Last fall, I had a strange thing begin. One of my mares began to cough. No big deal right? I started some Respiratory Distress from For Love of the Horse. It helped a bit, but she was still coughing, not constantly, but more than just intermittently, more than I was comfortable with, more than just your normal “something went down wrong” cough. Then, I started the Heaves formula. It still didn’t go away completely, but then my second mare started to cough.
This is where it got strange. I moved my first mare off of the property and she stopped coughing, but my other horse was getting worse by the minute, it seemed. She would cough so hard that her nostrils were flaring and her respiratory rate would increase dramatically. She was definitely breathing like she had Heaves, but for two of my horses to have developed Heaves? Not very likely at all.
They had been eating the same hay since the prior year, so that hadn’t changed. They are all fed a mash soaked just prior to feeding, so it wasn’t that. My third mare wasn’t coughing at all, but she has been on a maintenance dose of Total Immune Health for a year. I did note that when I fed my girls square bales in a different feeder, the coughing would subside a bit. I thought maybe it was the hay net that I had on the round bales. Could this have produced a mold or bacteria over time from their saliva and/or the weather? We took the net off of the next round bale, and the cough was better, but still there. It just wasn’t making any sense. I got a new hay net and tried that, they were still coughing.
Then it hit me.
In all of the years I have been feeding round bales, they have always been stored outside, uncovered. The horses will eat all but the outside (about 2 inches) layer. The one thing that had changed was that in trying to preserve that 2 inches of outer layer, we had begun to put tarps over the hay bales to keep them dry when it rained or snowed. I wondered if this was the problem; that somehow, the bales had developed a mold or something due to the small amount of moisture that would be “trapped” between the hay and the tarp, or maybe the tarp had “leached” a chemical into the hay bales.
Since then, I’ve fed only the square bales and my horses have not coughed one time. I will be uncovering the last two bales that are tarped and not covering any more of the new bales. It must be the tarp, as every other source has been eliminated.
Horses will keep us on our toes and keep us guessing for sure! It seems to always be something! They make sure that we always keep learning.