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Safety Concerns: Introducing To New Herd, New Feed

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Hi Julie,

I am going to be moving my quarter horse mare (4 yr old) from a stall barn to a 3 acre pasture with 2 other mares who are 3 and 5. I was wondering if I should be thinking about how to introduce her to the other 2 horses or should I let them work it out? Also, she has been fed 2x per day on a dry grass/alfalfa mix and now she will have real green grass to eat (although the pasture is fairly sparse), should I be concerned about her diet change? They will still feed 2x per day grass hay, as the pasture is fairly bare.

One more question, I am going to get her shots done (west Nile and 3 way) 2 days after I move her. Will the stress of the move and food change have any effects on the shots?

Thank you so much for your help. I love reading your website and saw you at the horse expo in Denver last March. Very impressive!

Answer: Introducing horses to a new herd always comes with a risk that a horse might be injured while they sort out the new pecking order. Whenever possible, the horses should be introduced gradually by putting them in adjacent pens where they can first get to know each other over the fence (make sure it is a safe fence).

Another way to handle this is to put the new horse with one of the other horses, let them get to know each other, then introduce another, and so on until everyone is acquainted. Of course, you do not always have options and most of the time, when you put a new horse in, there is a little bit of a ruckus then things settle down. If there is one or more horse in the group that is very aggressive, dominant or a bully, then be very careful and supervise the introductions so that if things get out of hand, you can disrupt the herd and separate the horses (only expert hands should do this as it can be very dangerous).

Be very careful putting any horse onto green pasture and always introduce them slowly. This sudden change in diet from very bland dry hay to rich green grass can cause both digestive upset and grass founder (laminitis). It doesn’t sound like your pasture is very lush, so it may not be a problem at all. If they have to work fairly hard to get the grass, it is probably not going to cause a problem. If they are still feeding the horses a full ration, there is probably not enough grass there for the horse to get sick on. Still, anytime a horse’s feed is changed, it should be done gradually over a week or two and the horse should be watched closely during that time for any signs of sickness.

As for the inoculations, I try not to vaccinate horses during any time that they may be hot and bothered or upset. Chances are slim that the vaccine would cause a problem, but why risk it? Sometimes horses will feel a little off after inoculations, so why add to their grief? I don’t think two days later is an issue, but I wouldn’t do it at the same time you are introducing her to the herd. It has been said that it is best not to give West Nile at the same time as other inoculations, if it can be avoided. If your vet is coming out to give the shots, then she will probably give them all at the same time because it is not a big enough issue for her to make another trip. As always when you inoculate, make a note of where the shot was given and when (i.e., 5/5/05 WNV left hip) so that if the horse later develops any problems, you have the info you need. Also, whenever horses are inoculated, there should be a shot of epinephrine on hand in case a horse has an anaphylactic reaction to a shot. Finally, inter-nasal strangles vaccine should never be given on the same day as shots are given to the horse because the risk of the horse blowing out the vaccine onto his body or another horse’s body, and then the vaccine being injected into him with another shot and getting an abscess, is too high.

I hope your transition to a new facility goes smoothly.


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