Most Horses’ Natural Behavior Aids in Parasite Control
By Eleanor Blazer
Horses have no trouble determining where to poop.
Most confined horses will designate a “latrine” area––whether in a turnout, pasture or stall. My own horses leave their hay, walk across the turnout, relieve themselves in the favored corner and return to eating. It makes it very easy to clean the paddock.
In pastures the latrine areas are called “roughs.” Generally, horses avoid grazing the area where manure is present. This is a natural aid to parasite control. Small strongyle eggs deposited in the manure can hatch, leading to infestation of a grazing horse. Avoiding the area will decrease the chances of the parasite’s life cycle being completed.
Intestinal worm larvae do not travel more than a few feet from the manure, but rain can wash the larvae into the preferred grazing area. The nutrients in the manure will also be relocated to the area, resulting in lush grass, attracting the horse and exposing the horse to the larvae.
Collecting the manure from the roughs has been shown to control small strongyles better than deworming (Herd, 1986). In the study the manure was collected with a vacuum twice a week.
Breaking up and spreading the manure does not kill the larvae or eggs consistently. It takes intense continuous heat and dry conditions to effectively kill the parasites. In a study on composting manure it was determined a temperature of 104 degrees F for a minimum of one week would kill strongyle larvae (Gould et al., 2012). Even in south Texas that doesn’t happen consistently––thank goodness! (Only properly composted manure should be spread on a pasture.) Intense cold will kill the parasites, but that is regional and gives dubious control, also.
For more information about controlling intestinal parasites please visit American Association of Equine Practitioners Parasite Control Guidelines: www.aaep.org/sites/default/files/Guidelines/AAEPParasiteControlGuidelines_0.pdf
Manure must be collected frequently, or the edible areas of the pasture will decrease in size as the roughs expand. In addition to exposing the horse to parasitic larvae, undesirable grasses and weeds will take over resulting in the need to provide good quality hay to the horses.
Even in stalls most horses will pick a corner and use it as a latrine, generally in the farthest corner from where the feed and hay are placed. Of course, there are always horses who choose to “go” wherever they like, creating a challenge to those who have to deal with the results.
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