Eating like a horse

Pretty quiet Sunday on Mr Ed’s Farm. Too cold to do much more than the usual chores. The animals are adjusting just fine. The new chicken coop is holding around 40 degrees, a big improvement over the old one. It’s pretty amazing how much heat the feathered fowl can give off.

The horses have been, well “eating like horses”, consuming large amounts of hay. Horses have a rather simple digestive system with one stomach as compared to the calves who have four. Horses need to eat a lot of roughage as they heat from the inside out. The hay, mixed with saliva, ferments in the horse’s intestines and generates heat. In the old days, farmers turned the horses into the straw pile during the winter. Straw has less nutritional value than hay but provided the needed roughage

Horses like to move around in really cold weather. It facilitates circulation, especially in their legs. A horse that goes down for even a short period of time when it is real cold, can get in trouble in a hurry.

Logging horses, that worked every day, required a daily ration of grain to provide energy in addition to generous amounts of hay. The rule of thumb was a quart of oats for every 100 pounds of horse. Generally the teams got grain three times a day with the largest portion given in the morning.

Logging camp barns were not heated. In fact old photos show spaces left between the logs in the walls with vents built into the ceilings. The heat generated by the horses rose up and out. The cracks in the walls brought in the fresh air the horses needed to stay healthy. Horses kept in moist, unventilated barns are more likely to suffer from respiratory problems.

Logging camp barns had wood planking on the floors. The horses had corked shoes that would have become clogged with frozen mud if they had to stand in dirt. The horses stood in tie stalls, not in corrals or loose housing to minimize the risk of injury from kicks and stepping on each other.

The majority of horses used in the camps were rented from farmers. They were only needed for the winter so it was more economical to rent them by the month rather than feed them all year. Farmers could rent out their extra horses during the winter for cash when they would have otherwise been idle. The teams came home in time for spring planting. Most camp horses were geldings between 6-12 years old.

Chet Mann once told me the best color of horse was fat. I think he was talking about retail appeal. If your looking to sell a horse, fatten and shine them up. If your buying one, look for horses that are muscled up from working. You can almost always fatten them up if your concerned about “color”.

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A team of grade grey percheron logging horses.

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