Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turnout Time's Impact on Grass Consumption and Fecal pH

Many a horse or pony owner have restricted their overweight equid's turnout time in an effort to help him shed pounds. And while researchers know weight loss helps improve horses' overall health, until now they haven't known exactly what impact restricted grazing has on the equine gastrointestinal health or calorie intake. A group of North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers recently set out to determine if restricted pasture access affected horses' intake rate, energy intake, and hindgut fermentation.
The research team, led by Paul D. Siciliano, PhD, associate professor in the NCSU Department of Animal Science, separated eight mature idle geldings into four groups and allowed each group pasture access for either 3, 6, 9, or 24 hours for seven days. After seven days, the team reassigned the groups to a different turnout treatment on an ungrazed pasture. By the end of the four-period study, each horse had been subjected to each pasture treatment. When not on pasture, the horses stayed in drylot pens with access to water and salt; horses in the three- and six-hour treatment groups had free-choice access to a low-quality grass hay. Throughout the study, the team recorded the amount of hay consumed and collected fecal samples from each horse on each Day 7.
The team also measured or estimated pasture plant composition, herbage mass (used to quantify pasture available to an animal), grazing height, and forage preference for each period. Pasture composition consisted of 54.7% crabgrass, 28.3% tall fescue, 8.2% fox tail, 1.14% dallisgrass, 0.86% weeds, and 6.6% bare ground. They noted no difference in digestible energy concentrations (DE) or initial herbage mass for each pasture. However, less pasture was available during periods 2 and 3 compared to 1 and 4.
Key study findings included:
  • Horses' total daily dry matter (DM) intake (pasture plus hay, if hay was provided) was not affected by length of turnout time. In other words, horses consumed the same amount regardless of the amount of time they were allowed to graze.
  • The team found the highest total daily DM intake—which equaled 1.4% of body weight (BW)—in horses on pasture for 24 hours, which is less than the 2-3% BW previous research suggested. Siciliano and colleagues suggested the lower DM intake in their study could be due to high temperatures seen during portions of the research: High temperatures have been shown to decrease forage intake in horses up to 15-20%.
  • Pasture DM intake, total DM intake, and pasture DM intake rate were higher in periods 1 and 4 compared to 2 and 3, which correlates to the amount of pasture available during those periods.
  • Pasture DM intake rate increased with restricted grazing. Horses grazing for only 3 hours had a higher intake rate compared to horses grazing for 9 and 24 hours, and horses grazing for 6 hours had a higher consumption rate than horses on pasture for 24 hours.
The researchers also learned that horses' fecal pH—which is both influenced by diet and used as an indicator of hindgut pH—decreased as time on pasture decreased; an acidic environment in the hindgut (termed hindgut acidosis) can lead to colic and other health concerns. This showed the team that length of time on pasture affected hindgut microbial fermentation. The authors believed the increase in rate of pasture intake could have played a role in the lower fecal pH, especially when the horses consumed high-quality pasture. However, they stressed, all fecal pH values were within the range considered to be normal.
Average DE intake was greatest when horses were on pasture for 24 hours, but total DE intake did not differ between treatments. During periods 1 and 4, average and total DE intake was greater than periods 2 and 3. The horses consumed 40%, 66%, 67%, and 94% of their total DE requirements with 3, 6, 9, and 24 hours of pasture access, respectively, which indicates that horses increase their rate of consumption with decreased time on pasture.
The team concluded that their findings support the belief that reduced time on pasture increases consumption rate and decreases fecal pH in horses.
“Simply reducing the time a horse spends at pasture may not always be an effective means of decreasing caloric intake,” said Siciliano.
The team noted that more work is needed to develop methods to accurately predict pasture intake of horses grazing for periods less than 24 hours, which could be of great value in preventing or managing obesity in the future.
The study, "Effect of Restricted Pasture Access on Pasture Dry Matter Intake Rate, Dietary Energy Intake, and Fecal pH in Horses," appeared in June in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science

Fair Season begins next week!

Fair season around the area is rapidly approaching.  I am not sure many people fully understand just how important of a role that the fair plays in our communities. In many local communities it is the only time of the year that everyone in the county comes out to see the sights, visit with friends and to work as a team for the community.  People that may not even speak to each other during the year work side by side to collect gate receipts, work the food booth, or serve as office staff.  Yes, even more so than for the Friday night football games or Saturday Soccer extravaganzas the community comes together at the fair.  Quite often, people living in surrounding counties or towns can’t tell you where the county seat or the local high school is but they can tell you where the fairground’s is located.

For many children, it is the highlight of the summer – for some a stage or a place to share a year’s worth of work. Many times it is the family’s vacation and it is a lot less expensive than a trip to the beach or Busch Gardens. Of course, there were the ribbons and trophies, but looking back, the water fights at the water rack and the conversations with friends and learning to be a humble winner and a gracious participant were just as important.

Then there are the fantastic stories that everyone continues to share:

• The time the exhibitors parents banded together to purchase a project animal for $35 per lb. to support a family who had recently experienced a tragedy.

• Memories of that night after the big concert where you saw your son or daughter holding “the one” close and stealing a kiss just before their parent arrived to take them home.

• The first time various people sat in the local dunking booth for charity and suddenly realized their friends were buying tickets for the local star pitcher continuously keep them under water.

• The quiet kid who stole the local “talent” show while proving to the community they could really sing.

• The hard working youth winning that champion steer or lamb banner that, even though it’s now faded and frayed, brings back a sense of pride and still hangs as a reminded of accomplishment in her room.

• The taste of chicken barbeque, corndogs, fried Oreo’s or pie from the ladies of the church booth.

Fair week can be a test of stamina for kids and patience for the families and volunteers operating on about five hours of sleep during fair week only to be bright and smiling for the judge at the next event or the crowd at the next event. 

Take time to visit the fair, take in the sights, create memories, support and strengthen your community.    

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 18, 2013 Field Tour/Twilight Meeting at the Virginia Tech Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research

Don’t forget; the Virginia Tech Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center Field Tour and Twilight Meeting will be held next Thursday, July 18, 2013. The tour will begin at 2:30 p.m. (meet at the main building); the catered supper and seasonal updates will begin at 5:30 p.m. (equipment shed).


If you plan to attend, please email Mark Sutphin at or call 540.665.5699 before noon on Monday, July 15th , so we will have enough food for everyone’s supper.

DCP Program notes

Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program (DCP) Sign-up Closes August 2nd

Producers are encouraged to sign up for the Direct and Counter-cyclical program (DCP) before the Aug. 2, 2013, deadline. 
The 2013 DCP and ACRE program provisions are unchanged from 2012, except that all eligible participants in 2013 had the option to enroll in either DCP or ACRE for the 2013 crop year.  This means that eligible producers who were enrolled in ACRE in 2012 had the opportunity to re-enroll in ACRE for 2013 before the June 3, 2013 deadline or they can still enroll in DCP through August 2, 2013.  
Eligible DCP participants receive a direct payment and/or a counter-cyclical payment. Direct payment rates are established by statute regardless of market prices. Counter-cyclical payments vary depending on market prices, and are issued only when the effective price for a commodity is below its target price (which takes into account the direct payment rate, market price and loan rate).
Producers who wish to enroll in DCP are encouraged to schedule an appointment with their local FSA Office as soon as possible.