Hey everybody, Whinny here! It’s autumn in Florida and after a brutally hot summer, I’m loving the cool weather! While Florida’s autumn has more to do with the changing of license plates colors than it does with leaves, there are still some seasonal effects you’ll notice around your farm. Shorter fall days are already upon us, and with them will come fluffy horses, slower growing grass, and hay season. You know how sensitive horses are, and so you’ll want to help your horse through the seasonal transition to reduce the chance of colic.
Changes involving a horse’s GI tract must be done very sloooooowwwwly. Their bellies are delicate systems and making feed changes quickly is certain to throw them off balance. You’ll want to start slowly introducing hay long before the last of the grass is eaten. Even if you have already been feeding hay, increasing the amount to compensate for less grass must also be done very gradually.
If your horse has only been eating pasture, begin by adding 5-7 pounds of hay per feeding. Coastal hay especially should be started slowly. Throwing a bunch of hay at a GI tract that’s been used to green grass is a recipe for an unscheduled visit from my Springhill vets. Add an additional 2-3 pounds of hay every 4-5 days until you’re at the full amount. Absolutely DO NOT put a roll of coastal hay out and let your horse gorge on it when he hasn’t been acclimatized to it. There is no better recipe for a type of colic called an ileal impaction.
You’ll also want to plan ahead to make sure you find a good source of QUALITY hay. My vets see a lot of colics caused by feeding poor quality hay. Let me tell you, one emergency visit to treat a colic is a lot more expensive than feeding a better-quality hay to start with.
Pro Tip: always put your hay in a slow-feed net! You can put it in two nets to slow down your very committed eaters. And putting it up off the ground will help keep it dry and minimize waste.
Add Some Legumes
Since your horse will be consuming more dry feed, like hay, as autumn progresses, there is more risk of an impaction colic. Coastal hay is an especially common cause, and if your horse eats this type of hay, you should plan on supplementing him with another type of hay to reduce the risk. This helps to “dilute out” the potential bad effects of the coastal. Legume hays, like alfalfa and peanut, are salty, which helps remind your horse to drink. They also have a laxative effect on the GI tract. Both hays bring water into the gut, which helps prevent impactions.
Whinny Wisdom: Small amounts of legumes like alfalfa do wonders and can dramatically reduce the colic risk. Take care that your horse doesn’t become overweight on legume hays though – they are calorie dense! A half a flake a day will keep the colic away.
Get Water into your Horse
If your horse is well hydrated, he is at less risk for an impaction colic. An average sized horse should drink approximately 10 gallons of water a day. Regularly clean out your horse’s buckets and troughs and make sure to change the water in the buckets before refilling. (I’ve seen horses poop in their buckets, haven’t you?) Keep an eye on his manure. Does it look moist and slightly shiny, or is it dry and crumbly-looking, or packed into hard fecal balls? That dry, crumbly manure can easily form an impaction.
Get your horse used to eating soaked feed. Adding water to your horse’s grain to make it into a soup can get extra water into their system. You can even wet down his hay to increase its water content. Water consumption is especially important when the weather changes or you get a new shipment of hay. Some horses will need some time to get used to the soupy consistency of soaked feed, so introduce it ahead of time. Some horses will drink flavored water. A great way to encourage drinking is to put a few handfuls of your horse’s favorite grain into a bucket of water to make a “sweet tea”. Other horses are partial to water flavored with apple juice or Gatorade. Of course, you should continue to offer plain water as well.
We often talk about electrolytes in the summer to help replenish what is lost in sweat, but in autumn and winter, adding loose salt or electrolytes to your horse’s diet can also help to stimulate thirst and encourage water consumption.
Other Stuff to Avoid Colic
Provide your horse as much turnout as possible. Horses evolved to be moving around constantly. Horses that are stalled with limited turnout have an increased risk of colic. Moving around the pasture promotes gastrointestinal motility, which promotes the normal transit of food through the gut.
Make sure your horse’s dental exam is up to date. Feed that isn’t adequately chewed is harder to digest, resulting in yet another risk factor for impaction colic. The dental float should be performed once a year, so call Springhill if your horse is due!
These tips apply at any time of the year to help reduce the chance that your horse will colic, but during times of weather change it’s especially important to plan ahead. Go source your good quality hay, make a feeding plan, and feel prepared for hay season. It’s always best to be a few steps ahead when it comes to your horses!
Until next week,
P.S. Are you looking for a stocking stuffer for your favorite horse person? The Adventures of the Horse Doctor’s Husband series (3 books so far) is a great gift idea! And if you have a young person in your life who’s thinking about becoming an equine vet, you can support them with our wonderful handbook called How to Become an Equine Veterinarian: A Guide for Teens. It’s age appropriate for 12-25, and covers everything they need to do through middle school, high school, and college to become a great candidate for vet school. And as my humans say all the time around here, the world needs more equine vets! You can find book details and links to purchase over on the Books Page of my website.
Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse 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!