Our next few blogs are going to be focused on the less glamorous side of horse ownership: manure, dung, droppings, poo - whatever you call it, it can be a hugely valuable tool when measuring general health and provide more specific insight on gut health.
The first step in making manure a useful health measure, is knowing what is normal for your horse – a baseline if you like. Take a picture of your horse’s manure under typical management and routine and keep this for reference. You can also note down any details like smell, colour, and for those stabled, number passed over a set period. This is your reference point, and you can compare back to this if your horse’s management or feeding change. This can also be useful guidance in instances where someone else is caring for your horse.
It should be noted that for some horses, you may observe slight changes day-to-day, so, if you can, initially, take pictures over a week or so under normal management and pick a photo that is representative of the average.
You can use this information not only to monitor your horse throughout the seasons and management changes but also against what is typical across all horses (see below). Diet and management have a significant impact on colour, consistency, frequency, and smell of manure so regular monitoring is essential.
Typical Poo Parameters
When keeping tabs on your horse’s manure, it can be helpful to remember the five C’s:
Count– The number of poos per day. This can vary for individuals and diet and therefore should be reassessed throughout the year. On average mares and geldings defecate 6-12 times per day (this frequency can double with foals and stallions).
Control– How manure is passed. The average time to defecate is around 15 seconds, signs of excessive straining should be investigated.
Colour– While manure is typically a shade of green, this can change dependant on diet. For example, a lighter green colour is often seen when horses are eating lush grass, a browner tone with a diet of predominantly hay, and high intakes of beet pulp (reddish-brown) and oil (greyish tone) can also influence colour. Colours of concern to note, are red and black – either of these could indicate bleeding in the intestinal tract and should be investigated.
Consistency– How well the faecal balls which make up manure are formed. Faecal balls should be well-formed and moist, but not wet- there is however a huge range of what is ‘normal’ for each horse. Material within manure should be well broken down with no recognisable feed ingredients and only very short fibre lengths visible. Consistency may change in the short term (a few bowel movements) for example pre/post exercise or travel – this is normal. Longer term changes however may indicate digestive disruption.
Change in smell – This can coincide with dietary changes and indicate challenge in the gut. Notably strong-smelling manure can result from rapid dietary changes or high parasitic burdens.
Figure 1: The Five C's of Monitoring Manure
When manure hits the fan… Coping with digestive challenge
If you have a horse with a sensitive gut, always bear this in mind with your feed management, making any changes in hard feed gradual over at least 10-14 days, and changes in forage over 2-4 weeks where possible.
It is also important to note that while dietary causes of loose droppings are common, it can also indicate a virus or infection – so if in doubt, contact your vet.
For horses that find dietary and management changes challenging, consider using a digestive supplement to support the system through periods of change.
Digestive supplements are typically based around improving the environment or population of microbes that reside in the horse’s hindgut. The horse depends on this population of microbes to be able to digest and utilise nutrients from the forage portion of his diet. These microbes become accustomed to breaking down specific feedstuffs, as such, when the diet changes, the microbe population must shift to reflect this. Research suggests that this adaptation can take as long as 3 to 4 weeks (depending on how large the difference is between diets). If change occurs too quickly, microbes struggle to cope, resulting in digestive upsets. Where the microbe population is compromised, your horse’s ability to digest fibre is reduced.
Pre and probiotics are commonly referred to as digestive enhancers. Probiotics like Transvite Excelcontain live yeast – these are best fed short term after or during any event which may disturb the hindgut’s bacterial population. Providing a probiotic will help to repopulate the hindgut with beneficial fibre digesting microbes.
Many products contain a combination of both pre and probiotics such as Transvite Digest. Prebiotics help to multiply existing useful bacteria and can help to support the microbial population during changes in feed and management. Where probiotic only products are generally recommended for shorter term use, prebiotics or combined pre and probiotic products can be fed for longer periods of time and are a useful addition to all feed rooms.