The fields your horses are turned out in are the main source of their nutrition; however they can also be the main source of parasites, particularly roundworms. Regular maintenance of your fields is therefore essential not only to provide your horse with adequate grazing and nutrition throughout the year, but to also reduce the risk of worm re-infestation.
The domestication of horses has challenged the ambient worm/horse relationship. In the wild, horses are free to graze and wander over many acres, which naturally reduces the chance of re-infestation with worms. In comparison our domesticated horses are limited to one or two paddocks, so it is our responsibility as horse owners to try to replicate ‘natures’ way of controlling worm populations to ensure our horses stay fit and healthy.
Rest the Paddock
By resting each paddock for at least three months between grazing, this could help to reduce the worm egg and larvae population in the field. Resting is more advantageous during certain times of year, for example, hard frost and cold temperatures help to break the life cycle of certain worms. Resting also allows for the grass to recover and grow maintaining suitable levels of forage for the horse.
Regularly Remove Horse Droppings
An average horse can produce approximately 24kg of droppings a day – that’s a lot of poo! And unfortunately allowing droppings to accumulate in the field just increases the chances of your horse getting re-infected with worms. If your horse has worms, these worms will lay eggs which are passed in the horse’s dung. The eggs in the dung then hatch into larvae and spread into the field, where they can be ingested easily when your horse is grazing. This process creates a viscous circle, and as horse owners it is important to try and break this cycle. Removing horse droppings from the paddock may be back breaking work, however if done regularly can really help to reduce the egg burden in your field.
This option may be more difficult for some, however if you have the opportunity to cross graze with other animals such as cows and sheep, this is an excellent form of worm control. Most worms are specific to one host, which means they are unable to survive if ingested by another animal. If you are considering this method, ensure that your field is stock proof and that your horse is gradually introduced to the animals.
Don’t Overstock Paddocks
Unfortunately more horses, means more dung, which means potentially a greater worm burden in a relatively small area. In addition to risking your horse in a field with a potentially high worm population, the quality of the forage can also be reduced.
Although not every horse owner is responsible for the upkeep of the field their horse is kept, it is important for you to be aware that all paddocks should be sustained to an adequate level to ensure your horse is in the best possible health. Harrowing, fertilisation and weed management (ragwort) are all very important factors in establishing and maintaining a good field. If your horse is kept at livery, discuss with the yard manager how they maintain your horses paddock. Alternatively if you have your own land, it may be useful to contact a local farmer or contractor.
It may not be possible to put all of these actions into place, however the more you can do to help control the worms in your paddock, the better. Pasture management is just one important factor in the battle against worms, for more information about other worm control measures such de-worming medications see our other blogs.