Potty Talk - Evaluating the Nutritional Status of Your Horse
You may wonder why poop or manure is helpful in evaluating your horse’s nutritional status?
I know most of you don’t want to evaluate poop, let alone examine it. But it can give you a lot of information about the content and quality of your horse’s food! Since everyone thinks potty talk is taboo, I will give you some interesting facts to share. The average 1000 pound horse produces over nine tons of manure in a year. Poop is your external look into your horse’s gut health. Manure is a vital sign of your horse’s health like temperature and heart rate. Defecation varies between horses based upon their age, sex, and diet. Mares and geldings go about eight times per day. Stallions and foals go about double that. Believe it or not, pooping can be a social activity. Horse groups can tell a lot about other Horses by sniffing their poop. They can tell their reproductive and social status. Stallions mark their territory by creating stud piles. They also will poop on another stallions pile to show dominance over them.
Coprophagy is another topic frequently discussed. Why do horses eat their poop? It is a normal thing for foals to do, or even for horses to eat another’s poop. But eating their own poop is usually from boredom. Let’s talk manure color, what is normal for your horse? If you feed Alfalfa, you will see very green poop. When feeding beet pulp to increase the fat and carbohydrates in a horse’s diet, the poop can be reddish-brown and sticky. Many people add vegetable oil to their horse’s grain to increase the fat content, you can see a grayish oily color in their poop. I have a factoid for all of you, did you know that the horses that were in Prince Charles and Dianna’s wedding were fed pastel-colored dye in their feed so they would match the wedding colors.
We will start classifying the types of poop, starting with Class I, it has the consistency of cream soup. An animal with this type of poop may be sick, or it is consuming a highly digestible feed that is high in excess carbohydrates, protein, and minerals, but is low in fiber. The addition of a good quality hay will help slow down the digestive process and improve the quality of the manure.
Manure that is a class 2 does not stack, and the patty is less then one inch thick. It has the consistency of pancake batter. There is excess protein, and carbohydrates in their diet, and a lack of fiber. The clearance of the manure from the digestive tract is rapid, so adding a good quality hay will help increase absorption by the intestines.
The ideal manure gets a score of 3, it has a normal shape to it and has the consistency of fudge. It will stack up but has obvious segments. The nutritional makeup of the feed ration is on target without excess or deficiency in carbohydrates, protein and fiber.
A manure score of 4, is consistent with the appearance of peanut butter. It may stack up high in a pile. This is consistent with not enough quality protein in the diet, low carbohydrate content, and poor fiber in the diet. The addition of soybean meal or beet pulp to the diet can help you obtain a good quality nutritional boost.
The least desirable is class 5, the manure will stack very high. It easily breaks into segments and is very dry. It indicates that the forage that is being eaten is poor in protein, carbohydrates, and high in low-quality fiber. The rate of digestion has slowed to the point excess water has been removed from the stool. You will need to add additional protein and carbohydrates to meet the energy requirements until digestion has been corrected. Manure scoring can be a great tool in evaluating the nutritional status of your horse, provided they are in good health. It is valuable in maintaining body conditioning, especially in a very active horse.
I hope that I have provided another tool to help you evaluate the nutritional status of your equine athlete, whether they are used on trail rides or are actively competing in equine events. It is always necessary to adjust your horse’s diet based upon their activity level, and their age.