Handling and storing horse feed during the hot and muggy summer months can be a challenge. The equine nutritionists at Barastoc and Kentucky Equine Research offer the following tips:
Store your feed in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight . If there is a window in the feed room, you might consider putting in a window air-conditioner just for the summer months. If the feed room does not have a window but has a door that shuts tightly, consider running a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air.
Do not buy any more feed than you can use up in 10 to 14 days. Avoid taking advantage of summer specials that give a free bag if you buy a certain quantity (e.g., buy 10 bags and get one free). This is not a bargain if you lose several bags to spoilage. Protect feed from direct sunlight.
Allowing air to circulate around the bags will help to avoid a build-up of internal heat. Never set bags directly on the floor, especially if it is concrete, as the bag will wick moisture and spoil the feed. Pallets are ideal because they get the bags high enough off the floor to let air circulate underneath them. If possible, set the bags up on end and slightly apart to allow the air to circulate all the way around (top, bottom, and sides). In areas with a lot of heat and humidity, the bags should not be stacked more than four bags high. Leaving space between the stacks for air circulation.
Allow any heat within the bags to be released by giving the bags a good shake. This will also help avoid clumping in the feed. Remove shrink wrap from any bag because this covering will restrict the bags from breathing. Similarly, avoid storing feed in plastic bins because this too will limit air movement. Galvanized steel bins have a tendency to sweat on the inside if they hold a high-moisture feed. If containers are used, be sure to clean out any remains of older feed before adding any new feed to the container. Avoid storing feed in bulk bins in the summer.
Many feeds, including all those formulated by Barastoc, contain sufficient mould inhibitor and antioxidants for protection during the summer months. However, with some off-brand feeds, summer heat and humidity can cause spoilage in stored products. In general, pelleted feeds keep longer than textured (sweet) feeds. The molasses in sweet feeds may become spoiled, and pelleted feeds can mould. High-fat feeds will develop a rancid odour fairly rapidly in the heat and must be used up quickly.
Always check any feed before offering it to your horse. Horses have a very sensitive sense of smell. If you can smell that something is going bad, you can be sure that your horse can, too. It is a good idea to check any feed before offering it to your horse. If the horse will not eat it, get rid of it immediately.
If your horse has eaten spoiled feed, you may see signs like diarrhoea or a loss of appetite. Most importantly, watch for indications of colic (horse looking at its flanks or kicking at its belly, patchy sweating, lying down and getting up repeatedly). Call a veterinarian if the horse seems uncomfortable.
Keep your horse cool: Tips for Summer Riding Use these tips to keep your horse as comfortable as possible during periods of hot weather.
Ride early or late in the day to avoid the hottest periods.
Use cold water hosing or sponging to cool your horse after exercise. It’s not true that pouring cold water over hot muscles will cause cramping. Apply cold water, scrape it off, and pour on more to carry heat away.
Allow your horse to drink during and after exercise periods. Give him a chance to drink, walk him for a few minutes, offer more water, walk, and continue until he has had all the water he wants.
Think about your horse’s condition frequently as you ride. If your horse gets hot and sweaty and is breathing hard, ease up until he recovers. Don’t hesitate to cut short a trail ride or jumping lesson; horses can suffer from heat stress and illness just as people can.
If you accidentally overdo exercise and your horse is still hot and breathing hard several minutes after stopping exercise, make every effort to reduce his body temperature. Get him into the shade, set up a fan if possible, and hose or sponge him with the coldest water you can find. Call a veterinarian if these measures don’t improve his condition pretty quickly. Heat stress can kill!
With older horses or those in obese or unfit condition, be careful to limit exercise in hot weather. These horses may get overheated more quickly and be less able to lose excess heat than their younger, fitter peers.
All horses should have access to a salt block. If your horse is working regularly in hot weather, consider using an electrolyte supplement even if you don’t see a lot of sweat, which can evaporate before it becomes visible.
Be sure your horse is comfortable even when he’s not working. Give him access to plenty of fresh water and a shady spot to rest. Use a light rug or fly spray as needed to guarantee he can relax; stamping at fly’s uses a lot of energy and is hard on legs and hooves. Putting sunscreen on white or light coloured muzzles will keep sensitive skin from getting painfully burned.
Anhidrosis (not producing enough sweat) is an often overlooked cause of heat intolerance or poor performance. Consult your veterinarian about testing for anhidrosis and possible treatment if you suspect that your horse cannot sweat normally.
Older horses and heat stress A study conducted at Rutgers University found that older horses have a more difficult time than their younger counterparts when dealing with exercise in hot weather.
According to the study, a senior horse typically doesn't have as much plasma volume in its blood, and therefore has a smaller amount of fluid in reserve for sweating. Since sweating is an important way for horses to lose body heat, the older horse will tend to overheat more quickly while exercising in hot, humid conditions. During the study, researchers exercised young and older horses at the same intensity, causing the horses to generate similar amounts of body heat from muscular exertion. They found that the older horses reached a specified level of heating in only half the time required for younger horses to generate the same amount of heat, showing that the younger horses were much more efficient at staying cool. However, when exercise ceased, both sets of horses cooled down at similar rates, reaching the same point within ten minutes post-exercise.
Researchers pointed out that many horses are obedient and willing to attempt what the rider asks of them, even if they are becoming uncomfortably overheated, so it is up to the rider to regulate exercise to keep the horse from becoming too hot. This can be achieved by taking more frequent breaks during exercise periods, making sure the horse is conditioned for the work expected of him, refraining from working at all in very hot and humid conditions, and lowering expectations and demands for senior horses. Riders also need to be aware of signs of discomfort or overheating such as the horse slowing down, breathing harder than normal, showing an increased heart rate, sweating profusely, or becoming cranky or unwilling. The study found that the decrease in ability to handle heat developed as a horse reached its late teens or early 20s.
Next time you’re enjoying watermelon on a hot summer day, consider dicing up some of the pulp and offering it to your horses. Many horses enjoy the taste with or without a light sprinkling of salt, and it’s a good way to get a little more water into equines that sweat out a lot of fluid during periods of warm weather.
David Nash, Head of Nutrition & Quality BARASTOC (Ridley)