease, bruising, or a chip or crack in the hoof wall. If caught in the early stages and intervention can be done before the situation becomes serious, these issues can be treated with minimal harm done to the hoof. Regular visits by a farrier keep hooves healthy and questions about hoof care answered.
Constant moisture is an enemy of the hooves and can lead to abscesses, cracking, white line disease, and many other problems. Even worse than being constantly wet is an environment where the horse goes from wet to dry to wet over and over again. Even in summer when it is dry because of drought people think the feet are too dry, however they get wet with the morning dew. Then the feet are dry again by afternoon and the horses are stomping flies which can cause the now-brittle horn to crack. Use pest management methods to control flies and the stomping they trigger, and take good care of pastures, using rotational grazing to ensure pastures stay grass-covered.

Another aspect of ideal hoof health is a balanced diet, a steady stream of nutrients, and exercise. Although it’s fairly easy to provide adequate levels of nutrients, overfeeding any one of those can have a damaging effect not only on the feet but on the horse’s overall health. For most horses, green pasture is the ideal meal, containing protein, vitamins, and minerals. When feeding supplemented feeds, such as hay and grain, make sure they supply a balance of appropriate nutrients. Monitor your horse’s body condition, especially if he’s an easy keeper. We tend to overfeed our horses and if a horse is overweight this puts extra stress on the joints, feet, etc.
Besides promoting good overall equine health, exercise also supports condition of the hoof itself. The more a horse moves around the better the blood circulation to the extremities and inner parts of the foot. Movement stimulates the hoof capsule to grow and keeps the feet healthy. Horses that are turned out in enough space to move around or have a regular work program are the ones with the healthiest feet. So, get your horse out and moving as much as possible, especially if he’s not exercised regularly.

Now that you know the healthy hoof factors that play in your horse’s overall hoof health, you can keep an eye on each and make changes as needed to help those feet continue to be healthy and functional and look ­fabulous. If you have any questions or need references feel free to contact Katie Carter, Livestock Agent through Pamlico Extension Office at (252) 876-5606 and

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Essentials During Evacuations

In the event of an emergency, preparation is key.  If you are evacuating, here are a few resources that can be useful.

  • Emergency Boarding Facilities 
  • Evacuation Checklist 
    • Use this to make sure you have all the essentials needed for your horse(s) during an emergency.  We highly recommend writing your name on any buckets, halters, lead ropes, etc that you bring!  Some facilities may need you to bring more (water, pitch forks, etc), so be sure to ask.  CLICK HERE for a printable PDF version.

If you would like to order any of these temporary ID's, links are below.  Another quick form of identification is duct taping halters and writing your information on the duct tape.
For more updates on disasters, as well as how to prepare for and recover from them, check out the NC Disaster Information Center.