Heat Drought and Horses
 By Winniefield Park   •   20th Aug 2016   •   1,056 views   •   0 comments
Heat Drought and Horses

Itís dry here. The corn is withering, the soybean fields are looking yellow and pasture is non-existent. Those of us with horses and other livestock understand that a long stretch of dry sunny weather doesnít just mean excellent beach weather, it also means there could be some hardship ahead when it comes to caring for our animals. Hereís a look at how drought can affect us as horse owners.

One of the most dramatic and frightening crises that can occur because of drought is fire. Weíve already seen wildfires affect horse owners in Alberta and as I write this, wildfires are occurring in Washington, Oregon and California. A look at wildfire information maps across North America show Ďhotspotsí from coast to coast. As horse owners, we absolutely must have an emergency evacuation plan in place, and teach every horse we own to obediently get on a trailer.

Related: Fort McMurray Horse Evacuation

Pasture grass is one of the first things affected by drought. Most grass will get a little sparse as the summer wears on, and growth slows. But, drought can damage a pasture, especially if it isnít managed to preserve the root system. This means taking care of pastures well before the possibility of drought. Weeds in a pasture are often far hardier than grass and rob the desirable pasture plants of soil nutrients and moisture. So managing a pasture to choke out the weeds is important. This means cutting weeds before they go to seed, or hand pulling them if there are just a few. Overseeding at the right time of year with pasture blend seed helps replenish bare spots.

During a drought, horses should be kept off a pasture if possible. Horses will nibble grass down to the ground. Very short grass has a harder time withstanding dry periods than grass left with some leaf. Compare a lawn that is cut short during a dry spell, to one that is left unmown. There will be some greenness in the grass thatís left longer. And, as horses walk on the grass, they break off the stems which become brittle, and compact the soil which makes it harder for the grass to regrow once wetter weather returns.

Dusty pastures and paddocks arenít good for horses either. Droughty conditions can mean more incidences of sand colic. Where weeds outgrow the grass, horses might eat harmful plants.

Hay and Grain
If the grass isnít growing neither are the hay fields. Usually farmers will get first cut hay off, and that means youíll want to buy your horse hay early rather than wait. I know of stables that are buying hay with loans, preferring to pay some interest, rather than pay double or triple the field price during the winter. Grain too is a weather sensitive crop and we could well pay more for our concentrate as the seasons advance. Try feeding beet pulp, last yearís hay, hay cubes and other fodder. Just donít be tempted to feed mouldy, dusty or otherwise spoiled hay if hay supplies are short.

Water restrictions can be a hardship on everyone. In one locale near me, they are being asked to reduce water consumption by 50%. Thatís tough when you have horses to water. Anyone living in the country is advised to check their wells and make sure their pumps donít run dry. Stock ponds and streams where horses might drink out of may grow stagnant or disappear completely. If your horse's pasture is dry and youíre feeding more hay than usual, impaction colic is a worry. So, your horse will need more rather than less water. Conserving canít include cutting back on drinking water.

Disease and Illness
In addition to impaction colic caused by eating a lot of dry fodder, and the reduced exercise because your horse is not exercising itself in the pasture as much, certain diseases such as vesicular stomatitis, pigeon fever, and Rhodococcus equi pneumonia, especially in young foals, can increase. Dust and wind can irritate eyes, make keeping wounds hard to keep clean and exacerbate problems like heaves. A frightening disease that becomes more prevalent during drought is anthrax. The anthrax bacteria produces more spores during a drought. This disease is more likely to be in the alkaline soils of the mid-west.

The small upside of a drought is that mosquitoes arenít quite as thick as theyíd normally be. Incidences of mosquito borne diseases like WNV, and EE could be fewer. Ticks too can be affected by drought. Several news sources have carried stories about the reduction of black legged, Lyme disease carrying ticks during drought conditions. The bad news is that both insects are instantly revived after even a brief rainfall.

And, then there is the heat. Make sure your horses have a place to escape the sunshine. If you must ride, do so in the cooler morning or evening hours. To save water, sponge rather than hose your horse off. Or do head to the beach, and wait until the cooler weather returns.
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