Caring for farm horses – Part 1

Dr Mac takes a closer look at the primary health care basics for these animals.

Caring for farm horses – Part 1
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Keeping horses healthy includes regular feeding, parasite control and vaccination. In rural areas, the best type of working horse is solid in build, about 150cm high at the withers (top of its shoulders), brown or bay in colour, and with strong, thick-walled dark hooves.

It should keep its condition – staying muscular rather than getting fat – on grazing and a small amount of concentrate or lick, and be resistant to parasites and disease. Breeds that fit this profile include Transkei and Basotho ponies, Welsh ponies, part-bred Arabs, Nooitgedachts and Boerperde. Their average weight ranges from 300kg to 350kg and they can carry a load of about 100kg.

To see if your horse is in good condition, examine the hindquarters and either side of the spine. A strong, fit horse has rounded muscles covering its bones here. Lack of muscling can be due to lack of feed, or parasites that are using the food needed by the horse.

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A horse is a grazing animal, so look carefully at what is available – is that green growth on the pasture or poisonous weeds?
If no grazing is available, a horse requires a minimum of 3kg of hay a day; a bale of hay weighs 18kg, so should last six days. A salt lick will assist in the digestion of poor quality hay or grazing and is essential to the diet of working horses.

Any hardworking horse – that is, one used for pony trekking or pulling loads for up to six hours a day – will also need between 500gm and 1,5kg of concentrate a day.

Internal parasites are controlled with oral dewormers. Give a broad spectrum dewormer in May, just before winter. Ask the state vet to do faecal worm counts at other times to see what parasites are present so you can choose a specific dewormer if required.

Ticks, midges, mosquitoes and stable flies are important external parasites that carry horse diseases. In summer, sponge or spray your horse with Cypermetrhrin or Deltamethrin dips registered for horses. Ask your state or local vet for assistance here, as some dips used for cattle are poisonous for horses.

All horses from the age of six months must be vaccinated annually against African horse sickness (AHS) between 1 June and 1 October. The first dose must be injected not less than 21 days before the second. The horse should receive an equine influenza vaccine injection every six months; in fact, it is compulsory for horses used for inter-school competitions, shows, races or displays. It is given not less than 21 days before or after AHS vaccines.

Essential for working horses, tetanus vaccination is given for the first time at weaning, repeated one month later and then annually. It is sometimes included in equine influenza vaccines. All vaccines must be given with a new, disposable, sterile syringe and needle, as dirty needles transfer diseases and can lead to infections.