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Soaking hay

From: Cindy

Hi - I've been receiving your weekly newsletter for at least the last year and I'm also a regular visitor to your "archives." Seems there is always something I don't know when it comes to horses! You do an excellent job and I truly value your advice. Anyway, my 13 year old quarterhorse was recently diagnosed with COPD. We've gotten her over the innitial coughing with the limited use of Azium. Now we are trying to figure out exactly what else needs to be done to maintain her health. She doesn't live in a barn (has a run in shed for shelter) and is out on pasture most of the summer with only limited hay. The vet has me soaking her hay to wash away dust, spores, etc. This seems to be working well BUT... have you ever tried to lift a couple flakes of wey hay? I went on the web and found several items which would be useful for this chore, especially once the colder weather arrives. One item is a hay steamer made by Happy Horse and the other is the Haywise hay feeder. Both web sites have UK addresses and no information about availability in the US. Do you know about any such equipment? If not, do you have other suggestions to make hay soaking an easier chore year round? I'll anxiously await your response, but in the mean time I'm building some incredible upper body strength hauling that wet hay around! Thanks.

Hi Cindy! I'm sorry to hear about the COPD, but you and your vet do seem to have it under control. Good for you. I'm familiar with the equipment you mentioned, but I haven't seen it anywhere in the US. However, I've had a fair amount of experience with the needs of COPD horses.

To those of you who are lucky enough not to know this yet, COPD stands for "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease". Affected horses cough constantly, and must have their environments and diets managed in such a way as to minimize the dangerous dust and mold spores that cause the coughing. Usual management of COPD horses includes full-time turnout (the dust inside a barn is invariably much more dangerous than the dust in a field) if possible. If full-time turnout isn't possible, management is much more difficult - keeping a COPD horse indoors means keeping the hay in a separate building (a good idea in any case!), soaking the hay thoroughly before bringing the horse JUST the amount it's going to be given at each meal, keeping the grain bins sealed and as far from the horse's stall as possible, soaking the stall (including walls), alleys, and arenas to keep the dust level down, and - quite often - feeding pelleted feeds and alfalfa pellets, dampened or soaked, to keep the dust down. Some vets will also recommend that owners of COPD horses vaccinate for flu and rhino every two months - ask your vet for suggestions and recommendations. Also ask about supplementing with MSM - I haven't seen any formal studies on the subject, but several vets I know recommend MSM to their clients with COPD horses. At any rate, it isn't expensive and won't hurt the horse, so could well be worth trying.

What makes it so important to soak the hay is that even very clean hay, without any visible dust, will still be full of spores! A COPD horse that is exposed to hay on Monday may still be coughing on Wednesday, so it's very, very important to keep that coughing response from being triggered.

Some horses simply can't tolerate any hay - and some owners are unable to control the conditions of the hay (boarding barn situations can make the proper soaking of hay difficult). For these folks, Horsehage and Dengie are often useful hay substitutes, but I don't know if they are available in the US yet. Beet pulp IS available, and COPD horses can be maintained well on a nutritionally-complete pelleted feed such as TizWhiz and a supply of beet pulp to provide roughage.

Now for the practical side of feeding soaked hay!

Hay needs to be soaked for several hours before it is given to the horse, not just because the longer soaking will make the hay less dusty, but because the time underwater allows the mold spores to expand to a size that makes them no longer a threat to the horse. This expansion requires a combination of water and time - and that's why spraying the hay with water or otherwise "wetting it down" quickly just won't have the same effect.

Clean muck buckets - the big plastic ones with rope handles - are very useful for soaking hay. If you have two or three, you can be soaking the next meal whilst you are feeding the current one. Really wet hay is incredibly heavy, as you've noticed. If the buckets have to be moved any distance at all, it's better not to try to pull them by their handles (which tend to come off at inconvenient moments). Instead, invest in one (or, better yet, two) muck bucket caddies. These are like rolling racks for suitcases - a platform/basket with wheels underneath and a handle to push or pull - but purpose-designed to accomodate large plastic muck buckets. If you put a bucket in one, THEN soak the hay, then push or pull the caddy out to the horse, you can tip or scoop the hay out of the bucket, or dump the bucket, fairly easily. Then just go back to the barn, load the bucket with the next meal's hay, soak it, and start again. ;-)

If your horse isn't already eating off the ground, now would be a great time to put a low tub or rubber mat in place so that you can DUMP the hay instead of lifting it into another container. Horses should eat off the ground, and if you're worried about sand, the rubber mat will put a safe layer between the hay and the sand. It's much easier to tip a load of wet hay onto a mat than it is to lift half a bale of soaked hay, flake by drippy flake, into a feeder.

Do everything you can to make it easy on yourself - and on whoever feeds your horse for you when you are ill or out of town. If the process is simple and doesn't require a lot of time, thought, or physical effort, it will be easier you, and easier for someone to fill in for you when necessary. This may require an initial investment - the muck-bucket carts aren't cheap, and you'll want the solidly-made sort with the baby-buggy handle, not the flimsy sort with the umbrella-style handle. Shop around and compare prices - they vary widely.

Good luck!


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