Archive for March, 2021

Choosing a Slow Hay Feeder for Horses

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Slow Hay FeederSlow hay feeders are a wonderful development for equines because they allow only a few bits of hay to be withdrawn at a time. This mimics the natural feeding pattern, keeps the horse busy for a long period, and avoids stretches of several hours when the horse has nothing to put in its stomach.

Owners love the nets because they simplify lengthy trailer rides and prevent hours of hungry boredom for stalled horses. Horses should be happy because they can nibble at their hay for hours instead of gobbling it all and then standing around with nothing to eat until the next feeding. The equine digestive tract should be at peace because it receives a slow but continuous supply of fiber.

At first glance, all slow hay feeders seem to be somewhat similar. They all hold a large volume of hay (anywhere from half a bale to several bales, typically) and restrict how much hay a horse can pull out in one bite, usually by having many small openings rather than free access through large holes. There are two basic types—nets or solid material—though there are a few hybrids that combine the designs.

Do an internet search for “slow hay feeders for horses” and you will be faced with an almost infinite array of designs. Many are available commercially, others are homemade, and some make you cringe as you notice the seemingly obvious ways a horse could get trapped, cut, pinched, or otherwise injured when using them.

Before purchasing a slow feeder, do a little research. Check tack and equipment stores, and talk to friends who have slow feeders and ask them what they like and don’t like about the ones they use. Look at catalogs and online photos to compare models.

Keep these factors in mind as you look at various designs:

  • Size is obviously important. How many horses will use the feeder at once? To provide sufficient access, you will probably need more than one feeder, even if you have only a few horses.
  • Where will the feeder be used? Stall, trailer, and pasture models may need to have different qualities and dimensions.
  • How heavy is the feeder? Solid feeders should be made from heavy plastic or a similar material that won’t deform in summer heat or crack in winter temperatures. It will need to be tough enough to withstand kicks and bumps from horses. On the other hand, you will need to move it, turn it over, and clean it from time to time.
  • Typical solid feeders consist of a barrel, tub, or box with some sort of movable grid that allows horses to take small bites of hay. Check for sharp edges on the grid’s sides and openings. What happens to the grid as the horses eat part of the hay; or if the horses knock the feeder onto its side or completely over; what will happen if a horse puts a foot into the feeder? How easy will it be to fill, empty, and clean the feeder? If the feeder is outside, is there a way for rain to drain through and away from the hay? Is the feeder so deep that horses might not like to put their heads all the way to the bottom?

Typical net feeders are like traditional hay nets, but with sturdier construction and smaller openings. Check for ways to fill, empty, hang, and carry the net. Is it so big that you can’t move it when it’s full? Is there any chance for a horse, especially one wearing shoes, to get a hoof hung up in the net or its hanging apparatus? Could he get any part of his halter hooked in the net? Even if you can’t imagine this happening, assume that it might occur. Could the hay net still be untied from its suspension if this happened? Be sure the feeder is safe before allowing horses to use it.

Do you have any questions about slow hay feeders? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Horse Forages: Hay Texture as an Indicator of Quality

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

hay textureWho doesn’t love throwing their horses soft, fluffy hay?

Experienced horse owners use their eyes, noses, and hands to help determine hay quality. Visually, the hay should be a pleasant color, ranging from deep green to light yellowish-green, and should be free of weeds, thorns, and other unwanted vegetation. Further, properly cured hay will smell fresh with no hint of mustiness or mold, which would indicate suspicious timing of harvest. The texture of hay also tells a tale, and together with visual and olfactory assessment, will help reveal its worth as a feedstuff.

Loosely speaking, hay texture can be split into four categories: very soft, standard, harsh, and extremely harsh.

Very soft:

The most desirable texture and usually indicative of well-cured early-maturity grass hay. “Very soft hay is characterized by fine, lithe stems that are nearly indistinguishable by feel from leaves,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Hay of this texture might be particularly useful for horses with tender mouths, including those that have had extensive dental work, such as extractions, or those with a sore tongues or gums.

Standard:

Most hay probably falls into this category. “Leaves are generally soft, and stems are slightly stiff as lignification has begun. Stems remain easy to bend, though. Horses with normal molars will have absolutely no problem processing this forage,” said Whitehouse. Early-maturity, high-quality alfalfa often falls into this category, as do many good-quality grass hays.

Harsh:

This hay is characterized by its obvious stemminess, to the point that it is almost unpleasant to touch. The stems will be more rigid, as lignification has advanced, and fewer leaves might be present. Although all hay is “dry,” hay with a harsh texture will feel even more so, almost brittle. Sensitive horses might pick at this forage, eating slowly and cautiously. More waste will be noticed by managers, especially in group-feeding situations.

Extremely harsh:

This hay would represent the bottom of the barrel in terms of texture quality. “Inflexible stems typify this forage. Lignified structures have little nutritional value,” said Whitehouse. Ends of stems may be so pointed and sharp that mouth injuries occur. Intake might decline dramatically, and horses offered this forage for long periods will likely lose weight. Wastage will be at its peak with extremely harsh forage.

Although texture is important in hay selection, a host of factors determine what hay is best for any given horse, according to Whitehouse, and include stage of life, metabolism, and level of activity. Because hay provides the bulk of many well-balanced diets, its quality can have a significant impact on energy consumption as well as overall well-being.

Do you have a question about what type of hay will fit best into your horse’s feeding management? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Be Aware of Surprising Dangers in Horse Pastures, Hay, and Bedding

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Dangers in Horse Pastures, Hay, and BeddingBe aware of surprising dangers in horse pastures, hay, and bedding! Imagine: you’ve just bought a new farm. You’ve turned your horses out into their pasture while you wait on the delivery of alfalfa hay. Wood shavings for stall bedding will be delivered later in the day. You’re all set…as long as you are aware of possible dangers as horses graze, eat hay, and encounter certain types of wood shavings in their stalls.

In some areas of the country, pastures may contain harmful varieties of sudangrass or sudan-sorghum hybrids. The problem is most severe when horses are allowed to graze pastures that have been stressed.

Sudangrass:

Drought, freezing temperatures, and injury to the plant such as by trampling seem to increase the danger of these pastures when grazed by horses. A glycoside in the plant is converted to prussic acid in the gut. Besides cystitis, prussic acid poisoning may cause incoordination, muscle tremors, nervousness, respiratory distress, and even death from respiratory failure. Property owners can ask the local agricultural extension agent to check their fields for the presence of sudangrass and to suggest the best way to eliminate it from horse pastures.

Blister Beetle Poisoning:

Blister beetle poisoning is a danger when horses eat hay that is contaminated with these insects. They can be found in many areas of the country, but may be most common in hay produced in the southwest United States, where blister beetles are found in large concentrations. The toxin responsible for the expression of toxicity is cantharidin, which is present in the beetle and relatively stable over extended periods of storage.

It takes only a few blister beetles, when ingested by the horse, to be fatal. Beetles are baled with hay and then eaten inadvertently, resulting in severe illness or death. The problem of blister beetles has become more pronounced since the replacement of the sickle bar mower with mower conditioners that crush the beetles rather than allowing them to crawl from the windrow as was the case for the older method of cutting hay.

Cantharidin, the toxin in blister beetles, is an extreme irritant to the digestive tract, causing necrosis of the gut mucosa, the gastric mucosa, and the lining of the esophagus as well as irritation to the urinary tract. Affected horses may show severe colic and discomfort, an elevated respiratory and heart rate, diarrhea, and dehydration. Death usually occurs within 48 to 72 hours after ingestion of the beetles.

Treatment is designed to reduce insult to the gut and includes fluid therapy and analgesics. The best way to avoid the problem is to feed hay grown in areas where blister beetles are not found. Usually first-cutting hay contains few if any blister beetles because it is produced before the beetles mature.

Wood Shavings:

Wood shavings are commonly used as bedding for horses. Advantages are easier stall cleaning and possibly lower cost than purchasing straw. Shavings from many softwoods and hardwoods are appropriate for use as bedding material for horses. Black walnut shavings shouldn’t be used for bedding because use of shavings from this tree may result in severe laminitis.

As little as 5% contamination with black walnut shavings in a larger batch may be enough to expose horses to enough of the laminitis-causing toxin. Ask your supplier to be certain that no black walnut shavings are included in your order if you plan to bed stalls with wood shavings.

Interested in learning more about surprising dangers in horse pastures, hay, and bedding and managing the safety of your pasture? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Botulism in Horses: Manage Pastures, Hay to Reduce Risk

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Knowing how to avoid botulism in horses will help you manage your pasture much more easily while reducing risks to your horses. One of the deadliest toxins that horses may encounter is made by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Some strains of these bacteria live in the soil, while others are found in bird droppings and animal carcasses. Inactive spores can live indefinitely until conditions are favorable for them to become active. These conditions include some moisture and an anaerobic situation (minimal oxygen).  

Botulinum toxin disturbs nerve function by disrupting signals that control muscle contraction. Mildly affected horses may show signs such as drooping lips, lowered head carriage, and difficulty swallowing. As more nerves are disrupted, horses can develop body-wide muscle tremors, inability to stand, and labored breathing. Botulism can progress very rapidly, killing horses within the course of a day or two.

Horse owners can take several management steps to lower the risk of botulism for their equines:

  • A vaccine is available to protect horses against type B botulism toxin, though it is not effective against other strains. Type B is responsible for most equine cases of botulism, especially in regions east of the Mississippi River. This vaccine can be given to any horse, but is most often administered to foals and pregnant mares. A veterinarian can guide owners in deciding if the vaccination is advisable for their mature horses.
  • C. botulinum bacteria produce their dangerous toxin only under anaerobic conditions such as those found inside damp hay bales, especially large round bales. Keeping hay off the ground, feeding only dry hay, discarding any damp or moldy hay, and avoiding the use of round bales are ways to decrease the risk for horses.
  • Bacterial spores can also activate in damp grass clippings from mowed lawns. Don’t feed clippings to horses, and don’t discard them where horses can reach them. Piles of rotting vegetation washed into pastures by flooded creeks or rivers are also dangerous and should be removed before horses are allowed to graze.
  • Haylage and silage are sometimes fed to horses, though they are more often used as cattle feeds. These products are produced in anaerobic conditions; botulism is known to grow in similar conditions. Special caution should be considered when selecting these products for horses.
  • Botulism can develop in deep wounds contaminated by bacteria-laden soil. Check horses daily for injuries, clean all cuts and scrapes, and have a veterinarian examine and treat any significant or deeply penetrating wounds.

If botulism is detected in an early stage, horses can often be treated successfully. Administered soon after signs are noticed, an antitoxin can prevent damage to nerves that are not yet affected. Horses that are able to stand have a good chance of full recovery, though this may require intensive care for several weeks.

Botulism isn’t contagious between horses, but if one horse in a herd is affected, the others should be considered at risk if they have grazed the same pasture or been fed the same hay or forage product. These horses should be removed from the pasture and not given suspect hay. Prophylactic treatment is usually indicated even if no signs are seen.

Interested in learning more about managing your pastures and reducing risk of botulism in horses? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.