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Keep Testing Through Summer to Manage Horse Health

With special thanks to Westgate Labs for this article.

We all love the summer months, the long light evenings and better weather but it can be a tricky season to navigate to help keep our horses happy and healthy. The increased time out grazing means more exposure to both external and internal parasites who are also more active at this time of year.

While horses show obvious irritation from flies, we can’t look at a horse and tell if it has a worm burden. We also don’t want to be reaching for a wormer unnecessarily without knowing what we’re treating. So, keeping up a regular testing schedule means we can minimise chemicals, helping to slow resistance while keeping peace of mind.

Testing to monitor horse health

Through summer it’s recommended to:
• Worm egg count every 8-12 weeks
• If you tapeworm tested or gave a moxidectin + praziquantel wormer in the winter it’s time to do an EquiSal Tapeworm test.
• Look out for bots, pinworm and ticks
• Monitor sand levels in the gut with a faecal sand test

The frequency of testing is based on the lifecycle of the worms themselves. Small redworm, the predominant parasite of horses, grow really fast. 4-6 weeks from egg to adult – which means that a problem can quickly get out of hand. For this reason, worm egg counts are recommended every 12 weeks for healthy adults and more frequently for higher risk horses through summer months.

Find out more information on summer parasite control here.

If you’re lucky enough to have foals on the ground, congratulations! They’re going to need proactive support from 4 weeks old to support their immature immune systems until they’re around 6 months old when we can switch to a targeted programme.

More information on worm control for foals can be found here.

Muzzle Protector With Stellar Headcollar Side On Web

Sand Testing

Another thing to be aware of, particularly in summer when horses are more likely to be restricted to bare paddocks, track systems and dry lots for weight management, is the possibility of them ingesting sand as they graze. This can accumulate in the colon over time where it irritates the gut lining and can be a cause of colics and impactions which are a serious health risk for horses.
To help mitigate this we use a faecal sedimentation test with results expressed as a percentage volume of sand to give a quantitative measure of the level found. This allows us to monitor the effectiveness of any treatment or management changes.

lying-down-eating

Field management

We can further help to lower parasite infection on pasture by the way we manage our fields. These interventions break the life cycle mechanically rather than relying on chemicals.
• Poo pick as much as possible
• Keep herds stable
• Rest and rotate grazing
• Don’t worm and move horses straight to fresh pasture
• Cross graze where possible
• Quarantine and test new horses
• Where you do need to treat, reduction testing to ensure the wormer has been effective
All this extra effort will pay dividends into the future and prolong our ability to keep horses safe from parasites. Without intervention we are heading towards a situation within years, not decades, where land will be unviable for horse keeping because of the risk of untreatable parasite infection.

Dung Beetles

As well as minimising the bad critters, a little word for the good guys; Dung Beetles! They are the waste disposers of the world, capable of clearing-up large quantities of animal faeces by tunnelling and breeding within dung, feeding upon it and burying it below ground. This action fertilises and aerates soils, improving its ability to retain water and increasing nutrient availability to plants – beneficial for both root structures and other organisms.

Importantly the activity of the dung beetles is also thought to break the parasite life cycle by removing the dung medium that acts as the incubator for the parasite eggs. This prevents the worm eggs hatching into motile larvae which would otherwise wriggle away from the dung and climb the grass stalks to re-infect the grazing horses.

Unfortunately, there’s been a huge decline in numbers of dung beetles over the last 30-40 years, largely due to toxic metabolites from wormers passed in animal dung. So by taking all the steps above to help our horses we’ll also be doing the dung beetles a massive favour and in turn they could really help us out. Everything really is interconnected!

Find out more information on pasture management for dung beetles here.