Tuesday, June 15, 2010

keeping horses and donkeys comfortable on hot days

Since we have yet another day of heat index over 100, I thought I'd write about what we do here on November Hill to keep the horses and donkeys comfortable.

During this time of year, our herd is on night-time turn-out, which allows them to graze during the coolest part of the 24-hour period, when insect pests are the least annoying, and when the sugars in the grass are lowest.

Over time, it's become obvious that they will self-regulate this pattern if given the chance. When we first moved to November Hill we would generally close the paddock gate each morning to keep them from grazing during the daytime, but I've found they don't really need that precaution. Especially Keil Bay, who loves his cool quiet barn, his fans, and being served hay while he relaxes out of the heat.

They come in on their own most mornings and get a serving of hay. Breakfast tubs are served wet, as always, but this time of year instead of being like warm oatmeal, I serve their mixes with cool water. I like going into a hot day knowing they've absorbed a good amount of fluid, and because I feed loose salt in their tubs, I can add extra if I know we're going above 90 degrees.

They start off their day inside with nice, clean stalls. I close off all doors and windows on the sunny side of the barn, which keeps the heat and the flies out. We have big fans mounted so that air circulates in two different directions, and the sound of the fans is almost a white noise, like the rushing of water or the ocean.

They each get hay and clean water. We're fairly obsessive about the water buckets in stalls, and I also make sure the various troughs are clean, as they will often walk out to drink during the day.

Each horse gets a quick grooming and check-over in the a.m. and legs sprayed with the herbal mix we use. We do use fly predators and various and sundry traps, but when we have heat and rain, the flies seem to thrive, so we do as much as we can to keep them away from the horses. They have fly masks (I like the Cashel ones, with ears but no long noses) and they are offered to each horse. If they don't want it, they don't get it. When it's especially hot, I think they prefer to go without.

On unusually hot days I have wet down the Cashels with cold water, squeezed out the excess, and put them on wet.  Sometimes on those very hot days I will also use the hay nets so I can rinse the hay, which rehydrates it a little and makes sure the horses are getting water every time they take a bite.

By eleven or so each morning, the horses are generally in stalls, munching hay, or simply resting. No one is closed in, although I do often close Cody's stall for one or two hours so he can have the chance to lie down and sleep undisturbed if he wants to. He's the low man in the herd horse-wise, and the pony can be a real pest sometimes!

It's not unusual to go out and find Salina and the donkeys on their side, all together in one stall, and even the geldings will double up. It's a reminder that horses ARE herd animals, and for the most part, I believe they prefer to be with their herd. In our barn, the stalls are very open and they can all see one another at all times - so it fascinates me that even in the heat, when I know their bodies must be generating some extra, they will pack themselves in together and stand sleeping, usually facing in opposite directions.

On especially hot days I usually mix up a big bucket of electrolyte powder and water and leave that out for the geldings. We also have a salt block situated between the two paddocks so that anyone who wants to can lick as needed.

I love when the horses are in for the days, because the stalls get mucked at least 3-4x. Frequent mucking makes it easier, as they haven't mixed anything around. Salina gets her first lunch at 1, and her second lunch at 5, so it's easy to muck and give hay while she's eating.

Keil Bay still thinks it's highly unfair that he does not get the 4 senior meals a day that Salina gets. So he is sometimes allowed into the barnyard while she eats so he can graze a little or have some hay from the round bale.

All the horses are offered showers in the afternoon when the heat is at its worst. They seem to know when they need cooling down, and they come out to the paddocks and stand in a line. Usually Keil Bay always wants a hosing, Salina usually does, and the Cody and the pony sometimes do. The donkeys NEVER do, but they will often go take a dust bath in their very lovely dust circle in the grass paddock.

When the sun shifts to the other end of the barn, we close that end up and open the now shady side. All this is very methodical and makes a very nice routine for the horses, who seem to thrive on having things happen in a regular way they come to expect. We do mix things up enough to provide some variety and to keep them from being fixated on a very exact way of life, as I think they all need to be flexible enough to be okay with some surprises and some changes in the routine.

I'd love to hear of any things fellow horsefolk do to battle extreme heat - for yourselves and for your equines!


Valentino said...

Hay Billie-

How much salt and what kind do you feed loose? Val really went to town on his block for the first few months he was here but hasn't touched it in ages.

I'm assuming he's getting what he needs in his feed (Triple Crown Supplement 12%) but I'm not sure. He's really been sweating a ton the last few days...

We have a fan + a canopy to keep the stall shady - your setup sounds deluxe :)

billie said...

V, the salt amounts are actually calculated individually using our hay analysis, each horse's individual feed mix, NRC guidelines for horses, and Dr. Eleanor Kellon's recommendations from her NRC Plus class that teaches equine nutrition.

Your mileage may vary depending on what you're feeding. But this is the breakdown here, for our herd:

Keil Bay (1350 lbs.) gets 2.5 heaping tbsp/day, divided into 1 tbsp in the a.m. and 1.5 in the p.m.

Cody (1250 lbs.) and Salina (1200 lbs.) get the same but not heaping. :)

The pony (750 lbs.) gets 1/2 tbsp. in the a.m. and 3/4 tbsp. in the p.m.

The donkeys get about 1/8 tbsp. each in the a.m. and a 1/4 tbsp. in the p.m.

On days that the temps go above 90 I will usually add 1/2 tbsp. to the a.m. and p.m. portion.

If anyone has a particularly hard work-out, or a work-out in temps above 90, I'll cool them down, let them drink, and then give them a "mini meal" with some additional salt mixed in. This is to balance the sweat loss during the work - and there is actually a formula you can use to determine how much sweat loss and how much sodium, potassium (almost never needed, as most hay is high in potassium), and chloride to supplement for that loss.

We use the generic iodized salt from the grocery store. I would prefer a salt without the non-clumping additive (kosher salt would be one option) but I use the iodine in the iodized salt to supplement part of the iodine in their diets.

My understanding is that most horses cannot actually meet their salt needs with a salt block - they would have to lick it quite a lot to do so.

Máire said...

Very interesting to read about your routine. Extreme heat is something we do not need to cope with here in the West of Ireland! I am not surprised that Keil Bay likes the stable. It is nice to think that some of our man-made comforts can be very happily accepted by horses.

I had meant to say that I really envied you your writers' weekend. What a wonderful gift for you and how clever of you to organise it. I look forward to reading your book.

billie said...

Maire, they have shade in each pasture, but the biting insects are fairly intense here in the southern U.S. this time of year, so they enjoy the refuge.

This morning Keil Bay was so ready to get into his stall he actually banged the back stall door so hard it went through the opening and wedged itself shut! I managed to get it out but there is a bit of repair work to be done on that door now.

I also found the pony in with Salina and the donkeys this morning when I first went out. He had put himself in one stall on that side and Salina and the donkeys were in the other. I had to laugh at how they put themselves in when it's time, whether I'm right there or not.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like they all know and enjoy their hot weather routine. I think you have an admirable system that works very well for everyone. We're not that hot here yet and I hope we don't ever get into a 100 degree index. Some of our equines are staying out at night already and some prefer to come in. They let us know who's staying out by remaining in their new shed or not coming to the gate. Hope you cool off soon.

Valentino said...

Thanks for the info Billie. I have run across Dr. Kellon on an online IR group - Yahoo I think. I got a lot of good info there when I took care of a very IR horse a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately the hay analysis part is hard if you buy numerous types of hay throughout the year like we have to living here in the hinterlands lol.

I'm guessing you'd recommend the NRC Plus class?!

billie said...

Yes, V, I'd highly recommend it. I took it first in November 2008 and have audited every class since. She allows you to audit for free once you've taken the course as a paying student one time, and you can participate fully as an auditing student - she just asks that you not ask questions ahead of the material being covered.

There is also an NRC-Plus grads list where a number of us hang out and get math checks on our calculations, run things by other grad students, etc. Many people end up making up a sort of "base mix" and then tweak that as needed when they get new hay. The analysis is really not that expensive and they email the results very quickly, so it makes it possible to keep up with what your horses are eating.

We are fortunate to get most of our hay from one local grower, but even then I am still getting new cuttings tested.

I wasn't having major problems with my herd (although Cody's PSSM was a mystery that needed solving and is what led me to Dr. Kellon in the first place) but I have been absolutely thrilled with the results of balancing their diets.

My vet initially was very wary of my taking over all the diets, but when she saw the horses after a 6-month or so time span she said "whatever you're doing, keep doing it."

I've also taken Dr. Kellon's Nutrition as a Therapy course and her Comprehensive Care of the Older Horse.

I was signed up for another one but had to postpone due to budgetary constraints. :) But I'll be signing up again as soon as I can.

billie said...

Arlene, I love that they have the option to stay out or come in! Sometimes I wish we had run-ins too so in the event of a late-night thunderstorm, they could just wait it out in the shelter right there.

ponymaid said...

Ahhhhh, Billie, your place sounds like equine heaven to me. Jack and I would fit in just fine.

billie said...

Sheaffer, if the woman needs a holiday, tell her she can motor you and Jack on down here and we will have a special spa stay just for you!