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Drought Conditions Make it Difficult for Horses

Drought Conditions Make it Difficult for Horses

AUBURN, Ala. – Droughts can make things difficult for horses because of the high temperatures, limited water sources and scarce forages. Dr. Courteney Holland, an Alabama Extension animal science specialist, said that there are ways to help horses maintain good health despite severe weather.

Scouting and Evaluating Pasture 

If pastures have limited or a poor quality of forages, producers should replace it with a high quality roughage such as hay, hay cubes or sugar beet pulp. Holland said that horses need a certain amount of roughage to remain healthy.

“Horses need a minimum of 1 pound of roughage per 100 pounds of body weight every day to keep their digestive tracts healthy,” said Holland.

As grazing becomes limited, horses will be tempted to eat anything that is green. Check pastures and any other areas for poisonous plants. Many of these will survive in dry weather when forage grasses die off. Mow or destroy the weeds or isolate horses from areas where poisonous plants are growing.

Using Feeds

Concentrated feeds can be used to provide protein and energy to horses deprived of forages. They are, however, not the best replacement for pasture grazing. Concentrated feeds should not comprise more than half of a mature horse’s daily diet unless the horse is exercised intensely (e.g., race training, endurance training).

Consider the Horses’ Age

Owners should consider the horses’ age and use when making decisions about feeding. Producers should pasture young, growing horses, lactating broodmares and geriatric horses in areas with the best grazing. Fillies and colts need more nutrients to grow and mature into healthy adult horses. Older horses may have more trouble dealing with drought conditions. They may have trouble digesting poor quality forage. For both younger and older horses, you may want to select concentrated feeds with higher fat and protein levels to meet their nutritional requirements.

Adequate Water Supply

An adequate supply of water is a vital element of horse health during a drought. Animals must have access to clean, fresh water. During hot weather, horses may consume 3 to 4 quarts of water for every pound of feed it consumes daily.

Combating High Temperatures

Holland said that there are several things that owners can do to ensure their horses are cared for during high temperatures.

“Horses should have plenty of shade to escape the heat of the day. The shade can be natural in the form of stands of trees or producers can build barns or sheds for the horses to stay under,” said Holland. “Owners should avoid riding or working their horses in the heat of the day. Instead, owners should choose early morning or late evenings when temperatures may be more moderate.”

During days with high temperatures, owners must watch their horses closely for overheating. Signs of heat stress in horses are:

  • depression
  • off-feed
  • persistently high temperature, pulse and respiration
  • increased capillary refill time
  • dehydration without thirst
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • lack of sweating
  • hot, dry skin.

If you suspect overheating, immediately move the horse to a shady area and hose it off with cool water. Keep the horse moving slowly or stand it in front of a fan to increase evaporative cooling. After that, consult your vegetarian about help for the horse.

For more information on how the drought can affect your horses, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension agent.


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