Breaking routine or changing feed

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Foreword Droughts have always been part of Australian life and preparing for them is something that everyone in rural Australia must be ready to cope with.

The Equine Research and Development Program of RIRDC has been looking strategically at the major area of horse nutrition for the past four years, commencing with a major workshop in early 1995.

Funds have been invested in research on pasture nutrition, comparison of supplementary and pasture rearing and safe and effective grain feeding of horses.

Additionally, major publications have been commissioned on pastures for horses, developmental orthopaedic disease of foals and a practical handbook on feeding horses in Australia. This excellent booklet by David Nash will add to other outstanding material on horse nutrition published by RIRDC and will be of great assistance to horse owners and breeders that have to cope with drought conditions on their farms.

The area of horse nutrition is one of eight major program areas for investment of research and development funds for the horse industry by RIRDC. Acknowledgments Ms Angela Avery for all her support, knowledge, advice and guidance.

Dr Patricia Ellis for her veterinary advice and guidance.

Rural Industries and Development Corporation (RIRDC) for without their financial support the production of this manual would not have occurred.

Mrs Denise Millar, Agriculture Victoria Specialised Rural Industries Coordinator for her continued support of equine research and development.

Department of Natural Resources and Environment staff who have contributed to the area of drought management in livestock. CONTENTS Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………………

Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………………………… 1.

Preparing a drought action plan………………………………………………………………..

Environmental impact of your plan………………………………………………………….

Management options ……………………………………………………………………………..

Other management decisions …………………………………………………………………. 2.

Feeding horses during a drought ………………………………………………………………

Determining the weight and condition score of horses……………………………….

Determining the nutritional requirements of various classes of horses …………

Understanding the nutritional value of different feeds ……………………………….

Determining how much feed a horse can consume…………………………………….

Calculating the total nutrient requirements and feed costs during a drought …

Management aspects …………………………………………………………………………….. 3.

Managing horses during drought ………………………………………………………………

When to start feeding …………………………………………………………………………….

Introducing horses to hand-feeding………………………………………………………….

Monitoring …………………………………………………………………………………………..

Breaking routine or changing feed…………………………………………………………..

Deciding when to stop feeding……………………………………………………………….. 4.

Feeding horses in containment areas………………………………………………………….

Site ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Structure ………………………………………………………………………………………………

Water and feed supply……………………………………………………………………………

Management …………………………………………………………………………………………

Releasing horses back to pasture ……………………………………………………………. 5.

Pasture management ………………………………………………………………………………..

Effect of drought on pasture……………………………………………………………………

Pasture management during drought………………………………………………………..

Estimating pasture survival …………………………………………………………………….

Management after drought ……………………………………………………………………..

Opportunity to improve pastures……………………………………………………………..

Fodder Crops……………………………………………………………………………………….. 6.

Management of horse health ……………………………………………………………………..

Horse health …………………………………………………………………………………………

Animal welfare Plants poisonous to horses …………………………………………………………………….. 7.

The feed value of unusual feedstuffs …………………………………………………………

High moisture feeds ………………………………………………………..

Types of feed ………………………………………………………………… INTRODUCTION Unfortunately, droughts are very much part of the life of horse owners in Australia.

They come at irregular intervals and owners should take a range of measures to prepare themselves for such events.

This booklet is a practical guide on horse feeding and management during drought to help owners break the daunting planning phase down into manageable steps, and then to see the plan realised as a successful way of combating drought.

As no two droughts are the same, this booklet cannot cover all situations.

Rather, it aims to provide general recommendations, which can then be modified to fit the requirements of the individual.

You are encouraged to contact your local office of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment or State Agricultural Department for assistance to develop a plan which will suit your situation including advice on conservation issues, feeding in confined areas and water quality.

I know that droughts can be a traumatic time for horse owners, especially breeders, so I hope you find this booklet a helpful guide to the best way to manage your stud in the event of a drought.

David Nash Scientist Equine/Pasture Department of Natural Resources and Environment Agriculture Victoria – Rutherglen Chapter 1 PREPARING A DROUGHT ACTION PLAN Introduction Droughts are part of life for horse owners in Australia.

Each drought brings its own set of difficulties.

How well you survive drought will depend on the initial plan of action and the modifications undertaken to the strategy as the drought progresses.

Planning and decision making must be done as soon as you recognise the possibility that the poor season may progress to a drought.

If you leave the decisions until the drought worsens, many of the management options available early may be closed to you.

Prices for horses usually drop dramatically, agistment dries up and fodder prices generally soar.

The first step is to list the farm/stud’s financial and physical resources so that the effects of various strategies, both short and long-term, can be calculated.

Water is probably the first thing to consider, as if this resource is inadequate, then it will be difficult to retain large numbers of horses.

The next step in drought action planing, is to estimate when you think the drought will break.

This will affect your calculations on how long you will be feeding horses, how much it will cost and whether you will decide to sell horses or not.

It is best to over estimate the time you expect to hand feed your horses to be on the safe side.

Figure 1 provides a list of questions you will need to address when deciding what to do in drought.

Check to make sure your action plan addresses these questions. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • What is my current financial situation? Have I the time and equipment to feed horses? How long will I have to feed? Am I aiming at maintenance, growth or competition targets? What are the feeding needs of the various classes of horses (foal, lactating mare etc)? What fodder/grain will I use and what will they cost at various stages of the drought? Have I adequate water supplies to survive the drought? How widespread is the drought? Is suitable agistment available? What prices are horses now? What prices will horses be after the drought? What effect will reduced stock numbers have on my overall feeding costs? What effect will my strategy have on my pastures and soils? What effect will my action plan have on my long-term viability? Figure 1.

Important questions to ask when planning action.

Remember, allowing stock to starve is not an option as this is an offence under Australian Law. — The commencement and cessation of feeding, the level of supplementation and the introduction strategy are all-important components in feeding during drought.

Feeding too early or too long can waste feed while commencing too late or stopping too soon can result in increased costs in feeding to gain weight, illness or even death.

Often the greatest problems occur after the drought has broken, especially if the weather turns cold.

It pays to remember that unlike fire or flood when horses may have to suddenly rely on hand feeding alone, the onset of a drought is usually gradual.

Drought conditions rarely deteriorate to the stage where no grazing is available and horses have to rely solely on hand feeding.

Experience from previous droughts indicates that more paddock feed is available than would first appear.

Horses can scavenge quite a bit of feed from sparse dry pasture.

The presence of paddock feed early in a drought makes it easier to get horses accustomed to drought rations before they have to be fed close to full rations.

The presence of paddock feed can have its down sides, with the gradual onset of drought owners can miss a gradual loss in condition.

These horses are frequently disadvantaged right through the drought.

Feeding should be started well before the horse drops condition.

It may take some time before they become accustomed to hand-feeding and begin eating their entire ration.

If horses have lost too much condition before feeding has begun or before they readily accept grain, it may be hard to raise their liveweight back to desirable levels.

This is particularly applicable to weanlings that were not fed supplements when grazing with their mothers.

Table 7 provides target condition scores.

Horses that are in excess of these condition scores can be allowed to lose some weight and condition at the start of a drought.

This weight loss should be controlled.

A drop in weight and condition over a number of weeks to the condition score target, will save feed.

Horses can safely lose up to 5 kg on average a week for this period of weight loss.

The period of controlled weight loss can coincide with the feeding of introductory rations. Table 7.

Suitable condition scores for horses during drought.

Category Maintenance Weanling Yearling Pregnant mare Lactating mare Condition score 2 2/3 2 2/3 2/3 Introducing horses to hand-feeding Horses have to be introduced to hand-feeding gradually as a sudden change in diet can cause colic or founder.

If possible, educating horses onto feed should be started while there is still reasonable paddock feed.

Train horses that have not been fed before by including previously fed horses in the herd to encourage the inexperienced horses to feed.

Untrained horses are best educated in small paddocks.

Whilst this may sound unfamiliar to most recreational horse owners, station horses or young horses on large studs may never have been supplementary fed before.

A new ration should be started at the rate of up to 2 kg per head per day for adult horses (1 kg for weanlings) and increased slowly to the full ration over a two-week period.

Once the equivalent daily rate is reached the introduction period can stop.

If you witness some ‘shy feeders’ amongst your group.

You should move them into another paddock so that they can obtain the same ration as the rest. Monitoring The management of horses during drought depends on knowing how the animals are faring.

The best way to know how horses are going is to weigh them.

In most cases this will be virtually impossible.

The easiest way to monitor is to condition score using the scale as mentioned previously.

Monitoring condition can prevent unnecessary feeding and ensure horses do not fall below a condition score of 1 before being fed as well as identify which horses are not getting enough to eat. Breaking routine or changing feed If a break in the normal feeding routine occurs through delay in the availability of supplies, do not resume feeding the full ration when supplies become available.

Begin feeding again daily, on about half-rations, and build up to the full ration over a few days before returning to the normal routine.

In drought changes in feed are likely due to shortages and prices and this requires careful management.

It is especially important to avoid sudden changes in the ration.

Horses, which have become accustomed to one type of grain, cannot immediately adjust to another.

Deaths can result from a sudden switch of feed.

Even the same grain type obtained from a different source has caused problems.

It is desirable to estimate early in the program how long supplies will last.

This will allow time for planning of a gradual changeover from one feed to another.

If it is necessary to use a different grain arrange the supplies early and mix the old grain with the new, gradually increasing the concentration over at least four days. Deciding when to stop feeding Using a rule of thumb based on condition score, stops feeding when stock remain at a condition score of 2 after the drought breaks.

Feeding should be reduced gradually.

In previous droughts many studs have experienced their greatest problems/ losses during the period immediately following the drought-breaking rains.

Prolonged periods of rain can induce horses to loose appetite and can cause health problems mentioned later in this manual.

The emergence of new pasture growth can cause colic in horses.

Often people think the drought is over when the rain arrives, however it can take some time for pastures to recover.

This time varies greatly depending upon the time the drought ends, and the severity of the drought.

A very general indication for the time taken for pasture to recover would be about 2 months.

In most circumstances, horses should be kept confined to restricted feeding areas until adequate pasture is available.

Allow increasing grazing time each day until full grazing is provided after 6 to 7 days.

Allowing immediate full grazing will lead to digestive disorders. Chapter 4 FEEDING IN HORSE CONTAINMENT AREAS During a drought the risk increases of losing valuable soil as ground cover is reduced.

If grass cover is reduced below 500 kg of dry matter per hectare or 1- 2cm, wind may start to blow soil particles away causing erosion and loss of valuable nutrients and topsoil.

Bare areas will also be more prone to erosion and weed infestation once the break finally occurs.

Another potential loss is newly improved pastures, which may be vulnerable to overgrazing.

Pastures that you have invested money and time in establishing can be lost if continuously overgrazed and should be among the first paddocks to be considered for destocking.

Perennial based pastures should be de-stocked before annual based pastures Feeding horses in containment areas provide an opportunity to take the pressure off susceptible parts of the farm/stud.

Containment areas are yarded sections where horses are lot fed.

For the horse industry lot feeding would consist of horses in smaller paddocks or in many cases ‘day yards” with very limited access to pasture.

This may already be normal practice for some small horse owners due to limited land availability.

The main reasons for considering feeding horses in containment areas are: • • • • • To protect areas vulnerable to erosion To protect vegetative cover of pastures Where weeds in bought feed are of concern Where stock are losing weight on full drought rations in paddocks To facilitate stock feeding, watering, monitoring and handling Site Location of the site is important and it should be set up as a permanent structure, like horse yards or a manage would be ideal.

The site should have: • • • • • • A moderate slope and a well drained, stable soil such as a clay or clay loam Ready access to the house No important remnant vegetation Shade, shelter and good drainage Access to good quality water Minimal problems with noise and smell which will not cause concern to you or your neighbours • Alternative areas for various categories of horses (stallions, lactating mares) The stock containment area should be setback from watercourses and water storage’s by 500 meters, to reduce the impact of nutrient run off if no other control methods are used. Structure Yards or smaller paddocks suitable for feeding are generally already present on most horse studs.

Once a paddock is selected it will virtually be sacrificed with regards to its pasture.

After the drought has broken, this area will certainly have to be renovated.

If there is no such structure on your property an area of 30 m by 60 m should suffice for 2- 4 horses.

If possible a larger area should be used to allow horses to exercise.

If this can not be provided ensure that the horses obtain some sort of exercise program.

Shade and shelter should be provided so the horses can escape from the elements.

If there are trees in the area you propose to use protect these with guards as they will otherwise be ringbarked. Water and feed supply A good reliable water supply is extremely important in stock containment areas.

Generally horses will be fed diets very low in water content and therefore must be supplied with water at all times.

Allow enough trough space so that several horses can drink at any one time.

Troughs need to be checked daily and cleaned regularly.

For more detailed information on water refer to previous sections in this manual.

If possible allow one fed bin per horse.

This is so ‘shy feeders’ don’t miss out.

For hay and roughage hay-feeders are great to use as they provide an area of containment and minimise wastage.

Developing feed rations for horses in containment areas follows the same process as described earlier in the manual — Most perennial species are likely to suffer considerable reductions in plant numbers during a drought.

This effect will be more severe the longer the drought continues.

Perennial ryegrass is the least tolerant of drought, followed by cocksfoot/tall fescue and phalaris.

Phalaris becomes dormant over summer and therefore normally has the greatest capacity of the perennial grasses for drought tolerance.

The varieties of phalaris Australian and Holdfast are thought to persist drought better than the varieties Sirolan or Sirosa.

Cocksfoot can persist through drought if grazing is significantly reduced.

Paspalum is relatively drought tolerant and will increase dominance in under irrigated pastures.

Paspalum has found to cause eye irritation in horses.

Lucerne has a large taproot and can survive drought provided it is given regular spells from grazing to allow it to recover.

White clover survival is likely to be severely affected, particularly in marginal areas (which include irrigated areas where watering has been stopped).

Critical for white clover survival is the maintenance of stolon (runner) density; therefore paddocks containing white clover should receive very lax grazing over drought periods. Pasture management during drought Droughts are a regular part of agriculture in Australia, however it is not always possible to adjust pasture management quickly and appropriately to unusually dry seasons.

Attention to the needs of pastures as well as horses will provide the best chance of a safe and rapid recovery.

Quick pasture recovery will reduce feed costs and good pasture management during drought will also minimise the need and costs of weed control and pasture re-sowing.

As plant growth during drought will be very limited to non-existent, plant survival is the main objective.

Maintaining plant density will ensure rapid pasture growth and good weed competition on the return of favourable conditions.

The maintenance of soil cover to minimise soil erosion is also important.

Moving to a rotational grazing system is good practice in the first stages of a drought.

Rotational grazing (movement of horses into new paddocks based on time and/or pasture availability) allows you to see more clearly the amount of feed you have in front of you and you are better able to ration the diet of horses.

Rotational grazing may necessitate amalgamating horses into larger groups were appropriate and perhaps temporary sub-division of paddocks.

If the dry conditions prevail it may be necessary to de-stock paddocks.

The order of priority for de-stocking paddocks should be; (1) newly sown perennial pastures, (2) older perennial pastures (perennial ryegrass, followed by tall fescue/cocksfoot and then phalaris), (3) improved annual pastures and finally (4) unimproved annual pastures.

Soil conditions and the likelihood of erosion should also be considered in de-stocking decisions.

Your ability to de-stock paddocks will also be influenced by water supply and horse husbandry.

Associated with de-stocking are small “sacrificial” paddocks or yards (previously discussed in the manual).

From a pasture protection perspective feeding horses in yards is a sound practice in drought. Estimating pasture survival It is an advantage to determine how far pasture has deteriorated and what recovery might be expected when rain falls so that early action can be taken.

Examination of paddocks may give an indication of the amount of seed left and the density of living (versus dead) perennial plants.

A simple procedure to confirm these observations is to water with a watering can a square meter in several places in the paddock and see what grows.

In previous droughts the results of this procedure has shown a close relationship to what subsequently germinates.

If horses are in the paddock it may be necessary to put a small fence around the watered area.

To avoid runoff, build a bank about 10 cm high around the are to be watered.

Apply the water in March if the autumn break has not occurred.

Do not water in the summer months because the normal summer dormancy of seed and plants may not have broken.

Sub.

Clover plant densities should be greater than 100 plants/m2, where as species such as phalaris should have at least 15 live plants/m2.

You will also be able to predict weed populations and plan appropriate control strategies. Management after drought Pasture management After the drought breaks you will be tempted to quickly return to normal grazing practices.

However it is advisable to delay the grazing of paddocks for both pasture recovery and horse health.

The extent to which pasture recovers from drought depends largely on when the drought breaking rains are received.

If the drought breaks in autumn break, the pasture should recover quickly provided there are adequate numbers of viable seed or perennial plants.

Sufficient follow-up rain is needed to keep pasture growing.

A delayed in the break, or lower than usual rainfall in autumn, will progressively limit the recovery rate of your pasture.

The effect of drought on irrigated pastures will depend on the availability and frequency of watering.

After the drought breaks there will be very little paddock feed remaining; horses will graze every bit of new green pasture as it appears.

Heavy grazing at this time can greatly reduce subsequent pasture production.

Perennial ryegrass and cocksfoot are also susceptible to being pull out of the ground during this period.

If possible delay grazing the majority of your pastures until they are 8 cm in height (around 1750 kg DM/ha) as this will optimise pasture growth.

Given a “normal” autumn break this should take about 6 to 8 weeks.

A late autumn or early winter break will reduce feed supply for a longer period and would result in feed shortages throughout winter.

The amounts and types of nutrients that are required for pasture growth in the post drought period should not be any different from a normal season.

There may be a larger than usual residual effect of fertiliser that was applied before the start of the drought because of reduced leaching of nutrients in the dry conditions.

The granules that can sometimes still be seen on the ground during a drought from top dressing are calcium sulphate (gypsum) and are unlikely to contain any phosphorous.

In circumstances of reduced stock numbers and tight finances it is quite feasible for farmers/managers to defer, reduce or even omit fertilisers for the year.

However, the strategic use of fertilisers, including nitrogen fertilisers, can be used as a way of increasing the rate of pasture recovery.

Control of insect pests, during this early period is most desirable as they can consume large amounts of pasture.

Insects most likely to cause damage are lucerne fleas and red legged earth mites. Horses management Regardless of the grazing management policy adopted, it is prudent to introduce horses gradually to green pasture.

After a prolonged period on dry feed, horses will likely experience severe digestive upsets (colic) associated with a complete and sudden change of diet.

This warning applies particularly where the pasture contains perennial ryegrass, as there could be an increase in the incidence of ryegrass staggers, if any perennial ryegrass has survived the drought.

There may also be health problems if the pasture is infested with particular weeds (eg stringhalt on capeweed or flatweed infested pastures).

It would be wise to graze weed infested areas with a small number of cattle or sheep before introducing your horses to the pasture. Opportunity to improve pastures Pasture productivity may not necessarily fall drastically after a drought, even though some species will have declined.

A “wait and see policy” is often advisable for up to two years as this will give sufficient time to gauge the actual effects of drought and allow some species (eg perennial ryegrasses) to thicken in the post drought year.

In some cases the impact of drought will severe enough to warrant immediate pasture renovation or in others you may not wish to wait and take up the opportunity to improve pasture.

There are various techniques for improving pasture, these include weed control, adding new seed into existing swards (sod seeding) and re-sowing.

As previously indicated, weeds may form a substantial proportion of a post-drought pasture.

Any decision to control them should be carefully considered, because they can make a contribution to the feed pool in the drought recovery period, provided they are edible and not harmful to horses.

However, there is an opportunity to control weeds, and there may be longterm benefits for the pasture in doing so.combinations of cultivation, grazing and spraying methods could be considered.

The spraygraze technique, where applicable, is often most effective in controlling some broad-leaf weeds with little pasture damage or reduction in feed supply.

Spraygrazing involves the application of low rates of a phenoxy herbicide (MCPA or 2,4D-amine) followed by grazing (preferably not by horses) to reduce broadleaf weeds in winter. Steps to spray grazing: * Graze the paddock in late winter and early spring to encourage even seedhead emergence * Remove stock 2-3 weeks prior to flowering to allow for even regrowth * Apply recommended herbicide at the recommended rate to pastures from early head emergence to flowering.

Timing will depend on target grasses.

Some will seed early such as barley grass and silver grass and others will seed later such as annual ryegrass * Observe herbicide withholding periods and then resume grazing * Grazing is important to gain maximum benefits In some situations you may need only to control weeds in isolated areas on your property.

Target areas would be where horses have been fed during the drought period or containment and sacrifice areas.

If the pasture has significantly deteriorated re-sowing may be necessary.

A good indicator for re-sowing a perennial pasture is if the perennial grass makes up less than 15% of the pasture.

With annual pasture if there is greater than 50% weed and less than 10% sub.

Clover you should also consider pasture renovation.

Pasture re-sowing is expensive and should be used when the pasture is unlikely to improve through other techniques.

The bare ground situation, reduced sward density and lowered stock numbers (in some grazing areas) can provide an ideal opportunity for you to sow improved pasture species or to thicken up a sward where plant numbers have been reduced by drought.

Minimal seedbed preparation should be needed and even sod seeding can be successful.

Weed control is important, even when sowing into what appears to be bare ground.

It is advisable to wait up to six weeks after the autumn break for any surviving weed seeds to germinate then to control them by cultivation or a herbicide before sowing the new pasture.

Techniques for sowing include, cultivation, direct drilling, aerial seeding, undersowing, over sowing, sod seeding and broadcasting.

Cultivation and direct drilling are the most effective technique for establishing pasture (Table 8).

There are also a number of disincentives to re-sowing pastures after a drought. • • • Finance for re-sowing pastures (or any other purpose) is likely to be limited as a result of extra supplementary feeding expenses during a drought With reduced stocking rates, in some grazing areas there will be no urgency to increase pasture productivity immediately Availability of locally produced pasture seed may be limited.

However, there should be adequate seed available from other states or overseas.

The price of seed is likely to rise and supply/demand generally will keep prices higher for some time after the drought. Table 8.

Pasture sowing techniques.

Technique Direct drilling Success rating Comments Pasture is sown without cultivation Weeds controlled using chemicals prior to sowing Reduced soil disturbance can decrease weed germination Pasture seed is sown into a prepared level seedbed Soil is cultivated before sowing Seed is drilled/broadcast in without disturbing existing pasture Phalaris will not compete with established pasture ***** **** *

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