Someone asked me today how I get away without worming my horses.
To start with…its not that I NEVER use conventional wormers…I have and will use them when its necessary, but I avoid them. There are several reasons for this, but first, an analogy…
Anyone who has started a garden, large or small, be it a small kitchen garden or a farmers market garden or mass produced corn, has to decide how they will manage pests and disease. Will they grow organically or conventionally. Both ways work and of course there is alot of territory in between. The conventional garden is managed by adding pesticides to the soil to minimize disease and pests either up front as a prophylactic or in response to a threat. These agents kill not only the pests, but also harms the organic life and sometimes the structure of the soil, making it now necessary to add fertilizers of various compositions to maintain ‘healthy’ levels of nutrients for plant growth. There’s a billion dollars worth of research about how to do this and grow lots and lots of produce. But, once you start this cycle, you are committed to managing the soil in these very specific ways. And there are other down sides, but that would be a huge digression…
The organic farmer uses nature to manage pests and disease and allow the soil and all its amazing physiology to mantain not only order in the insect world, but a continuous supply of nutrients in a soil ecosystem that is self sustaining. I garden organically. Its a medium to large family garden. I use a minimal till method that mimics nature. Aged compost is applied to the surface and weed seeds stay beneath where they are less likely to germinate. I have lots of bugs. Some of these are good bugs and some are not. I don’t play god in the garden. I rely on the good bugs, bees, wasps, worms, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, (bats, chickens), etc to control the pesty bugs. If I choose to kill off one poulation of bugs, I have to be prepared for the imbalance I create in the garden ecosystem and I choose not to create a defect in the fabric of my garden. Instead, I rotate my crops and plant groupings of plants that can help each other and because I grow alot of different crops, I accept losses from time to time. I simply try to mold nature to my design instead of forcing it to produce something it is not capable of. This design demonstrates the beauty of the small diversified farms. But again, that would be another digression…
I use the gardening scheme as an analogy because most people nowadays understand the difference organic farming brings to the plant and soil biology and why it is healthy and sustainable. Horses are no different.
If you take the approach that all horses have parasites and these need to be eradicated, you will need to use conventional wormers. And if you choose to use rotational worming practices, worming every 6-8 weeks, you will always have to do this. No matter how good intentioned this practice is, there are consequences to this type of worming….whether we fully understand them now or not.
Consider a more natural way to manage parasites. What about creating a healthy horse? One that had a healthy ecosystem inhabiting their GI tract. One that wide open places to forage, without having to nibble the grass next to its own poop. One that was able to move for miles everyday, like a wild herd. OK, maybe I’m getting alittle crazy, but the problem really lies in our ‘modern’ horsekeeping. We keep horses in stalls, in isolation, in filthy dirt paddocks. We feed too much grain and not enough forage. We pump our horses full of chemicals and unnecessary vaccines, that they, in turn, have to compensate for immunologically. The result is colic, founder, metabolic issues and insulin resistance.
Here’s a great New Years Resolution: Resolve to find one thing every month that will make your horses life more natural. Want a list?
1. Free choice their hay
2. Cut down on the grain
3. Stop feeding them peppermints
4. Turn them out in a herd.
5. Pick up the manure around their feeding area…all of it. Compost it for your garden.
6. Build a paddock paradise.
7. Let them choose when to go out and when to come into the barn.
8. Put out free choice minerals.
9. Top dress feed with probiotics/prebiotics once a week.
10. Make a salad for your horse. http://www.thepenzancehorse.com/2009/ARTICLES/feedingthehorse.htm Reads…think outside the box. What would your horse choose to eat if he could.
11. Expand your pasture. Even into the woods where a horse can browse on weeds and some bark.
12. Pull their shoes and balance their feet…where every energy meridian starts.
13. learn how to do your own fecal tests. Its easy. http://www.farmsteadhealth.com/
14. Consider an herbal wormer or diatomaceous earth. There is a reason you find your horse eating wood or rocks at times.
Well, you get the idea. There are alot of little adjustments you can make that allow your horse to maintain its own health without your constant meddling. I call it ‘purposeful neglect’. Sometime s we have to allow the ecosystem to run itself.
This has been my approach. Every year, my horses’ lifestyle gets more and more natural and I have to do less and less to keep them healthy. I have a 16 yo arab cross, Manny, I’ve had for 12 years. He was my learning curve. He has not been wormed in 10 years. Back then he had arthritis, uveitis and a bad attitude…now he is my definition of a healthy, happy horse.
Thanks for this Jen. This is what we’re in the process of doing on our new property. At our last house we noticed a huge difference in the horse’s health and fitness after fencing in a ravine with a stream and hillside with trees. An old-time horseman told me I had to do that instead of keeping them on the flat grassy pasture. He was so right! We’ve already started clearing a track and hopefully will have it fenced this summer.
oooooo, I wish I had a ravine and stream on my property, lol….that’s awesome.
well written and I agree with every word…. I especially love you recommendation to do fecals before worming… feeding less grain…. feed more forage… all a win-win in my book!
I have been lamenting no longer having the pigs to eat our leftover veggies – I never even thought to feed some of them to the horses!
I think the fecals are key here, as well. So many people don’t know whether natural methods will work … but fecals are a very scientific approach.