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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Time for some sober thinking with declaration of El Nino

ABOVE: Have you thought about what an El Nino could mean to you and your horses?

THE fact that an El Nino has finally been declared might seem a distant problem to many horse people.

While the natural weather pattern originating in the Pacific Ocean does not necessarily lead to drought, parts of the country such as Gippsland and in NSW near Dubbo have been experiencing very dry conditions for some time.

Sheep are already being offloaded (some selling for a dollar) and farmers are not joining their good cows. Clever breeders are selling off excess young horses as they have seen this before and are not waiting.

It DOES concern you.

Too many people have very short memories and horse people especially, so get ready or it may well end in tears.

All the below sounds basic, but it’s really important to read and consider.

Everyone’s got really fussy about the type of hay, brand of mixed feed their horses get and we keep hearing BS tales that their horse will only eat this hay or that feed. When push comes to shove and your favorite type of hay isn’t about, and the ingredients in your favorite food mix aren’t available, what then?

Hay is the absolute most important horse feed. If you are smart and have space, stock up. Maybe share with a friend. Round bales are best, squares if you can keep them dry, just be careful of moisture content if buying early season cuts. Don’t be too fussy, as long as it’s not mouldy. Good grass hay will keep horses going. This can’t be stressed enough.

The bare minimum amount of roughage required to keep the equine gut healthy is one per cent of bodyweight – that’s 5kg per day for a 500kg horse, which is often at least three big biscuits of grass hay per day. The horse will still need at least another 3-5kg of food to meet the minimum daily intake requirement.

Buy hay now. It will become expensive if there is a drought, or worse, totally unavailable.

Make sure it’s not wasted, if feeding from a round bale use a frame, or take wedges from it and feed from a net. Nothing is worse than wastage when you every mouthful counts.

As for chaff I consulted “Khonke’s Own” to find out if it can be stored for a time. Here is the answer.

If the chaff was stored in a cool, dry place out of sunlight, then it should be ok for 12 months, similar to hay stored.

The nutrient content of any hay or feed tends to deplete over time and it may start to lose colour. The biggest thing is the bags start to break down over time. The price is going to be one of the biggest concerns.

Lucerne chaff would be the best option to store as rodents would not be tempted by this as much as the cereal chaffs that often have a bit of grain content.

Next, make sure you horses are as healthy as they can be. Worming teeth and all general health needs to be right, especially with old pensioners.

Talk to experts, the ones in the feed supplement companies that will only be too happy to tell you which product will keep everything going while the horse’s diet is radically different, but remember they CAN survive perfectly well on hay, it’s their natural food. Water is basic common sense. Hopefully horse owners can get a supply as it needs to be freely available when horses are eating dry feed.

Protect your trees. Apart from giving shade, horses and other livestock are very likely to start chewing bark and can ringbark the trees.

Possibly the hardest thing to consider is whether you have too many horses to manage if things do turn bad? It’s happened before and might again. Can you feed them all over a long term if it doesn’t rain? The prices are already dropping and there are more moving into the marketplace.

If you can’t manage your numbers in a drought, you may have to make the hardest choice of all and decide who lives.

Often it’s the oldest and dearest that has to go, but going easily and peacefully at their own home before they get hungry is best.

One last thing – fire. We live in the most fire-prone country in the world. Make plans. Know the escape routes, have the float ready on bad days, leave gates open on the property. Talk to you fire services. We’ve seen what’s happened on the other side of the world this year and it’s already beginning g in the northern states here.

The Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” has never been more important.



Advice from equine veterinarian and respected authority in horse nutrition, Dr John Kohnke. Kohnkes Own

The Fast Break

For simple-to-understand explanations of what is happening with the weather, Agriculture Victoria’s Dale Grey is a great resource to tap into. Dale provides regular climate updates for Victoria, South Australia, Southern NSW and Tasmania.

Dale also puts together a short video each month that is always entertaining, informative and easy to understand. The Very Fast Break


General advice

Learnings from the millennium drought from the Wimmera by the people who went through it. Climate Eyes

Stories on The Regional’s website are free to read and always will be.

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