Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Ration Balancers Explained


Do you have a mature adult horse at maintenance or in light work that is an easy keeper and can sustain on forage alone? Or do you have a growing foal that has a high nutrient demand but does not necessarily need excess calories? Then the best option might be the use of a quality ration balancer.

Ration balancer pellets were originally designed to meet the specific needs of growing horses, in conjunction with a high quality forage source, by providing the essential amino acids, both macro and micro minerals and essential vitamins without the excess calories that could predispose a growing horse to developmental orthopedic diseases.

In addition to young, growing horses, mature horses that tend to be easy keepers and can maintain their weight on a forage-based diet can also benefit from a ration balancer. As a forage only diet, can often meet or  exceed energy and crude protein requirements, but still be deficient in certain essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins.

Due to their high nutrient density, the ration balancer recommended serving sizes are relatively small (~1 to 2 pounds per day).  Just about every major manufacturer of horse feed has their version of a ration balancer and the manufacturer will include feeding directions on the bag for the type of horse (stage of production or age of horse) and/or workload the horse is under.

Many often express concerns over the protein levels in ration balancers, which generally range from 28-32%. However, due to the much lower feeding rate as compared to some performance feeds and/or complete feeds, the total amount of protein consumed by a horse on a ration balancer is generally much lower. For example, if we assume that an average adult horse is consuming one pound per day of a quality ration balancer at 30% CP that equates to 0.3 lb or 136 grams of crude protein per day from the ration balancer. Compare that to a fortified feed with a recommended feeding rate of a minimum of 5 lb per day and contains 12% crude protein, then that would equate to 0.6 lb or 272 grams of crude protein consumed.

Keep in mind that crude protein requirements for the horse are expressed in grams per day, and not as they are often represented on a feed tag – percent (%) form.  An average adult horse (~1100 lb) in light work will need roughly 700 grams of crude protein per day. If we assume that they are eating 2% of their body weight in a quality grass hay with an average of 10% CP, then they are already exceeding their crude protein requirement (~1000 grams of crude protein per day). An additional 100 to 150 grams from 1 lb of a quality ration balancer is nothing to worry about, but the fact that is supplies other essential nutrients that can often be deficient in a forage only diet can be essential to providing a balanced diet.

Furthermore, Ration balancers can be fed in conjunction with other fortified feeds. Especially when one feeds well under the recommended minimum of the other fortified feed. By supplementing back with roughly a ½ to 1 lb of a ration balancer, it is quite possible that the added ration balancer fills in the nutritional gaps left behind by not feeding the recommended amount of the other fortified feed.

In addition, ration balancer pellets can be a good option for horses that do not tolerate high sugar and starch levels in their diets. The generally lower glycemic index of a typical ration balancer has the potential to also lessen a horse’s frisky behavior, if you have a horse that is prone to that.

Overall, ration balancer pellets can be an ideal feed for a number of different horses, including adult horses at maintenance or in light work or actively growing horses and can be used in a number of diverse ways to compliment or balance out the equine diet.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Winter Horse Care Reminders


This time of year brings not only chilly temperatures and frosty mornings, but also a decline in forage growth due to the shorter days and colder temperatures.  It’s tougher to match the increase in calories needed to maintain weight, stay warm, and certainly for a youngster to grow or a mare to nurse a foal.  Minimum essentials for horses and other animals living outdoors are adequate nutrition, whether forage, concentrated feed, or both, along with clean water and some type of shelter. Being able to provide water instead of a block of ice is also critical.  Feed and farm supply stores sell tank de-icers and heated buckets or tubs that come in handy.  Making an investment might save you the cost of a vet bill later, or even worse, the loss of an animal as a result of cold weather dehydration.


Providing good quality, nutritious hay is another critical aspect to winter management of horses.  This is the time of year where hay supplies can get thin, so planning ahead and purchasing enough hay to get through the winter is critical.  When temperatures get below freezing, winter pasture growth reduces tremendously, and hay is our only forage option.  Horses, along with all livestock, need hay to stay warm.  Hay and other forages are digested in the cecum and large intestine of the horse, and this digestion process is the primary source of regulating body temperature. Many horses can maintain their weight through the winter with just an increase in hay consumption.  Those that are harder to keep weight on or older will often need a gradual increase of grain as well. Horses should consume at least 1.5% of their body weight in hay during cold periods.  For example, a mature 1000 pound horse should consume 15-18 pounds per day of hay to meet these temperature needs in cold weather.  It’s also important to pay close attention to body condition during these periods, and actually “feel” your horse.  A long hair coat or winter blanket can often cover up thin spots on a horse, so be sure to examine your horse closely and get a feel for where your horse’s ribs, backbone, etc. are and how much fat or “cover” there is over and around them.  If a horse given plenty of hay is having trouble maintaining weight, increasing fat to the concentrate diet may also be helpful.  Many “high fat” feeds are on the market just for this purpose. 



These are just a few tips to help you and your horses get through the brisk winter days that are starting and will be here for a while. For more information or advice, don’t hesitate to contact your local county extension agent or your veterinarian.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Controlling Bots


Photo Credit: Lauren Langley

Have you ever noticed the tiny yellowish eggs that are laid usually on the inside of your horse’s front legs in late summer, early fall?  Bot flies (adults resemble bees) are responsible for laying those eggs on your horse.  Horses serve as a host for bot fly reproduction.  The bot flies can also lay eggs on the horse’s belly and jawline.  

You may be wondering, how are bot eggs a problem for my horse?  Once the flies start laying eggs on the horse, the horse becomes irritated and reacts by biting or kicking and as a result ingests the eggs.  Once the eggs are ingested, they attach to the stomach wall and develop into mature larvae.  Clinical signs that your horse is infested with bots: difficulty swallowing, ulcers, intestinal obstructions, and other digestive disorders.

Photo Credit: Lauren Langley

What can you do?  Remove the bot eggs if you can with a bot knife.  Be careful not to rub your eyes if you come in contact with the bot eggs which can infect human eyes.  You can also treat for bots after a killing freeze.  Most of the time, a killing freeze kills off the bot flies and that is an ideal time to treat for bots.  Make sure you are selecting a dewormer product that lists bots on the label.  Always consult with your veterinarian when selecting a dewormer product and for the best time to treat.

Friday, November 5, 2021


Strategic Deworming

A common question that many horse owners ask is “What should I use to deworm my horse?” In the past, parasite control programs involved aggressive rotational deworming at two month intervals. These programs were geared toward eliminating the large strongyle bloodworm and proved very successful as all three major drug classes are very effective against large strongyles and heavy infections are now rare.

Small strongyles (cyathostomins), roundworms (ascarids), bots and tapeworms are the primary parasites that current deworming protocols focus on. Gone are the days of rotating dewormer brands every two months. Dewormer resistance is quickly becoming one of the biggest issues facing equines of today. What were once effective dewormers are now no longer treating horses as effectively for parasite burdens as they once did. To compound the issue, there are no new dewormer drugs in development for the horse. Therefore, we must change the way we approach deworming in horses to ensure that the drugs we have will continue to function appropriately against our horses’ parasites.

The new approach to deworming in horses is to treat the horses with the higher parasite loads more frequently, and those with lower parasite loads less frequently. A fecal egg count (FEC) is a simple, useful tool for evaluating a horse’s parasite load. It involves analyzing a horse’s fresh fecal sample to gauge the number of parasite eggs per gram (epg) of manure.

Generally, horses are categorized into the following classifications based on the number of parasite eggs that they are shedding:

·         Low shedder: has 200 eggs per gram or less and typically only needs to be dewormed twice a year in the spring and fall.

·         Moderate shedder: has between 200-500 eggs per gram and typically needs to be dewormed three times a year.

·         High shedder: has greater than 500 eggs per gram and typically needs to be dewormed four times a year.

Even horses who come back with an FEC of zero, does not mean that they are free of parasites. It simply means that they are currently not shedding any eggs. Besides, an FEC will not detect bots or tapeworms, so should still be treated as low shedders during the spring and fall with an appropriate drug class.

Beyond an FEC is a fecal egg count reduction test (FECRT). An FECRT is the only way to accurately assess parasite resistance to a particular drug class. This test involves obtaining a fecal sample, testing it for an epg count, administering a specific drug class, and then coming back in 10-14 days and retesting another fecal sample. The difference between the two samples (pre and post-treatment) are calculated as a percent reduction. If the percent reduction is not at least 85% or greater, then one should suspect resistance to the particular drug class used.

For the Southeast region, spring and fall deworming is all most horses need, unless regular FECs say that a given horse needs to be dewormed more frequently. Fall, after a good freeze (or about 6 months after the spring treatment), is the best time to treat for bots, as the temperatures will all but eliminate them. It is also a convenient time to treat for tapeworms. Since the macrocyclic lactones (ivermectin & moxidectin) are the only things that kill bots, you would want to use Equimax, Quest Plus or Zimectrin Gold with the added praziquantel to also address tapeworms. Then in the spring, it is still a good idea to address any lingering bots and tapeworms that might have overwintered in the horse and treat once the temperatures are consistently above 45-50 degrees. For moderate and high shedders you would want to add one or two additional treatments through the winter months and may include one of the following drug classes: macrocyclic lactones (ivermectin & moxidectin), benzimidazoles (fenbendazole & oxibendazole) and/or pryrimidine salts (pyrantel pamoate). For the latter two drug classes mentioned, these are also ones where an FECRT should be employed to determine the efficacy of the drug class used, as they are often associated with increasing resistance issues.

In summary, changing the thought process about equine parasite control has been an uphill battle. We have tried for 50+ years to clear a horse on pasture entirely of internal parasites and have failed miserably. Thus, the new goal is to focus on those horses that are shedding the most and treat them accordingly. For the rest of the population that are routinely low shedders, we simply need to focus on maintaining a small population of internal parasites that are still managed by the drug classes we currently have.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Do You Have Your Winter Hay Supply?

Hopefully, once you read that title, you said to yourself, “Yes, I have my hay for the winter”. Whether you have hay for the upcoming winter or not, below are some things to think about when making that purchase. 

Hay Maturity – Many folks think that 1st cutting is the best and most nutritious hay. That may or may not be the case. The maturity of the hay at the time it is cut is the biggest factor that affects hay quality. If the hay is more mature and in the reproductive stage (seedheads or blooms present), the quality will decrease. Hay that is in the vegetative state is generally more nutritious. A lot of times, first cutting hay will have seedheads and lots of stem, thus reducing protein, energy and digestibility levels. 

Hay Species – Depending on the class of livestock you are feeding, you will need varying degrees of nutrition levels. Horses that are trail ridden only occasionally (or never) are not going to have as a high a plane of nutritional requirements as a racehorse in training. Likewise, a broodmare with a two month old foal by her side needs more protein and energy than mare in the last 90 days of gestation. Again, who you are feeding will dictate the type of hay you might need. Grasses and legumes have differing nutritional values. Additionally, within those groups, forage species can have varying levels of protein and energy.

Rain – Rain is not good for hay once it has been mowed. If rained on within a few hours of being mowed, the hay will not be as negatively affected as when it is rained on when dry enough to bale. Digestibility and dry matter yield both decrease with rainfall events. If the hay is allowed to dry adequately before baling, it can still be fed to some classes of livestock. However, supplementation will most likely be needed to make up the difference in nutritional needs versus nutrition supplied. All this depends on both the hay and the livestock. 

Storage – Storing hay inside (barn/shed) is best. This protects it from rain (and snow) and sun. However, having adequate storage can be difficult when dealing with large round bales. Many times, those large round bales are stored uncovered outside. This will reduce the quality and dry matter. In this case, you will most likely need more hay and will also need supplementation. If those round bales are stored up off the ground and covered with a tarp, quality and dry matter loss will be minimal. 

Weight – The only way to know for sure how much a bale of hay weighs is to weigh it. This isn’t that hard to do with small square bales, but can be challenging for large round bales. However, a livestock scale will work if one is available. Small squares can vary in weight by as much as 30-40 pounds, depending on hay species and baling specifics. Large round bales can vary by as much as 1000 pounds since there are different sizes available. Since hay in this part of the world is bought and sold on a per bale basis (as opposed to per ton), it is important to know how much hay (by weight) you’re really getting.

Amount – Without knowing the weight of the hay, it is virtually impossible to even estimate how much hay you’ll need to feed your livestock through the winter. As a (very broad) average, an animal will eat approximately 2-2.5% of its body weight in dry matter every day. Notice that was dry matter – not just hay. Hay is typically 85% dry matter or higher. This dry matter recommendation is a basic way of estimating “how much” the animal will eat. It does not take into consideration any specific protein and energy requirements based on nutritional needs for the animal or group of animals. If you feed any supplemental feeds or the animals are grazing, that dry matter intake goes into the equation as well. 

So, let’s do some quick math. Say you have 10 horses that don’t do a lot of work that weigh 1000 pounds each. Your hay weighs 800 pounds (large round bales) and tested at 88% dry matter. How much hay will you need? Well, you also kinda need to know (or guess) how long you’ll feed them through the winter. We’ll say that you expect to feed hay for 4 months (120 days). You are a good grass manager so you have enough pasture to supply their nutritional needs the other 8 months. 

1000 lbs X 2% dry matter intake = 20 pounds of dry mater (DM) per day per horse 
20 pounds DM per day/per horse ÷ 88% dry matter = 22.72 pounds of hay as fed per horse per day 
23 lbs hay X 10 horses = 230 pounds of hay per day for all 10 horses 
230 pounds per day X 120 days = 27,600 pounds of hay for the herd for the winter 
27,600 lbs hay needed ÷ 800 lbs per bale = 35 large round bales of hay 

In this example, we have determined that you would need 35 bales to feed 10 1000-pound horses for 120 days. The same type of math could be used if you’re using small square bales to feed horses or small ruminants. There are lots of other variables that come into play, like feeding loss and weather. But, this would at least give you a start on how much hay you need. These numbers do not take into consideration the protein and energy levels that may be needed for animals that require more of these nutrients. This just looks at dry matter. You could be feeding enough dry matter, but if the hay is poor quality, the animals could be starving with full bellies. 

Hay Testing – The NC Department of Agriculture will perform a nutritional analysis on your hay for $10. That’s a pretty cheap investment to find out exactly what you are feeding. Approximately one gallon of dry hay is all that is needed. Forms are available at your Extension office or online, and your local Extension office may be able to get the sample to the lab for you. You’ll have results in about 2-3 weeks. 

Contact your local Extension office for additional information or with help collecting hay samples or interpreting hay reports.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Fire Ant Control in Pastures


Fire ants are pretty well established here in North Carolina and some of them like to call your pasture or hayfield home. Whether you are dealing with one mound or a hundred mounds in some cases, you need to know what to do for control.

Fire ants can negatively impact your equine or hay operation and cost you time and money. Impact may be felt through:

  • Lost Labor Animal Injury Equipment
  • Damage/Wear
  • Hay Production
  • Medical/Veterinary Costs
  • Forage Degradation
  • Electrical Equipment Damage
  • Infested Feed
  • Reduced Feeding
  • Young Animal Endangerment

There are a few pesticides labeled for fire ant control in a pasture or hayfield situation. Some are for directly treating the mound and others are for broadcasting an infested area where there are a lot of mounds. There are also some pesticides that are for use only in horse pastures (where horses are not used for human consumption) and non-pasture farm areas. As always, please read the label and follow restrictions and directions for using in pasture. Here is a list of pesticides for use in pastures:

  • Amdro Pro – For mound or broadcast
  • Amdro – Horse or non-pasture areas only
  • Extinguish – For mound or broadcast
  • Extinguish Plus – Horse or non-pasture areas only
  • Esteem Ant Bait – For mound or broadcast
  • Award – Horse or non-pasture areas only
  • Sevin SL – For mound drench only
  • Advion – Horse or non-pasture areas only

Here are a few tips to help increase your success when applying a pesticide to control fire ants:

Do not apply baits and drench at the same time.

Allow 7-10 days between the two application. Ants will not forage and accept bait while they are disrupted by poison.

The best months to treat are mid-spring and fall. The best time of day to treat is mid-morning when air temperatures are around 70 degrees F.

To check and see if fire ants are active, place potato chips or cheese puffs on the ground. If ants are noticed within 5-10 minutes then they are considered active and foraging.

Additional tips when applying baits:

Do not apply if ground is wet or rain occurs within 36 hours. Do not store open product for longer than package allows– most products have a short shelf life. Do not store baits near other pesticides or fuel from which they may absorb odors and taste. Do not apply baits directly on top of the mound, fire ants do not come and go from the top of the mound. Do not disturb mounds when applying baits, this can interfere with their foraging behavior.

Remember, always read the label and follow directions! Some products may require you to reapply! You cannot get rid of fire ants overnight, just like anything else it will take time. Formulate a plan and stick to it so you can reclaim your pasture back.

To view the original publication and for more information please see the publication Fire Ants in Pastures.


Written by: Lauren Langley, Livestock Extension Agent | Source: S. B. Bambara & Wes Watson, NC State Extension Entomologists

Video Resources:

Monday, October 18, 2021

Equine Law Webinar Series


N.C. Cooperative Extension, Alamance and Chatham County Centers are proud to present the Equine Law Webinar Series with guest speaker, R.L. Adams from Carolina Equine Law. This webinar series was designed with horse owners and equine businesses in mind.

Through this free webinar series, you will learn about several important topics including equine contracts, liability, and insurance. These topics are important if you are considering leasing, boarding, hosting groups/events, giving lessons, etc.

Each webinar will take place from 7–8 p.m. EST on the following dates:

November 4, 2021: Equine Contracts 101

November 16, 2021: Equine Liability & Insurance

Pre-Registration Required:


About Zoom (Online Platform Being Used):

This webinar series will be delivered through Zoom, which is an online video communications platform that is free for users. You can download the free app to your phone or you can join by computer. If you cannot join by smartphone or computer, you can call in and listen from any phone.

Once registered, you will be provided with the information needed to join the webinar session.

Questions? Contact Lauren Langley at 336-266-0702 or or Kristina Britt at 919-542-8242 or