So you have a new horse...

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Congratulations! It’s your birthday. Or it’s your wife’s birthday. Or you won the auction bidding. And now you own a new horse. Everyone is excited. But the question comes up: “What is the best way to get the new horse on the farm with minimum upsets—hopefully, no upsets at all?”

Many of us have seen horse colic when their feed changes. Thus the first consideration is keeping the horse on the same grain ration. If you intend to change the ration, do it over time. Take 14 days to make the switch after the horse settles into its new accommodations. If the horse has been eating grass hay and MFA Easykeeper 11%, you’ve inherited a good ration. If you don’t know what the horse was consuming, try using MFA Easykeeper as the concentrate.

In general terms, you will want to keep the horse in quarantine for 30 days. It is a common practice for the owner to house the new horse across a sturdy fence from the existing herd. Once the animals acclimate to each other over the fence, add one horse at a time in with the new horse to allow them time to adjust. In time, all of the horses will slowly be introduced, and hopefully, you have no major issues. As far as I know, there is no standard as to how long this acclimation period should be. The time it takes for horses to adapt depends on attitude and disposition to exert dominance.

Consider biosecurity whenever you are traveling to horse shows, auctions or shopping around for a new member of the herd.
I like the USDA definition of biosecurity: “Doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment or vehicles, either accidentally or on purpose.”

USDA publishes some common-sense recommendations for biosecurity; I highlight some here because I think we can all use an occasional reminder about farm hygiene.

  • If you show horses, don’t share trailers. And if your horse ends up in someone else’s trailer, only allow it if the trailer has been cleaned and disinfected. If you can “smell horse” in the empty trailer, it has not been cleaned and sanitized properly.
  • When at events or rides, don’t let your horse touch other horses, especially nose to nose.
  • Don’t share equipment (e.g., water, feed buckets, brushes or sponges).
  • Wash your hands, especially after helping other people with their horses.
  • Don’t let strangers pet your horse, especially those with animals at home or people who have been out of the country in the past two weeks.
  • Before leaving the show grounds, clean and disinfect tack, boots, equipment and grooming supplies. Brush off dirt or manure; then disinfect (spray or wipes are easy to take with you).
  • When you get home, shower, blow your nose and put on clean clothes and shoes before going near other horses.
  • If you’re going to a horse auction, have a pair of shoes or boots that you save for visiting and don’t wear around your horse.
  • Wear plastic shoe covers. Plastic bags from newspapers work well.
  • If you are going to be working with horses on another farm, wear coveralls or plan to change clothes before returning to your horse.
  • If there are farms you visit all the time and you can’t change clothes and shoes, be sure their vaccination program and biosecurity practices are as good as your own.

All of the above is good advice. Keep in mind that bringing new horses onto the farm is the most likely way to introduce diseases. During that 30-day quarantine, don’t mingle feeding buckets, pitchforks or grooming tools between existing horses and the new arrival. You need to work with the new horse daily to acclimate it but consider having a pair of coveralls to either change into or out of before going between pens. Wear a different pair of boots and launder your clothes before wearing them back to the pens.

Just like after shaking hands at church, it’s a good idea to wash your hands before you move between pens.

You can find more detail on biosecurity and horse hygiene at: http://mfa.ag/2cHYMzW.

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