Tuesdays with Tony
Spring is springing. Grass is starting to grow. Pollen has backed off a little bit. ‘Tis the season to wonder what to do about hay. Every year my Docs get questions this time of year about hay. This year I thought I’d be a helpful cat and answer your most often springtime hay questions. I’m awesome like that. Just ask me. I’ll tell you how great I am.
I can’t get hay!
Lots of you humans feed coastal hay to your horses. It’s a great option for those easy keeper horses. I relate. I look at food and put on a pound or two. This can be a tricky time of year to find coastal hay. The new crops aren’t baled yet, and farmers may be on short supply from last year’s crop. This can mean questionable quality and quantity of hay available. My number one piece of advice here is don’t buy the low quality stuff!! This is a surefire way to see my Docs on emergency late at night or on a weekend.
Low quality coastal is way, way more likely to cause colics. Coastal hay loves to cause a specific type of colic called an ileal impaction. This happens when the hay stacks up like a bad lasagna at the very end of the small intestine, called the ileum. Luckily, since you are a regular reader of my weekly wisdom, you are feeding some alfalfa to your horse to prevent these colics because you know that’s what I recommend, and you follow every word of my advice. This means your horse’s GI tract is ready to increase that alfalfa some, and stick to quality coastal even if it means decreasing quantity. My Docs can help you adjust for calories and overall quantity so your horse doesn’t get too fat, or have too little roughage in that finicky GI tract.
Adding different roughage types can really help provide roughage without adding too many calories until farmers can get good quality coastal baled again. Some great options are available such as beet pulp, hay pellets, and even bagged hay. Anytime you change up roughage be sure to go slowly. Add small amounts to start, then increase over 7-10 days. The bacteria in the gut need a few days to adjust to a different roughage type. If you go too fast they get upset, and take it out on you by causing increased gas production, or diarrhea. Neither of these is a fun option.
Ooooohhhh those little tiny bits of green grass that are just coming in are just the most delicious things on the planet! At least that’s what I hear from the horses. I eat some grass, but I am no connoisseur of the stuff. The problem with those super delicious little bits of grass is they come with bits of sand as well. The horse GI tract is an excellent collector of sand, but not so excellent at getting rid of it. What’s a human to do? Feed more roughage. Now, this can be tricky this time of year as I will discuss in my next section. Roughage does an excellent job at picking up sand and moving it on out.
Feeding a minimum of 2% of body of your horse’s body weight will keep the beach outside where it belongs! Don’t know how much your horse weighs? Any one of my minions can show you our quick and easy technique. Like I said in the previous section, you can get creative with roughage types. Beet pulp, hay pellets (or cubes, as long as they’re soaked), and bagged hay all count as roughage. There’s also the tried and true psyllium method. My Docs recommend one of the horse psyllium products rather than a human product like Metamucil. The horse products have more psyllium per scoop, and cost less so that’s a win-win! For a horse suspected or known to have lots of sand, start with a double dose for one week, then go back to the normal dose for one week out of every month. It’s super important to only do this one week out of the month. You know those gut bacteria? They can learn to digest psyllium which will inactivate its super sand fighting properties. By only exposing the bacteria to psyllium intermittently we can keep them from learning this skill.
I don’t want the hay
As those tiny bites of delicious greenness come up, your horse may decide they taste way better than any dried version (hay) you have to offer. I don’t personally relate, but this may cause them to [GASP!] leave hay behind. I have never voluntarily walked away from food so I have no idea why a horse would do this. Anyway. My Docs get asked what to do about this all the time. To start, it’s important to assess your pasture and decide if you have enough grass present to potentially meet your horse’s roughage needs. My Docs or a county extension agent can help you here. If you do, then it’s likely you can dramatically decrease or even stop hay offerings. This is why you want good pastures! You get to save on hay! Take advantage of all that beautiful grass if you can.
If you are concerned you don’t have enough grass to meet those roughage needs, you may need to make hay a more appealing option. The two most common ways to do this are increasing the quality of your hay, and confinement. Slowly introducing better tasting stuff like alfalfa or orchard grass hays, or adding beet pulp to grain meals can convince your horse that they can still eat hay while your grass gets a chance to grow. Confining your horse to a stall or small sacrifice paddock with some hay will also allow your horse to realize they may as well eat the hay since there aren’t other options. Some horses will see this as ridiculous horse torture, but let’s be honest: it isn’t.
Never fear, the grass will grow in, the farmers will bale new hay, and, with a little help from you the human, your horse will survive this time of roughage scarcity. Need help figuring out the best option for you and your horse? My Docs are here to navigate the plethora of options available in the roughage market. They will work with you to find the best option for your horse, farm, and lifestyle.
Until next week,
P.S. Are you looking for more horse knowledge? Check out the podcast that my docs produce. It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth and it is absolutely loaded with great information. And it’s free! Any cat knows better than to pass that up. I’m just saying.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!