Category Archives: Feed and Water

Storing Hay

Keep expensive hay in the pink by storing it properly.

• Store it under cover in a well-ventilated building that doesn’t leak. Due to the risk of feeding a barn fire, try not to store it in or near a building that houses livestock, even though it’s tempting to use existing overhead space as a hayloft. If you can’t store your hay in a separate building, the next best thing is to keep only small amounts of hay in the barn at one time, to help reduce the risk of barn fires.

Choose a building in an elevated, well-drained area so that stored hay doesn’t soak up moisture from wet soil or standing water. If your storage area is open on one or more sides, or it’s a shed with only a roof, cover the hay with a tarp to keep out weather and light. Sunlight bleaches hay, causing it to lose as much as 20 % of its nutritional value, especially protein and vitamin A.

• If you can get a good deal on hay but don’t have a place to store it, consider buying an inexpensive storage shed from an outlet like Walmart. A 10 x 10 x 8 shed can keep up to 50 bales of hay out of the weather. Enclose it with tarps for added protection.

• Don’t stack hay on bare ground or on concrete floors. Moisture will wick up through the bottom tiers, ruining the hay. Instead, stack hay atop telephone poles, wooden pallets, or old tires.

• Don’t stack new hay in front of older bales. Pull the old bales to the front and feed those first.

• When stacking hay, stack the first tier of bales all pointing in the same direction. Then stack the second layer perpendicular to the first layer so that if the first layer of bales is pointing east and west, the second layer of bales points north and south. Continue alternating layers. This locks the stack in place and makes it more stable.

• Outdoors, cover well dried, not damp, stacked hay with tarps, securing the tarps in place with strong tie-downs. A sloped top created by pyramiding the final layers sheds snow and rain better than a flat one. When covering hay use strong, sturdy tarps. If you have to use more than one tarp to cover the stack, overlap them by 3 to 5 feet to prevent water from seeping in where the tarps meet. Check tarps on an ongoing basis to make sure they’re securely tied down.

Large bales stored outside are prone to spoilage; store them under cover if you can. The outer 4 inch layer of a 6 foot diameter round bale contains about 25 % of total bale volume. Studies indicate that outdoor storage losses range between 5 % to 35 % depending on the amount of precipitation, storage site location, and original condition of the bale. Storage losses are usually reduced by approximately 2/3 with indoor storage.

• It’s best to place round bales so there is at least 1 foot of air space on all sides to allow for circulation. Never store bales under trees; storing hay in damp, shaded environments prevents the sun from drying the hay after a rain and encourages the bottom of the bales to rot.

• Choose densely packed large round bales put up in plastic or net wrap or using plastic twine; these reduce bale sag and help maintain bale shape.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Buying and Evaluating Hay

Buying Hay

Hay is a major expenditure for most horse owners and in some parts of America it’s very hard to find good hay. Therefore it’s important to make sure every bale you buy is a good one and worth its price.

• Open several bales so you can evaluate the hay inside. Don’t worry about slight discoloration on the outside because the outside of hay bales can be bleached by the sun in 72 hours from baling time. However, the nutritional value isn’t affected if the inside is green.

• Choose hay that has soft, flexible stems. Hay with tough, thick stems is harder to eat, especially for older horses, and since doesn’t taste as good, there’s more waste.

• Hay stems become tougher and more fibrous and protein and energy levels decrease as the plant matures. Seed heads in the hay and thick stems mean the hay was cut late and it’s therefore a lower grade of hay.

• Leafiness is an excellent indicator of hay quality. Sixty % of the total digestible nutrients, 70 % of the protein, and 90 % of the vitamins are found in the leaves.

• Refuse hay that is over-cured, sun-bleached all the way through, or smells moldy, musty, dusty, or fermented.

• Avoid dirty, weedy, trashy, or debris-filled hay.

Several types of blister beetles

Blister beetle range

• Check hay for signs of insect infestation. Be especially careful to check for dried blister beetles or beetle parts in alfalfa hay if you live where blister beetles are a problem or if you import hay from those regions). Blister beetles produce a toxic compound called cantharadin. Consuming as few as 12 blister beetles can kill a horse. This beetle is rarely found in first-cutting alfalfa. They’re more likely to be found in hay produced in the Southern states or during periods of drought. As shown in this picture, they don’t all look alike, so if in doubt, take a specimen to your County Extension agent for identification.

• Turn down bales that are unusually heavy for their size or that feel warm. Extra-heavy bales are often moldy and warm bales are starting to mold. Warm bales can cause spontaneous combustion and burn down your barn.

• Buy by the ton, not the bale. Without weighing it, it’s hard to tell the difference between a 50 pound bale and a 60 bale. If they’re of comparable quality and you pay the same price per bale, lighter bales are a bad buy.

• Try to purchase enough good hay to last a season. For example, if an 1100-pound horse eats 2 % of his body weight in hay per day for 6 months, plan on buying 2 tons of hay. To preserve its nutritional value, however, buy no more hay than you can properly store.

• To get the best price on hay, consider buying cooperatively with friends. Also consider buying hay directly from the field since it’s usually priced considerably higher once it’s stored.

• When possible, buy hay from a reputable dealer who stands behind his product. Buying from individuals can be frustrating and a very expensive venture. If you do it, be aware of bait-and-switch: you’re shown one product but the seller loads or delivers another. We’ve wasted a lot of money this way since moving to the Arkansas Ozarks where we’ve learned the hard way that honor among hay sellers is not a given. Make sure, up front, that the seller will replace bad hay and then carefully examine bales as they’re loaded on your truck, or if purchased delivered, as they’re unloaded, so you can refuse it if it isn’t what you want.

Evaluating Hay

Since high quality and junk hay often sell for the same prices, learn to evaluate hay before you buy.

• Green hay usually contains plenty of protein and vitamins. Hay that’s yellow or tan all the way through could be sun-bleached or it might have been rained on prior to baling. Rain leaches nutrients from hay and decreases its quality. Dark brown hay overheated because it was baled too moist or it was rained on after baling.

• Hay should smell fresh and sweet. If it smells musty, it was baled while damp or it was stored improperly. Also avoid dusty hay. Dust causes serious respiratory problems like heaves and in some cases the dust is actually mold spores. Shake out a flake of dusty hay. If the “dust” is a grayish-white color, it’s mold. If the flakes are hard or stick together in clumps, the bale is moldy.

Green net wrap makes most big bales of hay look green from the outside. Dig your hand in from the end and evaluate hay from the inside the bale before buying.

• Buy hay free of insects and trash. Sticks and chunks of mud weigh up heavy when buying hay by the ton. Baled-up briars and stickers can injure your horse’s mouth. As mentioned above, blister beetles are extremely toxic to horses. And toxic weeds can be hard to distinguish from non-toxic species once the plant has dried and been baled into hay. Thick stemmed weeds like milkweed that aren’t completely dried prior to baling can also cause moldy areas in the bale.

• Hay with mature weeds in it sheds seeds and if you feed it you’ll soon have crops of weeds established in your pastures. Cheatgrass, broom grass, perilla mint, and bull nettle all came to our farm this way.

• If you find a dried animal like a snake, a mouse, or a rabbit in baled hay, throw the hay away. Horses that eat hay exposed to spoiled carcasses are at risk from botulism.

• If you can, buy tested hay or have large batches of purchased hay tested to be certain that adequate nutrients are being provided to the animals being fed. Your County Extension agent can show you how to collect samples for testing and tell you where to mail them.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Horse Tank Cleaning Tips

Depending on season, ambient temperature, the type of feed eaten (high-fiber diets composed largely of hay increase water consumption, while grazing lush pasture decreases water consumption), and the activities a horse engages in, he or she typically drinks 10 to 15 gallons of water per day. It goes without saying that horses require year ’round, ready access to drinking water. However, if their water is contaminated with algae, feed debris, or other muck they won’t drink as much as they should, which can quickly lead to dehydration and colic. So keep that water clean. Here are some ways to do it.

• Buy a used tennis racquet at a yard sale or used-a-bit shop. To open frozen water tanks, break the ice with your boot or a heavy object (we keep an old axe by our water tank) and dip out pieces using the racquet.

• Use a kitchen strainer, a fish net, or the head end of a pool cleaner to remove leaves and other floating debris from your horse tank.

• Decomposing carcasses in drinking water can cause botulism and in horses, botulism is usually fatal, so immediately empty and thoroughly clean contaminated receptacles using a stiff brush or pressure washer and a cleaning solution made of 1 part unscented chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.

• To help prevent drownings, float short, thin pieces of wood on the surface of your horse tank. That way birds and beasts that fall into the water can get out again.

• When algae is a problem, dump the tank and scrub it using unscented chlorine bleach solution and a long-handled toilet brush or a milk tank cleaning brush from the farm store. Or use baking soda paste made by adding a small amount of water to baking soda (buy it economically in bulk at your feed store) to scrub buckets and horse tanks.

• A power washer makes tank cleaning a breeze. Don’t have one? Load the tank in the bed of your truck and haul it to the car wash.

• Clean off crusted-on algae with a stiff-bristled toilet bowl brush, a putty knife, or metal sweat scraper. It works!

• To cut down on cleaning, try to keep debris out of horse tanks (and if it gets there, skim it off as soon as you can). Don’t place horse tanks under trees in the fall and feed hay and grain in an area away from the horse tank, so horses don’t dribble grain or dunk hay while drinking.

• Many horse owners think bleach solution is too harsh to use for cleaning tanks. Not so, says the University of Minnesota, as long as it’s used in a responsible manner. In their bulletin, “Cleaning Water and Tanks”, Marcia Hathaway, PhD says, “Tanks can be emptied, scrubbed clean, rinsed with a 10 % bleach solution, rinsed twice more with water, and then refilled for immediate use. Alternatively, bleach can be added to existing water in a tank.” She goes on to say that horses shouldn’t drink the water for 1 hour after treatment and 2 hours if the water is cold (less than 50 degrees F.). Only unscented bleach should be used. The publication contains this guide to how much bleach can be safely added:

Gallons of water to disinfect/amount of bleach needed

1 gallon = 2 drops
5 gallons = 11 drops
50 gallons = 1 3/4 teaspoons
100 gallons = 3 1/2 teaspoons
500 gallons = 6 tablespoons

+Produces water with about 2 parts per million of chlorine+

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Reusing Feed Sacks

Nowadays most feed manufacturers and retailers prefer poly weave plastic feed sacks over paper feed sacks for many reasons. For instance, poly sacks reduce or eliminate the need for shrink wrap on a pallet of feed because they hold up better than paper sacks when exposed to rain or snow. Poly sacks also reduce the number of sacks broken during moving, thus saving a lot of wasted feed.

Farm folks have always reused paper feed sacks as garbage bags but today’s poly weave bags bring a host of new possibilities to the table. And face it: if you buy commercial feed, you probably generate a lot of feed sacks in the course of a year. Use them or share them with Freecyclers (www.freecycle.org). Don’t let this resource go to waste.

• Poly sacks are perfect for storing off-season horse clothing like sheets, blankets, and turnout rugs. After cleaning, simply fold each one, place it in a poly sack, and seal it with duct tape. Slap a piece of duct tape on one side and label it with a permanent marker. They’re also great for storing off-season clothing.

• Both paper and poly sacks are great to use as mulch between plants in the garden. Lay them down, pile on a little dirt to keep them from blowing away, and you’re done. Paper sacks without plastic liners decompose over time but poly bags won’t, so you’ll have to pick them up at season’s end.

• Feed sacks are perfect for picking up after dogs. A poly sack holds a lot of poop without breaking. If you have extra sacks, offer them to a dog rescue for just this purpose; rescue folks will be delighted.

• Going to a show or expo? Cut a hole in the center of the bottom of a poly feed sack and slip it down over your show clothes hangers to protect your fancy duds.

• Transporting your saddle pads in a poly sack makes sense too.

• In a pinch you can cut a moderate-size hole in the side of a poly sack, pack it with hay, and then hang it in your horse’s stall as a single-use hay feeder.

• Stuff some sections of hay in a poly sack if you need to take some on a trip. A partially-filled hay net will usually fit in a poly sack too.

• Here’s how to stuff a hay net with a minimum of fuss: place the sections of hay in a feed sack, place the net over the mouth of the sack, then upend the sack and pull it out of the hay net. So easy!

• If you’re at the barn and your child wants to play in the rain, cut head and arm holes in a poly sack and let her wear it as a pullover raincoat. At home, make coverall art smocks the same way.

• To protect pre-measured bucket rations, cut a large enough square from a poly sack to cover the top and at least 6 inches down the sides, then secure it with baling twine or a bungee cord.

• Be crafty. Wrap gifts for horsey friends using poly or paper feed sacks, using baling twine for ribbon.

• Insert your dog’s bed in a poly sack to keep it clean. Or stuff a poly sack with straw, shavings, sheep’s fleece, or a pillow to create a comfy, water-resistant dog bed. Dog rescues would be thrilled to be given a bunch of these beds. Ask!

• Make a warm bed for barn cats by placing a comfy blanket in a feed sack and laying it on its side.

• Muddy dog? Muddy you? Use cut-open feed sacks to protect your car or truck’s seats and floors.

• Show your horsey daughter how to make schoolbook covers using cut-open poly sacks; they’re so much cooler than brown paper grocery bags!

• Place a feed sack under your horse’s hooves when applying hoof black or any other messy substance.

• Make a saddle cover to protect your saddle by cutting open a poly sack and placing it over your saddle.

• Stuff a poly sack with crumpled-up poly bags, duct tape it shut, and give it to your horse as a toy.

• Use feed sacks for recycling bins at home or the barn.

• Winterize the inside of a drafty building by stapling poly sacks over cracks and holes.

• There are lots of uses for feed sacks at home. Cut them open to use as shelf liners, to protect floors while painting or staining, or as a table cover to ward off canning spills or messy art projects. Protect food that will be in your freezer for awhile by double-bagging it inside of a poly sack. Keep your fireplace or wood stove area tidy by storing burnable paper and kindling in a feed sack.

• Use a cut-open feed sack to create sewing patterns.

• Going camping? Sew a few poly sacks together to make a 3 ½ foot by 6 foot rectangle and use it as a ground cloth under your sleeping bag. Or make a 7 foot by 6 foot rectangle and fold it in half to form the underside and topside of a bedroll to protect you from moisture and wind.

• Use poly sacks to tote heavy loads of garden produce.

• Load a poly sack with manure from your stable, goat or sheep yard, llama pen, rabbit hutch, or chicken coop and give it to friends who garden.

• Grow a feed sack garden. Poke holes in the bottom of poly sacks and fill them part way with potting soil. Roll down the top. Plant peppers, carrots, or what have you, but potatoes grow especially well this way. And to harvest your potatoes, all you have to do is upend the sack. No digging, yay! For complete instructions do a Web search for grow potatoes in feed sacks.

• Use crumpled feed sacks for packing material when shipping packages.

• Make a party beverage cooler. Dump 2 bags of ice in a poly sack and semi-submerge beverages in ice to keep them cool.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Visit my Economical Horsekeeping blog to read and download more how-to items like this one.

Hay Alternatives

We live in northern Arkansas, an area often hard-hit by drought. Sometimes hay trucked in from other states is available, sometimes it isn’t. We’ve learned it’s easier and more economical to feed alternatives when long-stem, traditional hay brings astronomical prices.

• Bagged, dehydrated alfalfa or grass hay is usually packaged in 40-pound, plastic-wrapped squares of compressed, chopped hay. To prevent waste, pour enough water over the hay to dampen it. U.S. Alfalfa is the brand we’ve used. It’s good stuff.

• Bagged haylage such as Chaffhaye is semi-wilted grass or alfalfa dried to 55 % to 65 % dry matter as compared to 82 % to 85 % in hay. It’s compressed and sealed in extremely tough plastic wrapping. It’s important to remember that once bagged haylage is opened or the wrapping is accidentally broken, mold spores begin taking over, so after a few days (read the label for specifics), any uneaten feed should be discarded. Due to its palatability and ease of chewing, we feed Chaffhaye (and 14% protein goat pellets) to our toothless 31-year-old Standardbred, Snafu’s Choice.

Alfalfa pellets are fairly finely-ground hay mixed with binders and pressed into ¼ to ½ inch pellets. They’re economical because there’s no waste but they don’t provide enough roughage and should be fed with some long-stem hay.

• Hay cubes, also called range cubes, are made of rough-ground hay with enough binder to allow it to be pressed into cubes. They’re considerably bigger than alfalfa pellets, readily available, and can be used to partially or totally replace baled hay. However, horses sometimes choke on cubes; we’ve had it happen twice, so we don’t feed them any longer. If you use hay cubes, soak them for an hour or so before feeding to reduce them to mush.

• Complete feeds are commercial pelleted feeds formulated to provide both grain and hay in a single feeding. All major feed companies carry a variety of complete feeds for horses. While they sometimes (but not always) provide enough fiber to maintain gut health, horses tend to wolf them down so fast that their urge to chew isn’t met. So, they look for other ways to satisfy that urge like debarking trees or chewing up their stalls. This is neither a healthy situation nor an economical one, factoring in the cost of replacing chewed boards.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Give the Horse a Beer

“Fully one-half of the horses used by the brewers,” said a fat and ruddy driver of one of the big wagons, “are beer drinkers, and there are horses belonging to the company which will not leave the delivery yards without having had their bucket of beer in the morning and at lunch time. They have acquired a taste for the beverage, and they refuse to do their work until they have been supplied. Now, I say the horses acquired a taste for beer, but I guess I am wrong about that, for it is my candid opinion that horses love beer.

“Our horses fatten on beer, and it is a noticeable fact that the ones drinking the most beer keep in the best physical condition and can do the most hard driving. Drivers and horses are allowed a liberal supply of the fluid by the company, and I would go without my mugs before I would see my horses go thirsty.”
– American Carbonator and American Bottler; January 15, 1905.

A beer for your horse? Absolutely! We learned about the health-giving qualities of beer ten years ago when one of our goats got sick. He was off-color, mopey, with no appetite, so I posted about him to a sheep group that I moderated at the time. A Welsh member said, “Give him dark beer.” An elderly Welsh shepherdess turned them on to the digestive benefits of beer quite some time ago, with great results. So we gave our goat 2 beers, 1 in the morning and the other that evening. The next day he was eating again. Since then we’ve dosed sick sheep and goats with beer and we concur with that old Welsh shepherdess: beer works!

Then I started seeing references to beer in old-time horse books, mostly as an appetite booster but also as an all-around tonic. So I ran a Google search with surprising results.

• Horses don’t get drunk from drinking beer because their livers metabolize alcohol much faster than ours do. Also, a pint or so of beer is a comparative drop in the bucket given to a 1200 pound horse (feed less if you’re dosing a mini).

• Many leading racehorse trainers and competition riders in Ireland and Great Britain treat their charges to a pint of Guinness stout after races and competitions to revitalize them. They also feed it to stimulate picky eaters.

• Arkle, the great English Thoroughbred steeplechaser, enjoyed 2 pints of Guinness daily. His trainer used it to soak Arkle’s oats.

• The yeast in Guinness, Saccharomyces cervisia, is a component in better-quality probiotic supplements. Hops are used as a digestive aid and a treatment for intestinal ailments in traditional Chinese medicine; one of the phytochemicals in hops, quercitin, is a powerful, anti-inflammatory antioxidant. The malted barley in Guinness is a fine source of B-vitamins and of the minerals iron, copper, manganese, and selenium.

• Recommended amounts to feed on an ongoing basis, according to Guinness:
High performance horses: 12 ounces (1 bottle) once a day
Moderately active horses: ½ cup once a day
It can also be fed after a hard training session, after a competition, or during periods of high heat or high humidity.

• Trainers also feed a pint of dark beer a day to horses with anhydrosis (anhydrosis means they can’t sweat). If you suspect anydrosis, call your vet, don’t assume a beer will do the trick.

• Not sure how to introduce beer to your horse? You could try this ploy from The Simple Ailments of Horses; Their Nature and Treatment, W.F. (1882):
“Place a quart of ale in the bottom of a pail, then place a whole loaf, with the crust pared off, in the ale leaving the upper side dry. The horse eats the bread down to the beer, and eventually takes the whole, beer also; and will henceforth take kindly to the beer given alone. Beer and loaf is capital in long, tedious cases of extreme weakness, such as continued fevers.”

• In the olden days, folks dosed their horses using a specially made, very thick and strong, long-necked glass bottle. But don’t try to give your horse beer straight from any bottle unless you pad the neck really well and are very, very careful. To give him a taste you could syringe flat beer (fresh beer foams too much to draw into a syringe) into his mouth using a dose syringe or a 60cc or 120cc catheter-tip veterinary syringe. Once he’s tasted it and knows he likes it, he’ll drink it from a bowl or pail.

• Another good way to give your horse beer is in bran mash.
Mix together:
• 8 cups of bran
• 8 cups of oats
• a pinch of sea salt
• hot water
• 1 can of dark beer
Add enough water to thoroughly moisten the ingredients, add salt, mix and let the mixture steep until cool enough to feed.

• Dark beer is the preferred type of beer to give to animals for medicinal purposes. Dark ale is a British type beer combining hops, yeast, and a blend of malts; it’s a chestnut brown color, with a fruity smell and robust character. Stouts, like Guinness, are a type of porter. Stout means strong; enough said. Guinness, the favorite of Irish horse trainers, is made using water, barley, yeast, hops, and roasted malt; it’s the malt that gives stout its dark color. We gave our first sick goat extra-dark bock (German) beer because bock means buck, as in a goat buck. Being non-drinkers, we didn’t know what to choose, so ‘goat beer’ seemed just right. Whatever, it worked, so we’ve dosed using bock beer ever since.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Nose Bags 101

A working horse in London circa 1943 enjoys his meal from a bag

Nose bags, also known as nosebags, feedbags, and in the old American West, morales, have been in vogue for thousands of years, and for good reason. Nose bags made it possible for working draft, carriage, and military horses to eat on breaks with no fuss or muss; they eliminate food waste; and with feed bags, every horse in a group gets his fair share. They’ve come in every sort of configuration: flat envelope styles, deep leather cups, bulky cloth bags, baskets woven of cane or twigs, and cylindrical tubes tailored to fit a horse’s face. A recent Google search produced an image of a horse dining from a feed bag made of  a little over half of a basketball. Yes, really!

Today, traditional nose bags are made of heavy canvas or leather and secured to a horse’s head by an adjustable leather or nylon headpiece. You can still buy old-fashioned canvas nose bags from backcountry outfitter suppliers. A newer innovation is the nylon mesh nose bag, sometimes featuring a hard plastic bottom. These, as well as twill and canvas versions, can be purchased at some saddle shops and from horse supply catalogs. But they’re also easy to make, as you shall soon see.

A vintage leather nosebag

Whatever materials they’re made of, nose bags must be washable and built to last. Look inside of any nose bag you’re thinking of buying. Are the edges finished? If not, they’ll unravel when you wash the bag. Examine the headpiece. Is it easily adjustable? If not, is it sized for the horse you’ll use it on? Is the headstall made of sturdy material and is it well attached, but not so sturdy and well attached that it won’t break or rip away from the nose bag if your horse gets hooked on something?

Most important: where is the drain patch located? The drain patch is a perforated leather insert set low and to the center of all good nose bags. If the lower edge of a nose bag’s drain patch is set more than a few inches above the bottom of the bag or worse, there is no drain patch at all, don’t use it.

Courageous Dyan, my Thoroughbred mare, dining from a homemade nose bag

Horses can drown in nose bags. The drain patch helps a nose-bagged horse breathe easier but its main function is to let out water should the need arise. If your horse’s nostrils are situated lower than the drain holes, he’s in deep trouble if he dips his nose in a bucket or horse trough or stream or if he gets caught in a summer downpour. You’ll waste a little grain when it sifts through low-set holes but it’s better to sacrifice some grain than lose your horse.

A World War I cavalry nose bag

No nose-bagged horse should be left unsupervised. If you can’t keep constant watch, check on your horse every five minutes or so and never forget your horse is wearing a bag. Once they’ve finished eating, most horses try to drink, even horses wearing nose bags. And bags or no, once they’ve eaten, pastured horses drift out to “graze”. Besides drowning, an unsupervised horse can snag his nose bag on stall protrusions, trees, and bushes. And if his nose bag is too big for him, he can hook a foreleg inside of it while trying to graze.

And be careful what you feed in a nose bag. Ventilation is limited inside of a nose bag, so feeding dusty grain won’t do. And you don’t want him to aspirate tiny bits of grain, so unless you’re feeding a sweet feed formulated with liquid (not powdered) molasses, it’s wise to mix a little water or vegetable oil with your horse’s grain before bagging him.

This U.S. Forest Service envelope-style bag is similar to my DIY nose bags

If you feed messy additives like oils, expect to launder your nose bags often. Use mild soap to machine wash nose bags. Turn them inside out and stuff them in an old pillow case, knot the end of the pillow case, and drop it in the washer on warm. Hand washing works too. Turn the bag inside out and immerse it in a bucket of warm, slightly soapy water. Soak, slosh, and rinse thoroughly in two changes of warm, clear water. Gloss leather conditioner on your bag’s leather headpiece if it has one. Don’t machine-dry nose bags (some shrink); hang them on a clothesline, inside out.

Before bagging your horse for the first time make sure the nose bag fits him. If it’s too big, sooner or later he’ll get his foot inside. Measured from top to bottom, a properly sized nose bag is long enough to contain the amount of grain you normally feed plus 10-12” above it. And the top shouldn’t be so floppy that it sags around your horse’s face.

Know how to adjust your horse’s nose bag before you hang it on him. The top should come up to a few inches below his eyes. And don’t ratchet the headpiece up so short that your horse’s muzzle is buried in feed.

A Civil War era cavalry nose bag

For his first exposure to the nose bag, it’s best to confine your horse to a safe, semi-confined area. Remove your horse’s halter and show him there’s grain in the nose bag. Let him nibble some grain from the bag while you’re holding it. While he’s nibbling, quietly fasten the headpiece. With one hand on the headpiece and the other on his neck to reassure him, gently swivel his head back and forth a few times so he realizes the bag is hanging on his nose. Then stand back and let him get a feel for the thing. He might sling his head a bit and if he hoists it up too far, spill some grain in his face, but he’ll soon learn to drop the bag and eat from it as if he were eating off the ground. A few individuals panic. If yours does, catch him and remove the bag. For the next few feeds, hold the bag and let him eat from it that way. After three or four feedings, fasten the headpiece and try again.

Nose bags are especially useful for feeding sloppy eaters who waste a lot of grain and for feeding individual horses in a herd setting.

Two more vintage leather nose bags

Aggressive horses that mob a human carrying a bucket usually overlook one carrying a more easily concealed nose bag. If they don’t, at least they cut off their attack once the bag is on your horse’s head. Once bagged, a horse usually drifts to the edge of the pack and since the herd tyrants can’t see or reach his grain, he’s usually left in peace.

 Some horses, especially youngsters, nibble and tug at another horse’s nose bag. If they do, bag ‘em. A handful of grain will keep interlopers occupied for awhile and when it’s gone, their own nose bags prevent them worrying at another’s.

Horses used to eating from nose bags usually drop their heads down low so you can easily slip the bag in place. Don’t, however, ever lean across your horse’s head while bagging him up. If his head shoots up for any reason his bony poll can break your nose. Ask me how I know. It hurts.

The bags at the right are made using heavy-duty fabric tote bags; the one at the left is fashioned from an upper leg portion of a pair of denim jeans

DIY Nose Bags

For each nose bag you’ll need:

  • A heavy-duty cotton or cotton-blend tote bag – denim is a good choice. Nylon will work too.
  • A sturdy leather, nylon, or heavy cotton belt 3/4 to 1” wide and long enough to pass from the near side of the nose bag, up across the top of your horse’s head, and down to the bag’s off side (you’ll need a 36-38” belt or strap for an average horse, shorter for a youngster or a pony). Adjustable straps from backpacks also work really well.
  • A 3 x 5” piece of scrap leather. Heavy deer or elk hide is ideal but a thrift shop purse or worn out boot yields excellent leather too.
  • Strong thread or cord. Button thread (but double it while sewing), waxed dental floss, linen cord from an Awl-for-All, and artificial sinew (get it from a leathercraft store like Tandy Leather or at Amazon) all perform equally well.      
  • A needle. A #4 glover’s needle is best, but any sharp needle with an eye big enough to accommodate the thread you’re using will work almost as well.
  • A standard revolving leather punch.
  • A ballpoint pen. (Optional: a scratch awl or extra sharp nail)
  • Sharp, sturdy scissors. Leather shears work best.

Step 1

I should have used a larger tube to punch the central holes

Draw a nose bag drain patch based on the one in the illustration; cut out this paper template.

Trace the template’s outline onto your scrap of leather and cut out the leather drain patch.

Place the paper template over the leather drain patch and poke a ballpoint pen (or the tip of a sharp awl or nail) through the exact center of each drain hole, marking the leather beneath.

Use your leather punch’s largest tube to punch them out (I didn’t do that with the drain patch in the illustration – my mistake). Then, using the smallest tube, punch sewing holes about 1/8” apart around the drain patch’s perimeter. A scrap of leather held under the drain patch while you punch will result in cleaner holes. Set aside the drain patch for now.

Step 2

Cut your belt or strap in two approximately 5” from its buckle (if it’s an adjustable strap, be sure the adjustment is on its longer segment). Hold the cut end of the 5” piece of belt in place 1-2” down on the inside of the left side of your nose bag.

Sew it in place using a short, tight back stitch. Make several passes. Now do the same with the longer section of belt on the opposite side of your bag.

Carefully snip away the fabric from behind the drain patch, leaving a decent margin at the edges

Step 3

Position the leather drain patch just above the front bottom seam of your nose bag (it can be set vertically or horizontally). Temporarily secure it at its sides, top, and bottom by sewing down through one perimeter hole at each location and up through its neighbor, then loosely knotting that stitch in place.

Sew the drain patch in place using a back stitch through its perimeter holes, then remove any temporary stitches.

A basket nose bag – I’m going to make one!

Turn your finished nose bag inside out and, leaving a 1/2” fabric allowance between the stitching and the hole you’re making, snip away both layers fabric covering the drain patch’s central drain holes. Don’t omit this step.

Turn your nose bag right side out and—it’s finished!

I’ve noticed attractive wickerwork nose bags in vintage photos and wonder how that might work? I’m watching for the perfect, heavy-duty basket as part of my yard sale and thrift shop forays and when I find one, I’ll experiment. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you updated.

Fish in the Horse Tank

Some folks put fish in their horse tanks to keep algae at bay. Does it work? Sometimes. The trick is in buying the right fish and setting up an environment where they can thrive.

Goldfish are the logical choice. They’re readily available, inexpensive, and stocked correctly, just a few cut down on algae growth, big time. You’ll still have to clean the tank from time to time, but in most cases, not often.

*Goldfish live off of the algae growing on water tank walls and on mosquito larvae, insects, and feed debris that your horses dribble into the water. They also eat their own eggs. You shouldn’t feed them.

*If possible, buy goldfish from a store that sells fish for landscaping pools and water features. They’re hardier because they’re bred for this purpose. If you buy from a pet store, carefully check out the aquarium they’re in. Is everyone swimming around? Don’t buy if some of the fish are sluggish.

*Don’t overstock your tank. A few fish will die within the first few days or so, so you want extras, but plan on 2 surviving fish per 50 gallons. Don’t be concerned that the fish are small. Goldfish grow quickly and in proportion to the container they’re housed in. They’ll be big fish before you know it.

*Float the bag they come in, in your tank 8 hours or overnight to acclimate them to the water temperature. Release the fish the next day by tearing a hole in the bag, so they can swim on out.

*If your fish are up to the task, they’ll keep the water clear and the sides of the tank algae-free. However, sediment will build up on the bottom, necessitating occasional cleaning.

*Check the tank often, removing dead fish, leaves, hay, and similar debris.

*When cleaning the tank or refilling it if the water level has fallen to half full or less, remove the fish and place them in a bucket half filled with old tank water. Fill the bucket to the top with new water and give the fish 15 minutes to acclimate to that before releasing them back into the renewed tank.

*Place a few rocks in the tank and pile them up to provide a grotto for the fish, so they can hide from bright sunlight and potential predators.

*In mild climates the fish can overwinter in the tank if you bury the bottom 4 to 6 inches of the tank in the ground. Otherwise, install a tank heater.

*Goldfish also keep your horse tank free of mosquito larvae. Female mosquitoes lay about 100 to 300 eggs at a time. Eggs float on the surface of the water for about 48 hours before hatching into larvae. Unless something eats them, they live in the tank from 4 to 10 days, depending on species, before changing into a tiny pupa that floats on the water. Roughly 2 days they hatch into adult mosquitoes. Fish break that cycle. Go, fish!

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver