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!
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#1 Abdominal Pain, Colic Signs Perform Whole Horse Exam™ (WHE) Assess Color of Mucous Membranes Assess Demeanor or Attitude Assess Gut or Intestinal Sounds Assess Manure Assess Capillary Refill Time (CRT) by examining Gums Give Intramuscular (IM) Injection Give Oral Medication Sand Sediment Test…
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Written by Dr. Tom Lenz on behalf of AQHA
Few horse owners are aware of this disease which is a progressive, paralyzing disease that is 80-100% fatal in affected horses. Botulism is sometimes referred to as “forage poisoning” in adult horses or “shaker foal syndrome” in foals. The disease is caused by a potent toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium lives in the soil as well as the intestinal tract of many normal birds and mammals, including the horse. It produces dormant spores that can be found in 18.5% of soil samples tested in the United States. The disease is most prevalent in Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, and Tennessee although it can occur in any state in the U.S. Clostridium botulinum produces several different toxins. Type A toxins are often implicated in human infant botulism and are most often found west of the Rocky Mountains. Types B, C, and D toxins are usually involved in cases of equine botulism, with Type B responsible for 85% of horse cases in the U.S.
Horses of any age are susceptible to botulism which may be initiated by one of three ways. In the case of “forage poisoning” the horse ingests toxins that are contaminating feedstuffs such as grain or hay. Feed contamination is most often due to putrefied carcasses of birds or rodents. A Type C botulism outbreak that killed a number of horses in California several years ago was traced back to hay that contained the infected carcass of a rabbit. The bacteria can also enter a horse’s body via contamination of a wound, especially a deep puncture wound. A good example is “Shaker foal syndrome” which is most frequently caused by the bacteria entering the newborn foal’s body through the foal’s moist navel. Something that can be minimized by dipping the foal’s navel in mild iodine solution soon after birth. The third method in which the disease can be initiated is by ingestion of the spores in the soil. The ingested spores activate in the horse’s intestinal tract where they produce potent toxins that are then absorbed. Regardless of the route, once the bacteria have entered the horse’s body they produce toxins that block transmission of nerve impulses to the horse’s muscles. This results in a progressive paralysis of all the major muscle groups and is concluded with paralysis of the diaphragm, which results in death. Once symptoms develop, death may ensue in several hours or take up to a week.
The disease is difficult to diagnose because it resembles several other medical conditions and diseases such as choke, colic, rabies, EPM, and sleeping sickness. Blood samples very rarely contain toxin and necropsy following the death of the horse usually does not provide a conclusive diagnosis. Because the bacteria often occur naturally in the horse’s intestinal tract, isolation of the organism from the sick horse’s intestine is not diagnostic.
Clinical signs of the disease in adult horses suffering from “forage poisoning” initially include loss of facial expression, a sleepy appearance, saliva drooling from the corner of the mouth, loss of tongue control and loss of tail tone. The horse’s appetite is good, but it has a great deal of difficulty in chewing food and appears to be “playing” in their feed and water buckets. As muscular weakness becomes more profound, the horse will experience muscle trembling, generalized sweating and labored breathing. A weakened, shuffling gait may develop and the horse may take stiff, short steps as if walking on eggs. Eventually, the horse goes down and death results due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. “Shaker foal syndrome” is usually seen in foals one to two months of age but can develop as early as two weeks or as late as 8 months of age. Early signs in foals are similar to those seen in adults in that the foal shows generalized weakness, poor tail tone, and loss of tongue control. The foal will often dribble milk from the mouth and nostrils because of an inability to swallow. Because of muscle weakness, the foal will lie down frequently. When it does rise, it soon develops muscle tremors and collapses. Affected foals may die within 12 hours of exhibiting symptoms or may linger for as long as a week.
Botulism is usually fatal if left untreated. Prior to the advent of antitoxin, the death rate among affected foals was greater than 90%. With the use of antitoxins in conjunction with antibiotics and supportive therapy, the mortality rate can be reduced to less than 25%. Animals unable to swallow should be fed through a nasogastric tube and placed on IV fluids. Once the toxin produced by the bacteria is attached to the nerve ending it cannot be neutralized by the antitoxin. Therefore, early treatment is critical. Even with aggressive therapy, recovery is slow and may require up to two weeks before the affected horse recovers.
Because of the high death rate and the difficulty in diagnosing this disease, prevention through vaccination is critical. A Type-B Toxoid vaccine is available and is quite effective in preventing the disease. In areas where the disease is prevalent, pregnant mares should be initially vaccinated at the 8th, 9th and 10th month of gestation and thereafter at the 10th month of each pregnancy. Yearly vaccination of adults in areas where the disease frequently occurs is also recommended. If unable to vaccinate the mare prior to foaling, limited information suggests that foals vaccinated with the toxoid at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and at 8 weeks of age developed adequate protection, even in the presence of passive maternal antibodies. Currently, no licensed vaccines are available for preventing botulism due to Cl. botulinum types A or C or other subtypes of toxins. Cross-protection between subtypes does not occur.
As in all horse health issues, your local veterinarian is your best source of information.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas R. Lenz, DVM, M.S., Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists, is a trustee of the American Horse Council, past chairman of AQHA’s research committee and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. This article is provided courtesy of AAEP Alliance Partner, AQHA.
Reviewed and updated by original author in 2016.
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