- Author: Shae McElroy
The horse world undoubtedly includes a wide variety of associations, disciplines, breeds, and types of horse owners. In the Sierra Foothills, horse ownership is just as diverse. You will find everything ranging from competition, breeding and pleasure horses, to the simple family pet, each of which encompasses a wide-range of breeds. Regardless of what type of horse owner you are, there is certainly never a shortage of opinions or advice related to how to best care for your horse. At the end of the day, the most important action is to evaluate what is best for each individual horse and to take responsibility as a horse owner.
The Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center does not currently deal in equine health and research, although there are horses housed on-site to assist in the day to day cattle ranching activities. Our goal is to simply provide helpful information relative to the surrounding community. The series listed and portrayed below focuses on the most basic needs of every horse – regardless of breed, discipline, or region. If you have any questions about these basic needs or any other compelling questions related to your specific horse, please call your local equine veterinarian.
Water is essential to your horse's overall health and well-being. A singular horse requires 5-15 gallons of water per day, so every horse should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Your horse's water consumption can vary depending upon environmental temperature, diet, or level of exercise. It is important to pay special attention to your horse's drinking habits and note any changes. If your horse is a poor drinker or a heavy sweater, access to fresh, clean water alone may not be enough. Adding an over-the-counter, daily electrolyte supplement is a smart way to replace salt and the other minerals lost in sweat, and to help encourage your horse to drink. If your horse still isn't drinking enough water, contact your equine veterinarian for recommendations or other advice.
Horses are known as “trickle feeders,” meaning they constantly take in food throughout the day. If it were up to your horses, they would spend roughly 17-20 hours every day grazing on forage. Due to the scarcity of land with quality pasture, few domesticated horses have that luxury, so as owners we must compensate for their nutritional needs to the best of our abilities. Forage is the basis of an equine diet. This can include pasture, grass hay, legumes (ex. alfalfa), and/or beet pulp. These forages provide the essential proteins, carbohydrates, and fats every horse needs. Horses should consume 1.5%-3% of their body weight per day - with at least half of that being forage. That is 15-20 pounds of forage per day for an average-sized horse. Grain is not usually a necessary part of a horse's diet, but can be used as a supplement if needed or for horses expelling a lot of energy who may need an elevated calorie intake.
A horse's gastrointestinal system is very sensitive and drastic changes can cause colic. According to the UC Davis Equine Center's Equine Welfare Report, "colic" is a term that indicates clinical signs of pain in the abdominal cavity. It is not a specific disease, but rather a combination of signs that signal abdominal pain in the horse. You should take this into consideration when changing any part of your horse's diet.
Equine dietary requirements can vary by region, age, breed, and level of activity. Talk to your equine veterinarian or equine nutritionist to make sure your horse is getting the nutrients he needs.
Horses are a much hardier species then they are often given credit for. They can regulate their own body temperatures, allowing them to cope with both heat and cold. However, the availability of shelter can give them the opportunity to escape extreme conditions, such as heat, wind, precipitation, etc. Depending on the climate and/or season, the appropriate type of shelter can range from a stand of shade trees to a three-sided open barn or even an enclosed barn stall. The main consideration in a pasture setting is whether there is an adequate amount of shelter for the total number of horses housed in the pasture. For safety reasons it is very important that any shelter structure is sturdy and secure enough to withstand the elements.
While water, feed, and shelter encompass the most basic needs the horse, the following five guidelines are important as well and should not be forgone.
Exercise is an important part of a horse's life and is essential for horses that are stabled. The amount and type of necessary exercise is dependent upon the breed of horse, the amount of activity they are prone to, and the conditions in which they are kept. Daily exercise can help prevent digestive issues (colic), and will stimulate improvement in a horse's physical and mental fitness. Different forms of exercise can include pasture turnouts, lunging, and riding.
Horses are herd animals and as such, require some sort of companionship. Research has shown that horses develop a complex social network within a herd. Separation or isolation from herd mates can cause severe stress and/or undesirable personality traits. While they typically prefer their own species, horses have been known to bond with other companion animals as well. Balancing personality types in a pasture or turnout scenario can be a challenge, but overall it is beneficial for your horse to be able to socialize and interact as part of a herd.
Fence related lacerations and injuries are some of the most common afflictions equine veterinarians see. Even in the interest of injury prevention, you'll never be able to prevent every potential incident with your horse. You can, however, choose to enclose them in the safest fence possible. Wood plank, horse panels, and/or non-climb, woven wire with openings spaced two inches wide or smaller are thought to be some of the safest fencing choices for horses, but this does not limit you to other options that might be more fitting for your particular situation. You should always be aware of your fence's weak spots, and repair anything that looks like it could cause any sort of injury to your horse. In many horse fencing scenarios, barbed wire is not typically and ideal option.
Like fingernails or toenails on a human, a horse's hooves grow continuously and require regular care. The proper care of a horse's hooves is the key to keeping them comfortable and sound. Generally, horses require hoof care every 5-8 weeks depending on their hoof growth and activity. There are some horses that can go barefoot, while others may need specialized shoes or boots. Either way, you should schedule regular visits from a qualified farrier who can determine the proper care for your particular horse.
VACCINATIONS & HEALTH CARE
It is recommended that horses see a licensed equine veterinarian once each year for a wellness exam. During this exam your veterinarian will check your horse's teeth and evaluate their overall health and nutritional program. They will also be able to give you advice on parasite control (deworming). As a general rule of thumb horses should be dewormed at least two times per year, and possibly more if they are a moderate to high worm shedder. An annual exam is also a good opportunity for your horse to receive the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) core vaccines:
➢ Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis
➢ West Nile Virus
Maintaining a good relationship with your equine veterinarian allows for open communication which will benefit both you and your horse. If you have any questions regarding a parasite control schedule or core vaccinations, call your local equine veterinarian.
One thing you can be certain of as a horse owner is that you will never stop learning. Please allow these basic guidelines to help you have good conversations with your local veterinarian, farrier, other horse care professionals, as well as fellow horse owners.
Disclosure: If you have any questions about the proper care for your horse, you should always contact your local equine veterinarian or a local equine health center.
- Author: Mckenna Kane
Over the past several months, Dr. John Angelos of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has been working on a vaccine for one of the cattle industry's most widespread diseases: infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK), commonly known as pinkeye. IBK is caused by an infection of Moraxella bovis in the eye that leads to corneal ulcers, scarring and, in extreme cases, permanent blindness.
According to Dr. Angelos, the disease presents an economic loss for the producer due to the cost of labor to treat the infection, the cost of the antibiotic treatment as well as reduced weight gains. He also notes the disease has certain animal welfare considerations; it can be extremely painful for the infected animal. Currently, there is not an effective vaccine to prevent the painful disease, only a costly treatment.
Dr. Angelos has been working on this vaccine since April, but the vaccine has been developing since the early 2000s. This summer, Dr. Angelos is testing the effectiveness of an intranasal vaccine, rather than the subcutaneous version of previous studies. His hypothesis states “calves vaccinated intranasally with Moraxella bovis cytotoxin (MbxA) will have a significantly reduced cumulative proportion of corneal ulcerations associated with naturally occurring IBK versus control calves.”The team collected blood and tear samples from approximately 180 animals at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center and administered either the vaccine or a placebo assigned to the animal. In order to keep the results unbiased, Dr. Angelos did not know which vaccine he was giving to the animals; they were labeled “A” or “B.”
Each week thereafter, he and several students have examined the entire herd, noting those with active cases of pinkeye. If an animal shows signs of pinkeye, an innocuous stain is administered in the eye to see the ulcer, a measurement and a picture are taken to monitor the ulcer from week to week. At the end of the study, animals with active cases of pinkeye will be given antibiotics to cure the pinkeye.
Ultimately, the goal of the research is to create a vaccine that will prevent the disease from occurring. Dr. Angelos explained that although this vaccine has made great advancements, it will need to have subsequent testing and trials to determine if it is viable in the industry. In the video below, Dr. Angelos explains his research and the role of the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in developing a vaccine for infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis.
- Contributor: Megan G Osbourn
- Author: Jeremy James
Assembly member James Gallagher, who has strong ties to local agriculture in the Sacramento Valley, kicked off the day with a forward looking key-note address that highlighted the important role the current generation of students will play in addressing California's agricultural and natural resource needs over the coming decades.
Sponsors including Robinson Ranch, Farm Credit West and Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau and the time donated by FFA leaders and UC staff were instrumental in making the second year of this annual event a major success and a great opportunity for students to interact with ongoing research led by UC.
- Author: Dan Macon
One of the most obvious signs of systemic stress, at least to me, are the water levels in our foothill reservoirs. After the first three years of this drought, we went into last winter with depressingly low water levels in most of our man made lakes. These reservoirs are critical for storing water for irrigation, human consumption, and downstream wildlife habitat. In normal years, they allow us to capture snow runoff and save it for use during the dry summer months. The winter of 2014-2015, however, brought virtually no snow to the Sierra Nevada – and consequently no spring runoff. I thought our reservoirs were low last summer; this summer is even worse. Last weekend, I drove across the Parrotts Ferry bridge over New Melones Reservoir (on the Stanislaus River between Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties). I was shocked to see that the water level had dropped below the old Parrotts Ferry bridge – I'd ridden across it as a kid, but didn't think I'd ever see it again once the New Melones Dam was built. Perhaps even more shocking – I could see the Stanislaus River flowing under the bridge.
Closer to home, the oak trees in Auburn and at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center are starting to turn color as if autumn were already here. When deciduous trees experience extremely dry conditions, they'll often shed their leaves early as a survival mechanism. The blue oaks and black oaks at SFREC are dropping leaves earlier this year than most of us can remember. Some of the trees are in full color; they make the hillsides seem like we're already in October. In addition to turning color and dropping leaves, we've seen more trees dropping entire branches (and some are even falling down entirely).
According to the National Weather Service, one of the strongest El Niños ever measured seems to be shaping up in the Pacific Ocean. Many in the media are reporting this phenomenon as if it's a sure bet – our drought is all but over! Unfortunately, the impacts of El Niño aren't so certain – Northern California is just about as likely to experience dry conditions as wet weather in an El Niño year. I'll believe we're having a wet winter when I'm still wearing my mud boots next April! In the meantime, I'll keep an eye out for additional signs of stress.
- Author: Dan Macon
This year, we have four distinct groups of cattle at SFREC. Each group is part of one or more research projects:
- We have cow-calf pairs that belong to the UC Davis Animal Science Department. These are fall-calving cows. In normal years, the calves are weaned in late May, and the cows are grazed on dry forage during the summer and fall. Currently, this herd is split into 3 groups – older cows with calves, second-calf heifers with calves, and open cows with calves.
- We have bred heifers also belonging to the UC Davis Animal Science Department. These heifers are typically grazed on irrigated pastures during the summer and through fall calving.
- We have outside heifers that are part of a foothill abortion vaccine trial. These heifers will be preg-checked in mid-April. Normally, the open heifers would be kept at SFREC until late May.
- We have steers that are part of a long term adaptive management and targeted grazing research project. Like the heifers, these steers would be kept at SFREC until late May in a normal year.
But this year is anything but normal! After a very promising fall (with normal germination of our annual grasses and near-normal forage growth through the end of December), we are now coping with a fourth year of drought. Since January 1, we've measured just 2.43 inches of precipitation (average for January-March is 11.69 inches). With the lack of rainfall, forage growth has slowed (total production through April 1 was 1400 pounds per acre, which is about 100 pounds less than normal for this time of year). Total production doesn't tell the whole story, however; the pastures that we've grazed since the first of the year haven't recovered as expected (which means we haven't returned to these pastures as expected). My colleagues who have worked at SFREC for a number of years tell me that the vegetation is at least 30 days ahead of schedule – in other words, our annual rangeland looks more like mid-May than early April. All of this means that this week's rain will help in some pastures, but it's “too little, too late” in others. Our peak standing crop (the total amount of forage grown during this growing season) will likely be far below our long term average of 3000 pounds per acre.
Based on this year's reality, we started fine-tuning our drought plan in early March. One of the key steps in our drought planning is to establish a critical date – a date by which we'll make some stocking decisions if we don't receive rainfall. In early March, we decided that if we hadn't received at least an inch of precipitation by April 1, we'd need to start taking action. Here are the steps we're looking at taking in the next 30 days (by May 1):
- Ship the open foothill abortion heifers 7-10 days following preg-check. This will allow us to take as many as 150 heifers off the pastures at SFREC.
- Ship some of the steers (at least those in pastures where feed is not re-growing) by early May. If we do happen to get some late-spring moisture, this would allow some regrowth for next fall. This week's rain may be enough to get us through to the end of May.
- Ship open cows and calves. There are only 13 pairs that fall into this category, but every little bit helps!
- Wean early. Some of the Animal Science calves already weigh more than 500 pounds. Another large group is between 450 and 500 pounds. Weaning the calves now and shipping them off SFREC, will reduce the nutritional demand on the cows, and will reduce the forage demand (both from cows and from big calves) on our rangeland.
For more information on long-term weather and forage production trends in the Sierra Foothills click here. If you are interested in getting more information managing through low rainfall/forage years SFREC has a number of videos and publications that explore this topic.
To get more information about how producers can benefit from forage production data, click here.