Monday, December 18, 2017

Understanding Seed Labels

As a horse owner, you always have to think ahead in order to stay ahead.  Even though we are in the winter months now, Spring is right around the corner which means you should be thinking about Spring pastures and possibly pasture renovations.  Here are a few helpful hints to make sure that you are getting the best seed for your money.

There is a “Seed Law”.  This law requires seed being sold to adhere to a minimum set of guidelines and standards which should be listed on a suitable label.  The North Carolina Seed Law can be obtained by clicking here.  There are certain exemptions and additional standards which can be found in the NC Administrative Code Title 2, Subchapter 48C (here).  Not all bags of seeds are created equal, even if they follow the seed law.  There is a large amount of variation in seed quality.  Adherence to the seed law only guarantees that the bag of seed you are purchasing meets the claim on the bag so it is important to shop around and compare labels.

So what has to be on the label?  What does this information mean? (Information from “A Simplified Guide to Understanding Seed Labels")
·      Variety and Kind – Cultivar/release name, species and common name
·      Lot number – A series of letters or numbers assigned by the grower for tracking purposes
·      Origin – Where the seed was grown
·      Net weight – How much material is in the container
·      Percent pure seed (purity) – How much of the material is actually the desired seed
·      Percent inert matter – How much of the material in the bag is plant debris or other materials that are not seed
·      Percent other crop seeds – Other non-weed seeds
·      Percent weed seeds – Seeds considered weed species
·      Name of restricted noxious seed (with number per pound of seed).  Noxious weed species vary by state.  There are 2 types of noxious weeds – restricted and prohibited.  Restricted weeds are listed as number of seeds per pound of material in the bag.  There should be NO prohibited weeds.
·      Percent germination (germ) – An average percentage of seed that will germinate readily
·      Hard seed – Seed which does not germinate readily because of a hard seed coat
·      Dormant seed – Seed which does not germinate readily because it requires a pre-treatment or weathering in the soil.  (Some suppliers may combine hard and dormant seed on the label).
·      Germination test date – Date should be within 12 months of the planned date for using the seed
·      Name and address of the company responsible for analysis (seller or grower)

Seed Label Example:  If a variety is not stated, the seed label must be labeled as a "mix".

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Plant Materials Program recommends using seed labels to help you shop around for the best value that will meet your needs.  They suggest that you always check the purity/germination and if it is very low, you might not want that variety or mix.  If noxious weeds are listed on the tag, take into account that they could most likely become a problem in your pasture by becoming hard to control and outcompeting your desirable grass.  NRCS also suggests that you purchase seed based on the Pure Live Seed (PLS) which you will use to calculate the amount of seed you will need for planting.  Their calculations are as follows:

You need to determine viability first.
Viability = germination + hard seed + dormant seed

The second step is to calculate the amount of Pure Life Seed (PLS).
PLS = %purity x %viability

Finally, to calculate the amount of seed needed for planting. . .
Bulk seed/acre = lbs. of PLS recommended per acre
                                                 Percent PLS

Seed inspectors visit dealers regularly to spot check seeds.  During checks, inspectors take random samples of bags to have them analyzed for accuracy by NCDA&CS Seed Lab.  If there is a discrepancy in the sample versus its label, a “stop-sale” notice is issued until the seed is brought back within standard and meets the label claims.  Inspectors and dealers usually work together to make sure that consumers are being supplied the best seed possible.

Now that you hopefully have a better understanding of seed tags, go ahead and start shopping around for your spring pasture needs.  For more information, please contact your local Agriculture Extension Agent.

Englert, J.M. 2007.  A Simplified Guide to Understanding Seed Labels. Maryland Plant Materials Technical Note No. 2.  USDA-NRCS National Plant Materials Center, Beltsville, MD. 3p.

Ferguson, J.M., et al.  2017.  Seed and Seed Quality.  AG-448.  NC State Extension.  Raleigh, NC.  29p.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Horses and Water in the Winter

We mostly worry about horses getting enough water during the warmer months or when they are working and need lots of water and electrolytes.  However, even in the cold months when we aren’t riding nearly as much, a horse will need up to 10 gallons of fresh clean water per day.  This amount is generally agreed to be needed to prevent colic, dehydration, or worse. 

Cold weather provides some unique challenges to making sure that horses drink enough water.  If the water is too cold, many horses will refuse to drink it.  Warming the water a bit may encourage a horse to go ahead and take a drink.  This can also help to warm the horse in cold weather.

Most horses are fed dried forages in cold months after having grazed on succulent forage that contained quite a bit of moisture.  This change can lead to a higher water requirement per day than was needed during warmer months. Be sure that the water supply is palatable and that there is plenty offered.

Folks taking horses to shows to trail rides may have experienced a horse refusing to drink because the water tastes different than what they are used to.  A way to alleviate this would be to add flavor to the home water to get the horses accustomed to it before travelling.  Keep adding the electrolytes or apple juice while away from home so the taste is nearer to what the horse is used to.

Dehydration can happen at any time of year and is extremely serious.  Strenuous exercise, stress, and diarrhea are considered the most common triggers for dehydration, but even simpler causes like different taste can cause refusal and lead to dehydration.  The moral of the story is to make sure that water is available in sufficient quantities and to make sure that the horse is actually drinking that 5 to 10 gallons each day.

Signs of dehydration include:  sunken eyes, dullness, drawn up flanks, depression, and excessively thick saliva.  A simple way to check for dehydration is to use the pinch test – pinch up a fold of skin and then release it.  The skin should immediately resume its natural position.  If the skin remains in a ridge for 2 to 5 seconds, the horse could be experiencing dehydration.  If the skin remains in a ridge for 10 to 15 seconds, call a veterinarian.

The article “How much Drinking Water Does Your Horse Need” by Penn State Extension Horse Specialist Ann M. Swinker has more information on water for horses, preventing dehydration, and recognizing the signs of dehydration in horses.  Click on the title of the article to see the publication.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rabies in Horses

When we think of rabies, we typically do not think of it infecting our livestock.  In North Carolina, dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be vaccinated against rabies. Livestock (cattle, horses, goats, and sheep) are not required to receive a rabies vaccine.

North Carolina averages around five cases of livestock rabies each year.  For 2017, there have already been five cases.  State Veterinarian Doug Meckes is encouraging North Carolina livestock owners to consider having their animals vaccinated against rabies.  “Horses, cattle and goats are naturally curious animals, which puts them at risk for a bite if a rabid animal gets through their fence line,” Meckes said.  The vaccine can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian, certified vaccinator, or a registered veterinary technician that is supervised by a licensed veterinarian.  You will need to have written verification and vaccinate yearly.

How do you know if your horse has been exposed to rabies?  Since rabies is primarily transmitted in saliva through a bite, there are three ways to determine exposure:

1– Direct visualization of a known rabid animal biting the horse.
2– Evidence of a bite wound from a known rabid animal.
3– Rabies vector species (fox raccoon, etc.) has been seen near the wounded horse.

What does rabies look like in horses? 

 Equine rabies symptoms include lameness, poor coordination, drooped head/lips, difficulty   swallowing, focusing on the bite wound, aggressive behavior, and paralysis.  Rabies in horses has been known to mimic colic symptoms!

Photo Credit:

 The incubation for rabies is between two weeks and six months. Once symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal.  I would encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about the risk of rabies in your area and preventative vaccinations.  For more information:

Information Source: NCDA&CS

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hay Storage

You’ve just purchased some premium quality hay for your horses, now you need to make it last.  So how should you store your hay?  Here are some tips to help make sure your hay last and maintains it quality.

1. Seal up your storage area.  Be sure to store hay under shelter when possible.  Direct sunlight will bleach and age hay, and rain will cause spoilage.  Plug any holes in your roof, as a leaky roof will lead to wet hay and development of mold.  If you have an enclosed area to store hay, be sure to check and plug any places where mice, rats, or other vermin may have been entering.  They will deposit feces, chew through twine, and nest in bales, making a mess of your storage area.

2. Do not store your hay directly on the ground.  Storing directly on the ground will cause moisture to wick up from the ground and lead to spoiled hay.  Pallets are helpful in lifting hay off the ground and promoting air circulation around the bales.  This also applies if you store hay in an area with concrete floors.  Concrete will wick moisture, so airflow is still needed under your bales to prevent mold and damage.

3. Round bales should be stored end-to-end to minimize losses.  Stacking round bales tends to trap moisture, and limits drying from sun and wind.  Outdoor storage of round bales will lead to losses, typically anywhere from 5-35%.  When storing round bales outside, so not store them in a low-lying area, and when possible, cover them with a tarp to reduce losses.  Buying denser bales can also help reduce this loss.  Studies have also shown that bales wrapped with net wrap or plastic twine have less losses than those wrapped with natural twine, but be careful to ensure all net wrap is removed.  Net wrap pieces have been known to cause intestinal blockages.

Following these tips can help protect the investment you have made in hay on your farm.  See the following table demonstrating the increases longevity of hay when store properly.

Hay Storage Options
Storage Longevity (Years)
Dry Matter Loss (%)
Conventional Shed
4 to 7
Tarped on Pallet
4 to 7
Net Wrap on Ground
15 to 25
Twine on Ground
25 to 35

This article was adapted from University of Minnesota Extension website found at

Monday, November 20, 2017

Blanketing Your Horse

In North Carolina, fall and winter weather can vary widely.  It may be 75 degrees and sunny one day and then freezing rain and 35 degrees only one week later.  This can cause a lot of confusion among horse owners about whether or not to blanket their horses, particularly those horses who are out in the elements.  Are they warm enough?  Do they need to be blanketed?  If so what type of blankets do they need?

To begin with, let’s address how horses control their body temperature. Horses are naturally designed to spend their days outdoors.  In response to shortened daylight hours, the horse will grow a winter coat that is longer and has coarser hairs than the summer coat.  These hairs stand more erect rather than lying flat to the skin.  This allows the hair to trap and warm air close to the body and insulates the horse from the cold.  Additionally, fat deposited under the skin acts as a very good natural insulator for a horse.  Heat is also generated from the hind gut from forage digestion.  Feeding additional hay in the winter may help to keep your horse warm.

Each horse has a lower critical temperature, or LCT.  This the lowest temperature at which a horse can maintain their core body temperature without expending additional energy to do so.  Once the body temperature gets below the LCT, the hair coat and normal caloric intake are no longer enough to keep the horse warm.  The LCT depends on the temperature a horse is accustomed to, the amount of body insulation the horse has (length of hair coat and amount of body fat), and whether the horse has shelter from the wind.  When horses are exposed to wind, the hair coat can be ruffled and the warm air that insulates the horse can be released.  Under normal circumstances, most horses are fantastic at regulating their body temperature without the help of a blanket, provided that they have shelter from the wind.

If a horse has a shorter hair coat, has been clipped, is underweight, or is a higher risk animal (young, old, compromised digestive function, etc.), then a blanket may be necessary to provide warmth.  It is important to remember that it is possible for blankets to do more harm than good.  Sometimes good intentions can lead to undesirable consequences and can compromise the welfare of the animal.
There are several safety considerations associated with blanketing horses.  A blanket that doesn’t fit well or a blanket that is not constructed well can be prone to straps and buckles sliding or slipping.  A blanket could then get tangled up in the legs or neck.  As temperature fluctuates throughout the day, a horse could easily end up being blanketed too heavily.  For instance, a heavy blanket may have been put on at night because it was 10 degrees, but as the temperature rises to 50 degrees throughout the day, the horse is now over blanketed and may have to sweat to attempt to lower its body temperature.  If your horse is out at pasture and you cannot check or adjust blankets according to temperature, then your horse is better off without a blanket.

If your horse does need to blanketed, there are several different options available.  Blankets and sheets come in two main varieties: stable and turnout.  Stable sheets and blankets are not waterproof and are meant to be used when horses are indoors while turnout sheets and blankets are waterproof and are designed to worn outdoors.  Once you have decided which of these two varieties that you need, the next factor in the process is the level of warmth that it will provide.  Sheets are thin and lightweight and have minimal, if any, “fill,” or layers of insulation.  Blankets will have varying levels of fill.  The fill is measured in grams.  A blanket with 0-100 grams of fill is either a sheet or a light weight blanket, 150-200 grams of fill is classified as a medium weight blanket, and 300+ grams of fill is a heavy weight blanket.  Turnout blankets and sheets also tend to have a heavier denier than stable blankets and sheets.  Denier is the measure of the nylon fiber density of the blanket and is essentially an indication of how tough the blanket is.  Blankets with a higher denier, such as 1200, will be more durable and water resistant than a lower denier, such as 600.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Forage Sampling and Understanding the Forage Analysis Results

Forage sampling and analysis is the most accurate way to test for forage quality. Knowing the nutritional content of the hay can be used to create a balanced ration which is a critical component of nutritional management for horses. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Farm Feed Testing Service provides producers with a detailed analysis that includes important nutritional components. A complete analysis costs $10.00. It is important to get a representative sample of the hay that will be fed in order to get an overall picture of the quality. There are different ways to sample hay. Click HERE to see an older NC Horse Blog post on sampling hay. When filling out the forage analysis submission form it is important to indicate what forage type and animal species the hay is intended to feed because there are different equations used for different species when determining some of the results.  

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Above is an example of the results from a complete analysis. The analysis sheet has two columns of numbers, “As Submitted Basis” and “Dry Matter Basis.” All interpretation of the analysis is based on the column “Dry Matter Basis” because dry matter level (moisture level) varies in each sample and putting them on a dry matter basis makes the information easier to interpret. Listed below are the more important numbers to pay attention to when analyzing your forage results and determining your hay quality.

Dry Matter % The amount of dry matter in a feed is a key piece of information. The percent dry matter influences how stable dry forages, such as hay, will be in storage. Dry matter of hay should be at least 80% or the bales could possibly heat in storage which will result in damage to the nutritional value and they can grow mold. Another concern is spontaneous combustion. A dry matter of higher than 85% is preferable for hay for best results.

Net Energy (lactation), Mcal/lb and Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) % Net energy and TDN are two measures of the energy content of the forage. TDN is used to help balance rations. The total energy needed will vary depending on the status of the horse. The more work a horse does, the higher its energy requirements. A mature horse at maintenance requires 57% TDN and a mature horse in moderate work (jumping, dressage, barrels) requires 60% TDN. Usually, the higher the TDN the better the hay quality.

Crude Protein %, Unavailable Protein %, and Adjusted Crude Protein % Crude protein (CP) is one of the key nutrients in feed. Any forage has a small portion of protein that is bound and unavailable to the animal and is called Unavailable Protein. If the unavailable protein exceeds 10% of the total crude protein it means that the hay was probably heated, resulting in some damage to the proteins. Any bound protein exceeding 10% of the total is subtracted resulting in the Adjusted Crude Protein. Adjusted Crude Protein is the value that should be used to evaluate the forage and balance rations. In most forages this will be the same as Crude Protein. Young, growing horses usually require the highest amount of protein. A mature horse at maintenance requires 8% CP and a mature horse in moderate work (jumping, dressage, barrels) require 10% CP. Different grass species will have higher CP, such as alfalfa, while others, like bermudagrass, will have lower CP. Orchardgrass and timothy are usually in the middle. Generally, the higher the CP the better the hay quality.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) % Acid detergent fiber is an indicator of the amount of energy in the forag and stage of maturity the grass was harvested. As the grass gets more mature, the less digestible it becomes. ADF is the less digestible fiber portion of the forage, so the higher the ADF level the lower the energy.

Calcium and Phosphorus % Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P) are important macro nutrients (major minerals) that are rarely deficient in forages. Generally, forages are higher in Ca and lower in P, while grains are higher in P and lower in Ca. It is important that the ratio between Ca and P (Ca:P) is between 1:1 and 2:1.

Nitrate Ion % The nitrate ion detects the amount of nitrate in the forage. Too much nitrate can cause nitrate poisoning. Nitrate poisoning is a concern in ruminants but rarely affects horses. High nitrate levels can be caused by a number of conditions and is more common in some forages, such as sudan x sorghum hybrids. Please click HERE to learn more about nitrates and nitrate poisoning.

There are also results for Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium % and Copper, Iron, Manganese, and Zinc ppm. These minerals are usually not a concern if the horse is getting grain. If a horse is just getting hay, then a mineral supplement may be needed.

Forage analysis, along with visual appraisal, can help you select the best hay for your horses. This article was intended to give a brief description of the items that appear on the forage analysis report to help you make an initial interpretation of your results. Contact your local Extension Agent for a more detailed interpretation and assistance with forage sampling and help with balancing your horse’s diet.