July 2007
Horses, Horses, Horses!

Horses, Horses, Horses!

July is the month we celebrate our God given Freedoms! As most of us know, our Freedoms in this country are not free at all. They have been fought for and won with blood, sweat and tears, and with the strong hearts, minds and wills of those determined to live free!

Watch a horse run across a big, big field, running as though he will never stop. In his heart he is free and you can feel that as you watch him. That feeling is what mankind longs for and will work and fight to procure, protect, and preserve.

Just try stepping in front of a herd of wild horses running free..........and after, if you are still alive, as you are dusting yourself off and watching their tails float away in the distance, reflect on their mighty will to be free. May America always, as long as her people draw breath, have and keep that mighty will to be free. May we remember, as we go about our daily lives, free to make choices about anything and everything, from where to live or work to what things to buy or not buy, that our freedom is bought with the highest price of all. May we honor those who have provided and are providing it for us during this month of celebration of freedom.

After that entrance, it is time to change to the topic requested of me for this month’s article. It has to do with the horseman’s freedom of choice and making the right choices for a horse’s health and well-being. Choosing the right kind of bedding for a horse’s stall can mean the difference between life and death for a horse. Most people do not think of shavings or bedding as being particularly dangerous, and that is why I am writing about the wrong kind being harmful and even deadly. I have been asked to write specifically about the dangers of Black Walnut shavings.

Since this is not a commonly known fact in our area of the country, some horses have died due to their owners using shavings from sources that contain Black Walnut. Horse people in Canada and the northern United States are generally knowledgeable about how dangerous its shavings are to horses. In the Southeast, horse people need to be made aware of this to avoid disaster with their horses.

With shavings becoming more expensive and harder to obtain, the average horseman may be tempted to take a "good deal" on a load of shavings from a furniture factory, cabinet shop or sawmill. Do not do it unless you can be absolutely sure that no Black Walnut has been processed at these places. As little as 5% Black Walnut shavings mixed with other shavings can be fatal to a horse in a 12x12 stall within 12 hours. Black Walnut is highly prized in making furniture and it is possible it could be processed at any furniture company or sawmill in the country, unless the company specifies that they do not deal in Black Walnut at all. So be very, very sure of the integrity of the company with which you are dealing.

So exactly what do Black Walnut shavings do to a horse to cause enough distress to kill it? The Black Walnut secretes a toxin called juglone. This toxin is so poisonous to horses that it will cause laminitis (founder), respiratory distress and/or colic within a short time of exposure, as short as 8 hours. Clinical signs are increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, depression, high body temperature, acute laminitis (rotation of the coffin bone) and/or colic. In other words, exposure to this stuff will kill your horse, and quickly, if you do not get them away from it ASAP.

If you suspect that your horse has been exposed to Black Walnut shavings, call your veterinarian immediately. Obviously, get them away from it and wash them down with cold water, especially their legs, to get the toxin off of them. Their legs may be very swollen from the laminitis, but if the coffin bone has not rotated yet, the symptoms may be reversed with proper veterinary care.

There are many types of bedding that can be used for a horse’s stall, everything from wood products such a shavings, chips or sawdust, to the latest in new bedding pellets. Everything from shredded newspaper to peat moss is listed as having been used for horse bedding at one time or another. Obviously not everything used has been healthy for horses.

If using a wood product, it is best to stay away from the hardwood shavings altogether (example: Black Walnut is a hardwood) and use only softwood products. Raw sawdust is really not healthy since it can cause respiratory problems from the overabundance of dust it naturally creates. Raw pine shavings are not healthy due to the pungent oil of the wood possibly causing respiratory problems.

Now a certain company called Nature’s Earth Products has managed to come up with an outstanding bedding pellet that combines the usefulness of the aromatic softwood pine sawdust while eliminating all the unpleasant problems that could erupt with the use of just the raw material. This bedding pellet is called Equine Pine. The pellet is 100% kiln dried.

What is kiln dried and why is it good? The kiln is a huge building like an oven where the wood is heated to dry. This process removes most of the oils and resins and makes the wood fiber sterile. The oils that could have caused respiratory problems are completely removed with this process and the sterilization makes the pellets free from mold or bacteria and repellent well. Also, the sawdust is processed in such a way that the dust factor is eliminated. This is an excellent source of bedding from those who have weighed in on the product.

Here are a few excerpts from an article by April Hall called "The Evolution of Horse Bedding - Are You Missing Out?"  Ms. Hall states, "Pine pellets are made from recycled sawdust that has been kiln dried to remove aromatic oils and then tightly compressed to form small pellets. These pellets pack a powerful punch. Upon getting wet, pine pellets will "puff" to about 4 times their normal size. Four bags of pine pellets are equivalent to a full pickup truck of shavings. The pellets are like thousands of tiny sponges that absorb 3 times their weight in liquid keeping the stall dry and clean. They are completely safe for humans and animals and are environmentally friendly. What’s more, pine pellets neutralize ammonia, cutting down on intolerable urine odor. Most users also note that they observe a significant reduction of flies and other pesky bugs because of this.

In order to protect against respiratory problems any bedding materials used should be sterile and free of mold or bacteria. The 100% kiln dried pine pellets are not only mold and bacteria free, but they also do not contain unhealthy hydrocarbons, like many unprocessed shavings. Pelleted pine is also great for horses that have sensitive hooves or are prone to thrush. The pellets are highly absorbent, soften over time and take on a texture that has been described as ‘fluffy.’"

Also stated in her article, "One of the most significant issue horse owners should be concerned with is reducing the amount of waste produced. The biggest change you will notice after switching to pine pellets is that you remove much less of the actual product with the manure. When shavings are used, the waste you remove is 25% manure and 75% shavings. This is the real problem. With pine pellets, you will see as much as a 60% reduction in the volume of waste being removed each day."

So pine pellets are not only healthy for your horse, they are practical as well.  Equine Pine is of the highest quality, using only softwood pine. If you are interested in using pine pellets, contact your local Co-op and ask for Equine Pine. Your local Co-op will be glad to help you try out this new alternative to wood shavings.

The July article has run a full course, from reminding us of the price and passion of our freedoms, to addressing the requested topic of how deadly Black Walnut shavings can be and discussing a good, new alternative to wood shavings........the pine pellet. It is my hope that the information I have discussed in this article will be helpful to many and help horses to stay healthier.

Also, I wish all my fellow Americans a Happy 4th of July! Celebrate safely and God Bless America!

Janet Bryant is a freelance writer from Oneonta.