Drought is a regular feature in Australia with the length and severity varying widely from year to year. Anybody who runs stock, whether horses, sheep or cattle etc. needs to always factor in drought in their management of the animals and the land.
Financial, physical and emotional resources need to be factored in any decisions that are to be made. It is NOT okay to just hope the drought will break when your resources are declining – nor is it legally or morally acceptable to watch animals starve or dehydrate.
It is important for horse owners to educate themselves on their horse’s nutritional needs and how they vary with stage of life and the use to which they are being put. The needs of a gelding will be different to that of a lactating mare with a foal at foot for example.
Providing adequate feed and water during the drought and in the recovery phase afterward is essential. Water needs to be drinkable and in sufficient volume to sustain life. Water deprivation is an acute emergency that needs addressing immediately.
Horses have a biological need for adequate amounts of roughage, protein, energy, minerals and vitamins whether they are going through a drought or not. Most horse owners have networks within their own district as to availability and price of available feed stuffs. Buy and store hay when there is a plentiful supply, and assess your horse numbers and whether you have the financial resources to feed them for the duration of the drought. There are many resources available to investigate the suitability and availability of different hays, grains and protein sources.
One often overlooked aspect of drought feeding is the need to supply of minerals and vitamins. Efficient and effective utilisation of feed eaten by a horse relies upon the health of bacteria in the gut to convert plant material into energy and protein that can be used by the horse’s body. Essential to this is the availability of minerals and vitamins that the bacteria can use as cofactors. Supplying only a few individual minerals will not be sufficient to provide for optimal utilisation of feed. A multimineral and vitamin supplement should be used to maximise the feeds conversion to energy and protein. Plant material grown during a drought or in the lead up to a drought will not be as good a quality as forage grown through a normal season.
From an economic viewpoint it makes sense to maximise what hay and pasture is available by adding a multimineral and vitamin supplement to the diet.
Equilibrium has been used by many horse owners in drought situations and they comment on how well their horses look and feel despite the poor quality of the roughage they are eating. It can be fed as part of a ration or put out as a loose lick in containers.