Monday, August 26, 2013

Feed and Feet

It 's been a while since we had any foot updates.  It's not because I haven't been working on feet, thinking about feet and studying feet, just the opposite!  One of the big battles this summer has been keeping things together in the incessant wet we have had.  It's been dry, finally, for about two weeks and what a difference two weeks can make.  I see improvement everywhere just because it quit raining for a bit.  The other big, huge, monster thing that is overfilling all the space in my brain is nutrition and how it relates to the chronic hoof problems so prevalent here. 

I am not going to go into agonizing detail here, I don't want to make anyone's eyes cross, but I know several people are having similar troubles and are interested so a few important points...

The number one most important fact to know about about equine nutrition is that no one can know exactly what is in your feed unless the feed is tested.  I don't care who you ask, unless your feed (and by feed, I mean hay, grain, pasture, supplements...all of it has to be included.) has an analysis to go with it, any advice you get will be based on generalities and averages.  If you are trying to balance a hay ration, you need a hay test, if you have pasture you need a forage sample.

The grass growing in my pasture, with a soil pH of 4.6 is very, very different from the grass growing three miles away at Farm Buddy's place with a soil pH of 5.5.  Your vet or farrier may be able to give you good advice based on what has worked on other farms in your area, but you and they can't know unless you test.

The trouble with testing is that once you get the results, you have to be able to interpret them and if you have never done that, it can be a bit daunting.  It does involve math.  I think I could write a (hopefully) simple way to explain how to read your hay analysis, but I don't want to unless there is interest.  If you have an analysis and are struggling with it, let me know.  I'll see what I can come up with.

When it comes to understanding exactly what your horse needs and what he is actually getting, feed and supplement manufacturers are NOT your friend.  To be fair, many of them are trying to sell decently made products, but every commercial feed is aimed at the lowest common denominator.  What I mean by that is, a ration that is balanced for Tessa, living in upstate NY, might kill a horse in Kansas.   Since nearly all of our supplements are sold nationwide, without regard to how different every area is, they are made to offer a little of everything without killing anybody.  Fortunately, our horse's nutritional needs are generally met a lot more easily then most of us believe so this haphazard appraoch to feed mostly works. You are probably paying through the nose for what amounts to little more than a bucket of salt, but if it makes you feel good and you can afford it....

We horse people are a true cash-cow for the makers of supplements and the deliberately misleading label information is there to keep the cow milking.  That said, if your animals are experiencing any kind of chronic hoof trouble...thrush that won't go away no matter what noxious chemical is used to treat it; tender feet; chronic white line; thin shelly walls, etc, etc, etc...a thorough feed analysis is in order.

For myself, I know that I have had trouble with every horse who has ever lived on this piece of land.  Even horses who I had owned for many years with no problems, had trouble when I moved here.  I have been struggling with this since I moved in.  I have talked to vets and farriers and nothing (including denial) has worked.  Now I am testing, analyzing, talking to pasture experts and things are starting to come together.  I am still working on getting all the tests I need to get true balance, but I have a fair idea of what some of the trouble is.  The biggest problems I have identified so far are:
  • Extreme iron overload - this by itself can cause all of the hoof troubles I listed along with a host of other troubles that all affect the feet
  • Very low levels of copper and zinc which is made worse by the iron, it inhibits absoption of both minerals.
  • Horribly low soil pH.  The list of troubles this causes is too long to write.  Suffice it to say that it makes all of the above even worse.
Most people are not going to need to go to the lengths that I am.  A basic hay test and reading the labels on the backs of your feed will probably be enough.  When I get around to providing updates on all of the feet I am working on, you'll understand better why I seem a bit obsessed with all of this.  I have good reason.


A Ramsey update:  The donkey feet have been hit especially hard by the constant wet and I am very glad that they have a dry barn.  The tough thing about trimming their feet is that their soles grow faster then their hoof walls.  Or, I should say, thier walls wear faster then their extremely tough soles do in this soft ground.  Their soles are meant to be worn down by dry, abrasive ground.  That hasn't been happening so I have to do it for them.  For horses, I say leave the soles alone, but that does not work for donkeys in NY.

Mostly, I am pleased with Ramsey's foot.  We're getting closer to good balance...

It is this wall separation that I am still fighting and this is where the wet ground and probable mineral imbalances really makes things tough. 

I actually took these photos about two weeks ago and the two weeks of dry has helped this immensely.  Unfortunately it is supposed to rain tonight.  Arrrrgh.

Still, the foot is sound and functioning well and not half bad looking anymore...


  1. This is interesting. I've not given much thought to pasture nutrition and hoof issues. Duh.

  2. We seem to be lucky with very good pasture here and hay content. Very rarely do we get any hoof issues at all.

    Once in a while one of the equines will have a hoof issue but it is generally due to too wet conditions or too dry conditions.

    Thanks for you informative post.

  3. Another interesting and informative blog entry. I wish there was a way for you to "publish" your findings to a wider audience. You are becoming a real expert.

  4. Science geek here: Does the low pH in the soil cause problems with their feet because of direct exposure (they are walking on it) or is it because the pH affects the type of nutrition they get?

    1. Well now, there is an interesting question. So far, the problems I have been focusing on are the nutritional issues associated with the low pH. I am not sure how constant exposure to such low pH would affect feet. Something more to think about. If I figure it out, I'll let you know. My gut feeling is that it probably does have an effect. Nothing functions in isolation, especially nutrition.

  5. Whew.... well, his hoof DOES look lots better, but you have almost a full time job on feet there!

  6. When you get your hay & forage test results, you
    can have a custom mineral supplement made especially for your horse to supply what's missing. Unfortunately no research has been done on mineral requirements for donkeys so we all go by what horses need, but donkeys are most definitely not horses, so it's really guess work!

  7. Oh my gosh, you have a very difficult situation. I guess I should be thankful for our dry hard-packed ground. We hope for mud this Winter because we've had such a bad drought. My biggest problem with my donks is managing their weight.

    1. That's going to be a real trial here as well. Emma is already chubbier than I would like.

  8. Very interesting. Passing this along to see if any of these may be helpful for a friend.
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. wow, donkey feet really are different.
    I'm grateful our summer finally dried up, my guys are looking ok at the moment

  10. Thanks, Kris. This is so informative and helps me look at the "bigger picture" of everything that affects their health. There is a Donkey Welfare Symposium at UC Davis in CA Nov. 1-3. They have a web page with all the lecture and demo info and are offering a webinar of some of the donkey lectures for for those can't attend in person. I wish I could go but I did sign up for the webinar. They also have started a FB page. Nice to see donkeys getting some attention and information being shared in the veterinary community.

    1. I'll have to look into that. I'd heard of the symposium, but didn't realize they had any webinars. It is good to see donkeys getting some attention from the wider veterinary world.