Ask Horse Journal: 12/02

Bedding Depth
I read that horses should have about eight inches of bedding. I’m at a stable that has rubber mats in its stalls. They use only about 1/4” of shavings, changing it daily. How can we reach a compromise where the horses have enough bedding and the stable won’t go out of business because of bedding costs’ I thought we could put three bags in and just pick the stall out for three days and then replace it all.

How much more economical are loose shavings than bagged’ Is 1/4” bedding sufficient when horses are outside from 9 to 5 daily and the bedding is replaced daily’

-Name Withheld

Without seeing the situation, we can’t tell you if we think the bedding-mat combination is sufficient. However, we like 8-10” of bedding without mats and 6” of bedding with mats. This level is usually absorbent and provides secure footing. It also helps keep your horse more comfortable and cleaner if he lies down.

We believe stalls should be cleaned daily, which means removing all the wet spots and manure. Horses that are in stalls 24 hours a day should also be “picked” one or more times daily. This means removing the piles of manure and urine.

When you properly clean a stall, you only remove soiled bedding and manure. This makes the working cost of the bedding what you take out, not what you put in. If a stall is properly cleaned daily, you shouldn’t have to strip it — remove all the bedding and replace it — every three days. Some barns strip stalls weekly, but we think it’s smarter to judge the overall condition of the stall and strip it when necessary, giving it time to air out before replacing the bedding.

As for loose shavings vs. bagged, it’s also tough to compare. Yes, the upfront cost is cheaper for loose shavings, but you have to consider the labor of covering and handling them to the total cost. We think the most economical way to save on bedding is to minimize the amount of clean bedding you must throw out.


“Beardless” Hay
In far northern, coastal California, we have trouble getting good grass hay. It’s expensive ($12-$15 a bale), compared to prices in the valleys ($7 a bale), 300 miles east. A barn manager said beardless wheat, beardless barley, and pea hay are obtainable, more affordable, and good forage. Do you know anything about these’

-Jane Patterson

The wheat, barley and oat hays are in the group sometimes referred to as cereal hays or grain hays. Like all hays, their composition and quality will vary depending on harvesting and curing.

Feeding value for weight maintenance is similar to the more familiar grass hays but, depending on stage at cutting, they may contain significant amounts of grain and more sugars/starch than grass hays, so it can be a poor choice for carbohydrate-sensitive horses. Very mature growths, though, are low energy, approaching that of straw. Pea hay, being a legume, is higher protein. It, too, can be fed to horses if properly cured, and some farmers deliberately grow some pea in with the cereal hays in the field to boost the protein content of the hay. The mineral profiles of the pea and cereal hays are complementary.


Founder And Breeding
I own a 13-year-old part Morgan who foundered 1 1/2 years ago from over eating. There have been no problems since. I would like to breed her, but I am concerned about the possibility of problems the pregnancy may cause because of her foundering. Would it be safe to breed her, and should we expect any health problems with her or her foal’ Will there be any problem with her carrying her foal to term’ We don’t want to chance losing her, but would like to carry on the line. Also, is there anything special we should do while she is in foal’

-Wendy McKean

If her laminitis was the result of eating too much grain, and she did not rotate her coffin bone, or has grown her foot back in well, she shouldn’t have any more risk than normal. However, if she is the type that gains weight easily and can’t be fed any grain, she should be tested for insulin resistance (see October 2002), which may put her at higher risk for laminitis during pregnancy, since pregnancy itself could induce a degree of insulin resistance as well.

However, this can be successfully managed by keeping her on a diet of hay, beet pulp and rice bran when needed to maintain weight, with a properly formulated mineral supplement to meet the needs of pregnancy. If she has any residual rotation from the laminitis, the increased body weight in pregnancy will also be a mechanical stress to her feet.

Before breeding her, we suggest you check her blood insulin level and, if you are at all unsure of the status of her hooves, get lateral X-rays of those as well.

Ask your farrier to work closely with you in getting her feet into the best shape possible and maintain frequent trims during the pregnancy.

If she is grazing or being fed grain while pregnant, checks of her insulin at three-month intervals would be a good idea, so you can adjust her diet accordingly if necessary.


Thyroid Hormones
Some minerals and soy, which is common in supplements and grain mixes, can interfere with absorption of thyroid hormone supplements.??For best effects from your supplement, either administer by syringe in a small amount of water 20 to 30 minutes before the feeding, or give in a small handful of nonsupplemented grain or moistened beet pulp.??


Glaucoma And Cataracts In Horses
Cataracts and glaucoma in horses are rare, but as horses live longer we will likely see more of these problems.

Glaucoma means there is increased pressure in the eye, caused by the fluid it contains being produced in an increased amount or not flowing properly. The most commonly recognized cause is inflammation of the eye, as occurs with periodic ophthalmia or “moonblindness.” With repeated episodes, internal scarring can occur that prevents the normal circulation of fluid and results in glaucoma. Horses with scarring that involves the pupil may be at highest risk.

You may or may not be able to feel abnormally high pressure, e.g. eyeballs feel unusually hard when you press on them lightly through the lids. Other outward signs include increased tearing, hemorrhages in the white of the eye, or a slight clouding of the eye.

Left untreated, the elevated pressure can lead to damage to the optic nerve and blindness. Light won’t bother the horse, but the increased pressure causes pain that may show up as rubbing the eye or just a change in attitude (depressed or irritable). If you suspect glaucoma, get a pressure reading by a veterinarian soon as possible. This problem won’t go away on its own.

Cataracts are common in horses but few require treatment. Most horses are born with suture-line cataracts, that usually look like “Y” on the lens if you catch the horse in the right light. These usually cause no serious vision problems. Horses at risk for vision-compromising cataracts are those that have had multiple episodes of inflammation in the eye. The cataracts may continue to slowly progress even if the other symptoms are under control. Trauma to the head is a common cause of cataracts. However, visual impairment from a cataract might not occur until much later.

Cataracts can be removed surgically, but it’s rarely done since they don’t cause pain and most horses adapt well to partial or often even full blindness. With advanced cataracts, the lens may shrink and become displaced, which can block the flow of ocular fluid and cause glaucoma. Any horse with an extensive cataract should be monitored for increases in intraocular pressure, which is painful.


Measurement Conversions
Have you ever read that you should feed 30 g of a certain product to your 500 kg horse’ Your immediate reaction was likely tha t don’t know how many kg your horse weighs — or what a kg is for that matter. Well, a 500 kg horse weighs about 1,100 pounds. And a “g” stand for gram.

We’ve gathered some common conversions, rounding some numbers for simplification, to help you determine how to feed your horse or how many tablespoons to use of your supplement if your one-ounce scoop has mysteriously disappeared. You can also check the website for help.

In addition, few labels are “user friendly.” Trace minerals are listed as ppm, major minerals as percentages. However, just a few math tricks will bring these designations into numbers you can use:

35 ppm (mg/kg) = 1 mg/oz of product
1 oz. (of product) = approximately 2 tablespoons

Approach labels in terms of how much you’ll feed, the product’s percentage of protein, for example. A 30% protein product may seem high in protein — and 30% of its ingredients are protein — but if you’re only feeding 1 oz. of that product the horse gets 8.52 grams of protein, which doesn’t mean 30% of his diet is now protein. A 1,100-pound horse in moderate work needs 984 grams of protein a day, so one ounce of your 30% supplement didn’t make much of a dent.

Common Abbreviations:

c = cup
cc = cubic centimeter
g/gm = gram
kg = kilogram
L = liter
lb = pound
mg = milligram
ml = milliliter
oz = ounce
ppm = parts per million
pt = pint
qt = quart
tbls = tablespoon
tsp = teaspoon

Common Conversions:

1 c = 8 oz
1 cc = 1 ml = 1 g
1 g = 100 mg = .035 oz
1 grain = 64.8 mg
1 kg = 1000 g = 2.2 lbs
1 L = 1000 ml
1 lb = .454 kg
1 oz = 30 g = 2 tbls = 28.4 g
1 pt = 16 oz
1 tbls = 3 tsp. = 15 ml
1 tsp = 5 ml
2 pts = 1 qt. = 32 oz. = .946 L
4 qts = 1 gal = 3.785 L = 128 oz


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