Take on the challenges of caring for horses in arid climates.
In cold, wet climates, horse owners fear the spring rains and mud that can eventually breathe rainbows of life into their barren winter landscapes. But those who live where sun, cacti, and 100-degree heat are the norm face an entirely different set of challenges. By May, the rain, if any, has all but evaporated, giving way to months of parched dirt and vegetation.
However, not all deserts are the same. Temperatures in the high-altitude deserts (think of the interior Northwest and the Great Plains) are just as cold, if not colder, than those in the east and south. Large areas of the United States fall into the desert category, loosely defined as areas that receive less than 12 inches of rain per year.
Many questions plague desert horse owners: how to protect your horse from heat and dehydration? How can you maintain quality pastures and protect natural resources? How do you protect against sunburn and cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) diseases and the dangers that threaten extreme dry conditions?
Hydrate while conserving water.
In desert regions, perhaps the most obvious challenge is making sure your horses always have an adequate supply of clean, fresh water. The extreme heat of the desert can quickly affect the horses' water, so installing automatic drinkers in the sidings was an obvious solution. But remember that any mechanical device can break, so whether you use them or a simple bucket or sink, you need to be vigilant to make sure they always work whether it's hot or cold.
related information:Benefits of using automatic water (video)
"Automated systems save water because they only use what your horse can drink," said Alayne Blickle, an educator in Nampa, Idaho, who works with horse owners on land management and horse breeding practices, and also founder and Director of Horses for Clean Water. . Plus, because the water in an automated system circulates instead of sitting still, it can avoid creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus and other pathogens, she says.
Blickle recommends models with insulation to keep water cool in summer and from freezing in winter, and models with medium-sized pots that don't collect as much dirt and algae as large bowls. This saves water and time during cleaning.
Another way to save water is to collect roof runoff, although this is rare, and divert it to a storage tank. "You can use existing gutter equipment or design something to do that," he said, adding that barrels and cisterns are another way to save water, both for watering livestock and for irrigation.
protect your ranch
Horses naturally graze most of the day, so unless you buy and feed bales of hay (and ideally even if you do), you should maintain a pasture that provides some, if not all, of your horse's nutritional needs. horse. Check with your local extension agent to find out what grasses grow well in your area and what it takes to grow them. Some factors to consider when choosing forage grass are:
- solo type
- existing grass species
- annual rains
- Number of sunny days per year
- temperature range in your area
- Pasture size and horse population density
- Traffic (is it a hay area or a sports area?)
While the desert may seem harsh, Bickley said, it's actually a fragile environment that can't be overgrazed. "It could take many years to restore damaged habitat, or (the land) might not be repaired at all," he said.
When the rain is heavier and the grass is more lush, people are tempted to let the horses go, but, he warns, "overgrazing damages the health of the grass; plants that are overgrazed are not as vigorous and have a high amount of death and invasion from weed species You end up with bare, compacted soil, leading to further erosion by dust, wind, and rain Runoff (soil and nutrients) ends in streams, lakes, and rivers, and also destroys the habitat of weedy fish."
To prevent overgrazing of pastures, Blickle recommends creating a kill zone, a small corral that serves as housing for horses for part of the year. "There are two key points when grass plants need a break from their horse," he says, "during the winter when the grass is dormant (not actively growing and therefore unable to survive continuous grazing and trampling) and when grass is below 3 inches in height during the growing season.
"Your kill area should be large enough to allow your horses to exercise, based on the amount of space available and the number, age, and temperament of all the horses you have," Bickley continues.
For efficiency, he recommends locating your slaughter area near the barn for easy care and access. "Site your place of worship on high, dry, well-drained ground. Install gutters and downspouts to divert rainwater (from your surface) and provide a foundation such as gravel or chipped wood to allow water to seep into the middle ground.
"Small slopes help with drainage, but too high a slope can create erosion problems," he added. If possible, "surround your paddock with grass for natural filtration and to prevent water contamination, keeping a distance of at least 100 feet between your slaughter area and any bodies of water or ditches. Also, remove droppings frequently to reduce the amount of parasites in horses and reduce breeding sites for insects”.
If you want your horse to graze on your pasture, you will likely need to find a way to provide forage maintenance water that the wilderness cannot provide. Lady. Josh Davy, an extension consultant at the University of California, Red Bluff, said desert farmers can choose from a variety of rangeland irrigation systems:
sprinklersWith wheel lines, hand lines, or an improved hose system, you can move it with a tractor or ATV. They require little to no surface preparation, but you do have to purchase and install sprinkler pipe and sprinklers, plus you bear the energy cost of pressurizing the system when water is used. Sprinkler systems that must be moved regularly require more labor. Sprinklers may require protective barriers to prevent damage from racing, horse racing, and may provide uneven coverage in windy conditions.
flood systemThese are closely spaced irrigation canals that carry water from the source to the bottom of the pasture. Flood systems require extensive site preparation (grading and grading to a slope of 0.1 to 0.4 feet per 100 feet of length). However, once the preparatory work is complete, capital, maintenance, and labor costs for subsequent years are low.
underground systemthey are "ribbons" of water transport buried in the ground with emitters that contain filters and deliver water evenly and continuously while you turn on the system. Despite the high cost of preparing, purchasing, and installing the land, the labor required to operate these systems is minimal.
Susan Hunter of Hunter Creek Farm, a 57-acre broodstock farm in Roswell, New Mexico, said she started with sprinklers, but high winds affected even coverage.
So he opted to install an underground system with 1 1/2" wide tape buried 1 foot deep every 40 inches. Each tape has 1-inch-every 18-inch emitters and has a sophisticated filtration system to keep out dust. "It's zoned on a 12-hour cycle,” Hunter said. "I'll leave it on for two to three weeks at a time, depending on how hot it is. That's my best bet."
While plenty of water doesn't seem to be a concern for horse owners who live in the desert, Hunter decided not to use a flood system because he didn't want his mares riding in the wet (even though it's a slaughter area, pen, or drylot will activate this option).
“I often see problems with feet that are too wet, which can negatively affect the quality of hooves,” says Wendy Krebs, DVM, Bend Equine Medical Center, Oregon. She recommends keeping horses away from irrigated fields for at least part of the day to combat this problem.
On the other hand, in deserts without irrigation, says Bickel, drying out horseshoes is usually not a problem: "Just south of here, wild horses live alone, thrive in naturally dry conditions, and do very well."
Krebs agrees. "I haven't really diagnosed overly dry hooves," she says. "Cracked hooves are usually caused by malnutrition or sometimes genetics. Bruising does happen, of course, but soft feet are more common than hard, dry feet."
give me shelter
related information:Sunburn and Horses (Infographic)
Horses that live in the desert need some form of shelter, whether it's a stable, a shed, or just a grove of trees. "There's no reason not to use a shelter in cold, windy weather to protect yourself from heat, wind, and rain," says Blickle. be the Achilles heel of a horse. Sheds allow horses to control their body temperatures, protecting them from wind and rain. Just make sure they're positioned to avoid the prevailing winds in your area."
In addition to the sun, wind, rain, and snow, you also need to protect your horse from harmful ultraviolet rays, which can cause sunburn and, worse, cancer. Sunburn is especially common in horses with areas of pink skin, especially around the eyes and nose, like paints, Krebs said. He also found more squamous cell carcinomas in these sunburn-prone horses. “I recommend using a fly mask with UV protection and a mask with a nose piece to cover the area,” he says. "Some owners use baby sunscreen on noses with pink, sensitive skin in the summer."
desert disease risk
Both internal and external factors can affect your desert horse. For example, foraging in the sand can cause a horse to swallow dirt along with the hay, causing sand colic. Preventing sand ingestion is key, Krebs said. "Feed him from a trough instead of the ground, or better yet, feed him in a litter-filled bedding area so he doesn't drop his feed on the ground and then vacuum up the dirt," she says. Haynets are another option out of the ground.
pigeon fever, also known as distemper due to its concentration in desert areas, is another common health problem in arid regions. (Researchers aren't yet sure why, but they speculate that the causative bacteria,Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, like a hot and dry environment. )C. Pseudo-TB- Named for the pigeon-like swelling in the chest area where abscesses form - Lives in soil and is transmitted by air and flies, direct contact, cuts and scrapes. "It can cause an external or internal abscess," Krebs said. “We treat external abscesses with drainage and antibiotics if necessary. The prognosis is good. In the lumen, thorax or organs, we treat with long-term antibiotics and approximately 50% of affected horses survive."
Krebs added that the parasites don't breed as well in desert areas, so they aren't as big of a problem as they are in some areas, except for irrigated pastures.
risk of fire
The risk of fire is high in desert areas, especially in summer and fall, when the sun turns the bushes to crackling, crackling tinder. “Homeowners want to be on the rural/urban edge, close to pastures and on the edge of wooded areas so they can hit the road,” Blickle explained. This puts them closer to fire prone areas.
To combat the risk of fire, he advises homeowners to:
- Create a defensive space (TheHorse.com/34331) around and between buildings to minimize the possibility of flying sparks igniting nearby buildings.
- Store combustible materials (wooden furniture, hay, shavings, firewood, sacks of grain, etc.) away from other structures.
- Avoid building on top of hills as the fire will spread up like a chimney.
- Do not build wooden fences, especially those that extend into the house or barn, such as wickets. Weed fences for the same reason. Throughout the construction, metal was used where possible instead of wood.
- Clear leaves and debris from gutters and downspouts. A nearby fire can throw embers a mile or more away and ignite the buildup. And keep brush stakes that can be used as firewood away from buildings.
take home message
The range of desert dilemmas that challenge horse owners is quite wide. However, with an unwavering dedication to life on dry land, you and your horse can stay safe, healthy, happy, and enjoying the desert sun.