By Kelly Munro
Frozen stock tanks and water troughs in our paddocks and pastures not only pose a dehydration risk to horses, they create a lot of extra work for us. In order to keep fresh water available to our horses at all times, we are constantly breaking and removing ice, hauling hot water from the barn, or installing costly electric systems.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy and inexpensive, low-tech way to eliminate or at least reduce this burden? Well, good news! Here are some simple #barnlifehack tricks that do a surprisingly good job of keeping the water ready to drink, even in the single digits, without constant management.
1: The Floating Object
Just as a river rarely freezes compared to a lake, moving water stays liquid longer. How can we use that to our advantage without leaving a hose running all night long? The answer is as simple as placing some large floating objects in our stock tanks.
A basketball, tennis ball, or other non-sinking object bobs and floats around in the water, agitating the surface and making it difficult for an ice skin to form over the top of the tank. Plus there’s an added benefit in really cold weather! If an ice skin does manage to form, the floating object creates a weak spot in the ice that your horse can more easily break by pushing down on the ball to create a drinking hole.
Be careful that the object you use isn’t imparting a funny flavor to the water or scaring your horse away from drinking deeply. If you don’t see horses comfortably approaching the trough, stay with them and use treats and kind words to show them that the new floating objects are safe to drink next to.
2: The Salt Water Bottle
An old cowboy trick is to fill milk jugs, or other sealed plastic containers, with salt water and place a few in the stock tank. Saltwater has a lower freezing point than freshwater and tends to stay liquid even in the coldest weather.
In fact a water to salt mixture of about 3:1 won’t freeze until around -5 Fahrenheit. That’s the cold! So a saltwater bottle can easily last all night in the single digits without freezing.
But what good does this really do? While this scientific property of saltwater is fascinating, it’s not actually particularly useful to us since horses can’t drink saltwater, and freshwater freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what.
Does this bottle of unfrozen saltwater make it warmer in the tank water? No! The temperature of the liquid saltwater is just as cold as the freezing freshwater. The idea that the proximity to the saltwater somehow keeps the freshwater from freezing is a myth. However, the floating bottle does agitate the surface which helps prevent and ice skin from forming and horses can push the bottle down with their nose to break a hole in the iced over tank.
Myth busted? Well, sort of… the saltwater bottle does work well to prevent stock tanks from icing over, but not necessarily because of the salt. It works in the same way as any floating object would, by agitating the surface of the water. A partially filled saltwater bottle does float especially nicely in the tank and is more difficult for horses to remove than a lighter bottle.
3: The Insulated Side Walls
Insulating the sides of our water tanks can keep them warmer which delays or prevents freezing. How does this work? Heat is lost from your horses’ water to the surrounding atmosphere primarily via the principle of conduction. Heat energy is transferred from the warmer substance to an adjacent cooler one where they are touching. In our case, the air is cooler than the water as temperatures drop outside – at night, for example.
On the side walls of the stock tank, the air first touches the material of the stock tank and heat transfer occurs between those two media. Then the heat transfers between the water and the walls of the tank. Some materials are more conductive than others. For this reason, a plastic stock tank freezes more slowly than a metal one.
To prevent this type of heat loss through the sides of your water vessel, you can insulate it to create an even slower transfer of heat to the surrounding air. There are insulated buckets available to purchase. You can wrap the tank in foam, partially bury it in dirt, manure, or bedding, or use large tires filled with spray foam to surround a round bucket or tank. The tire and foam materials are not very conductive and the black tires warm easily in the sun creating more heat to hold in.
In your efforts to insulate, be careful that there is nothing a horse could get trapped in or easily ingest and that no sharp edges were created. Drink responsibly!
4: The Floating Lid
This is the same principle as putting on a hat to keep from losing heat from the top of your head. You can do this with your horse’s water by using a floating piece of foam the size and shape of your vessel to insulate the surface of the water from direct contact with the air, which prevents heat loss much like a pool cover.
When the horse pushes his curious nose on the floating foam, it sinks a bit and water flows over the top for him to drink. Some commercially available foam water covers even have a bowl shape in the top that water pools in for easy drinking. If you are making your own, be sure to use a stronger structural foam that is difficult to damage by biting. You don’t want your horse ingesting little bits of styrofoam or other material as he plays with the water.
Alright, technically this is just two low-tech methods for keeping your horse’s water available to him in freezing conditions: agitation and insulation. To recap, you can try to prevent the ice from skinning over by agitating the surface with a floating object, or you can insulate your water to prevent conductive heat loss. Within these two principles are many ways to accomplish your goals, so be creative and have fun designing your own #barnlifehack that will keep your horse watered and your chore list short!
By. Casie Bazay
It’s summer, aka the sweatiest time of the year. Hooray!
And while sure, there are things to enjoy (like swimming, ice cubes, and air conditioning), outdoor activities such as barn chores and riding often leave us reaching for a Gatorade. But what about our horses? Do they need the equine equivalent of a sports drink full of electrolytes too?
First off, let’s discuss what electrolytes are exactly and a little bit about how they function in the body. Electrolytes are minerals that help to regulate many bodily processes. The main ones include Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), and Calcium (Ca).
In solid form, electrolytes bond into salts (such as sodium chloride) but when dissolved in water, they break down into individual ions, which carry a positive or negative charge. These charges allow them to conduct electricity and assist in electrochemical processes such as regulating heartbeat and muscle contraction.
But wait, electrolytes do more! They also aid in moving fluids in and out of cells and help the body to absorb nutrients. Without electrolytes, the water your horse drinks cannot be properly retained or utilized by the body.
In short, electrolytes are super important.
Like us, horses lose electrolytes through sweat, urine, and feces. Most of these minerals are replaced when your horse consumes grass, hay, and/or feed, with the exception being sodium and chloride, which should always be supplemented with either a salt block or loose salt.
So let’s get back to the question at hand: do horses need added electrolytes in the summer?
The answer depends on how much they’re sweating. If your horse sweats for a prolonged period of time, either because of high temperatures and/or humidity, intense exercise, or all of the above, electrolyte losses can be high and therefore will need to be supplemented.
This goes for endurance horses and those competing in three-day eventing or possibly long-distance trail riding. Electrolyte supplementation is also a good idea if a horse is being shipped long distance in hot weather and for those with Cushing’s disease who may sweat more just standing in the pasture.
How to feed electrolytes
Electrolytes can generally be supplemented in feed, added to water, or in paste or gel form. After a period of prolonged sweating, it’s recommended that electrolytes be provided for several days to make up for losses. You can even give electrolytes to your horse before a big event if you know he’s likely to be sweating a great deal. Continue to give electrolytes during the event as well.
When looking for an electrolyte supplement, make sure that sodium chloride is first on the list of ingredients, followed by potassium chloride. Many electrolytes are sugar-based and while horses may prefer them, they aren’t as effective.
With that said, it’s not a good idea to over-supplement with electrolytes, especially if your horse isn’t sweating much as they may irritate the digestive tract or even throw your horse’s mineral balance out of whack.
Many horses won’t need electrolytes at all in summer, but if your horse does, remember to supplement wisely!
Equine First Aid Kit
All horse owners should have an equine first aid kit & know how to use all of the supplies. At least twice yearly, examine & replenish outdated supplies. Store your first aid kit in your home or temperature controlled space. Leaving it in a trailer or uninsulated tack room will quickly degrade the supplies. Talk to your veterinarian about customizing your first-aid kit for your horse’s particular needs.
Thermometer, Mercury or Digital
Stethoscope (good quality)
Headlight (good quality)
Proper Fitting Halter & Lead Rope
Latex Gloves (12)
Watch or Timepiece with Second Hand
Tweezers or Forceps (smooth jaws)
Non-Sterile Gauze – 4″x4″ Squares (1 package)
Conform® or Kling® Gauze 4″ (2 rolls)
Elastic Adhesive Bandage (Elasticon®) 3″ (2 rolls)
Cohesive Bandage (Vetrap®) 4″ (2 rolls)
Non-Adhesive Wound Dressing (Telfa® pads) 3″x4″ (2) & 3″x8″ (2)
Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Solution (4 oz)
Antiseptic Scrub, Chlorhexidine or Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Scrub (4 oz)
Small Plastic Containers for Mixing or Storage (2)
Wound Lavage or Cleaning Bottle, Saline (250 ml)
Tongue Depressors (6)
Alcohol Wipes (10)
Spray Bottle for Water (1)
Paper Towels (1 roll)
Multi-Purpose Tool, Leatherman® or Equivalent
Cotton Lead Rope (3/4″ – 1″ in diameter)
Electrolytes (paste or powder)
Fly Repellent Ointment (1)
Heavy Plastic Bags (2 – gallon & 2 – pint size)
Cotton, Rolled Sheets, Leg Cottons (2)
Standing Wrap & Quilt or Shipping Boots
Easy Boot or Equivalent in Appropriate Size
Baby Diapers (2) (size 4 to 6 depending on hoof size)
Triple Antibiotic Ointment (1 tube)
Extra Halter & Lead Rope
Syringe 35 cc (1)
Syringe 12cc (3)
Syringe 3 cc (3)
Syringe 3cc with 20gauge needle (3)
Syringe – 60 cc cath tip (2)
Needles – 18gauge – x 1.5″ (4)
Needles – 20 gauge – x1.5″ (4)
Eye Wash, Saline (1 bottle)
Opthalmic Ointment or Drops (1 bottle or tube)
Magnesium Sulfate, Epsom Salts (1 package)
Duct Tape (1 roll)
Clippers with #40 Blade (good quality)
Crease Nail Puller
Hoof File, Rasp
Farrier’s Driving Hammer
Collapsible Water Bucket
Bute Banamine Bordered
Talk to your veterinarian about dispensing a few medicines that you may use in an emergency. In most, if not all states, a veterinarian cannot legally dispense prescription items without a valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR).
• Flunixin Meglumine (Banamine®) (injectable or paste)
• Phenylbutazone, Bute Paste (1)
• Trimethoprim-Sulfa Tablets SMZ-TMP in small container (75#)
Due to Draft horses being prone to certain diseases such as, metabolic ailments like PSSM (Polysaccharide storage myopathy), laminitis, Cushings, founder, tying-up, and shivers diet is imperative. Based on these ailments, starch and sugar calories should be replaced by fiber and fat calories.
It is recommended that these guys have high quality forage and some concentrates while working due to their slower metabolism (similar to ponies). Meaning that the less energy they use, the more weight they gain. High carbohydrate feed should be avoided, as a forage with a rational balancer and/or a low NSC feed.
Breakdown of How To Feed A Draft Horse
- 15% daily calories from sugar
- 20-25% daily calories from, fat
- No less than 1% of horse’s body weight in forage
Calculating Fat Content:
Pounds of feed per day x % of fat
3 lbs of feed= 3 x 0.25= 0.75 lb fat
Feeds should have no more than 33% sugar and starch (low carb).
Low in starch and sugars: soy, beat pulp, wheat bran, wheat middlings
Feeds with 20%+ of fat should be supplemented with rice bran (20% fat). Feed with anything less than 20% should be supplemented with 100% additional fat source.
- Nutrena Compete
- Purina Strategy
- Blue Seal Hunter, Demand, Vintage Gold
- Southern States Legend
- Oil: soy oil, canola, corn oil, rice bran
- Vitamin E & Selenium supplement (be careful when adding in selenium as high levels can be toxic)
- Either Purina Strategy or Southern States Legend: No more than 5-6 lbs of feed per 1000 lbs
- Rice Bran Oil: begin with 1/4 cup and increase by 1/4 cup every few days until 2 cups are reached. Continue with 3-4 cups per day.
- Vitamin E with Selenium: 1-2 oz per day
- Forage: Alfalfa pellets mixed or substituted with Purina or Southern States feed
Mix 12 parts alfalfa (or Purina or Southern States Feed or mix of the two) with 1 part water. Soak for 10 minutes. Add in oil. Let it sit for 2+ hours. Right before feeding add in the supplement (Vet E/Selenium).
Horses Require Extra Attention when Temperatures Plummet
With freezing temperatures comes the need for extra care and attention for horses and other equids.
The growing season some parts of the nation had last year produced overly stemmy or fibrous hay with a lower digestibility. As a result, making certain that horses are supplemented with grain when fed lower quality hay will help them maintain body weight and condition, a key factor in withstanding cold temperatures.
Constant access to clean, fresh water at 35 to 50°F is an absolute necessity to keeping horses healthy. This can be achieved via heated tanks or buckets, or by filling a tank, letting it freeze, cutting an access hole in the frozen surface, and then always filling the tank to below the level of the hole from that point on. This provides a self-insulating function and will typically keep the water below from freezing. Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to check tanks frequently to ensure your horse’s water remains free of ice.
Additional ways to keep horses comfortable in cold weather include making sure they have access to shelter. A well-bedded, three-sided shed facing south or east will typically provide adequate protection from wind and snow, as can appropriate bluffs or treed areas.
When the temperatures get colder, mature horses will not typically move around much in an effort to conserve energy. Making an attempt to keep hay, shelter, and water fairly close together can limit the energy expenditure required, thus conserving body condition.
And, finally, keeping horses at a body condition score of 5 or 6 (on a 9-point scale) will help prevent surprises when horses shed their winter hair in the spring, and improve conception rates for those choosing to breed.
Learn about the diseases veterinarians recommend protecting your horse against and how vaccination could save your horse’s life.
— Read on thehorse.com/features/core-vaccination-protecting-horses-from-5-deadly-diseases/
Carrying a smartphone or tablet is like having a spare brain in your pocket, one that helps you keep track of all the details in your busy life. At the barn, that device can also help you keep your horse healthy.
Health Data in Your Hand
The latest tool for this task is Horse Health Tracker, a smartphone app released by Equine Guelph, the horse-focused education and research center at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. It’s designed to help you monitor vital health information for your horse.
The heart of the app is the Horse Health Check feature. It guides you through a 16-point health checklist that covers the horse from ears to hooves. Videos show you how to monitor heart rate and other vital signs. You can record results as often as you like, even several times a day, which makes this feature important for monitoring a sick horse.
Other features in the app help you determine and record the horse’s body condition score or estimate his body weight. A video library gives you quick access to all the instructional videos presented in the app. The app retains data from each health tool for 13 months and it will generate graphs so you can compare the results over time. Built-in email capability allows you to send the data directly to your veterinarian or others. You can also enter reminders for vet and farrier visits and other appointments. If you want, the app will sync the reminders with your smartphone’s calendar.
Horse Health Tracker is available for download at the App Store and Google Play. The basic version, which is free, allows you to track information for one or two horses. Upgrades ($4.59 to $11.99) can handle as many as 50 horses. Each horse is tracked separately, and you can add pictures taken with your device to the records. A user guide is online at equineguelph.ca.
Five-Minute Parasite Egg Counts
Does your horse need deworming right now or can he wait until fall? Soon a smartphone may help answer that question, thanks to an innovative new fecal-testing system developed in collaboration with scientists at the University of Kentucky.
Current veterinary guidelines call for individualized deworming programs, using fecal testing to determine the best intervals between treatments and to gauge whether the drugs you’re using are effective. The tests look for the eggs of strongyles, ascarids and some other parasites in manure samples. You collect a sample and send it to a lab (directly or through your veterinarian), where a technician prepares a slide, views it with a microscope and manually counts each visible egg with a clicker. This work requires skill and training, and the results take some time. Generally you’ll wait a week to 10 days for the them to come back.
The new system, called Parasight, shortens that time to less than five minutes. This means that vets can use it in the field to get real-time information about parasite loads. The system includes a smartphone app, an imaging unit (a simple device that attaches to a smartphone) and a kit for prepping manure samples. Samples are first treated with chemicals that cause parasite eggs to glow under blue light. Then they are placed in the imaging unit and photographed with a smartphone.
The smartphone app counts the glowing eggs and emails the results to the veterinarian, along with recommendations for treatment. It can distinguish between different types of parasite eggs and is as accurate as traditional lab tests, the developers say. A companion follow-up kit, which gives less detailed information, is intended for horse owners to use in monitoring the effectiveness of treatment.
MEP Equine Solutions, LLC, the Lexington, Kentucky, company that developed the Parasight System, expects to have a commercial version on the market within a year. Last spring, the company was awarded a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help move the process along. The people behind the company include Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder Paul Slusarewicz, PhD, an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center who focuses on the commercial development of new animal-health technologies. MEP’s other co-founders are company President Eric Hauk, a businessman, and Technical Adviser Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, an international expert in parasitology research who is an assistant professor at the Gluck Center.—Elaine Pascoe
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.