Keeping the whole herd healthy sometimes means extra work.
When your horse returns home from a show, isolation is best for complete safety of your horses. However, it’s an expensive and labor-intensive solution, says Dr. Joe K. Noble, resident veterinarian at Oklahoma’s Lazy E Ranch.
“Isolation facilities are much more expensive, because you have to have them dedicated for isolating horses from the rest of your herd,” he says. “All of the workers around them are isolated from the other aspects of your herd, too, so those workers have to disinfect themselves before they go into the rest of the facility to work with the rest of the herd.”
Irmgard Geul of Nedpoint Quarter Horses in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, offers isolation and quarantine facilities for horses being imported to and exported from the United States.
She knows about the labor that goes into keeping horses safe from disease. To remain USDA-certified, she has to be able to keep feed, water and manure for each animal separate for each animal, and each horse has to be 30 feet apart from the others.
She requires testing for disease before a horse arrives at her facility, and she tests again when the horse arrives. Before each group of horses arrives, she completely steam-cleans each stall with a high-pressure steamer that reaches the boiling point.
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“Bacteria will die in a high temperature,” she says. “As soon as a group goes out, we steam-clean our stalls and mats and everything. We have rubber mats, and we have buckets you can replace and feeders you can replace, and we steam-clean it all.
“In our experience, that’s the only thing that kills bacteria.”
A professional steam-cleaning machine like Irmgard’s will set you back about $2,500, so it’s not a light investment, and it doesn’t travel on the road with her when she exhibits her own horses. When on the road, she uses bleach.
“My recommendation is just bleach everything, always,” she says.
She also recommends that owners be careful about shipping.
“People have to be aware of what can happen if you put a horse on a combination load,” she says. “Be sure they don’t have their noses together and the hauler disinfects the trailer.”
Check the bottoms of your barn boots. Any mud there? If so, you can spread disease among your own herd just by walking around. That’s because disease hangs out in organic matter, including dirt or manure.
“You can have manure forks that are contaminated, or you can have people’s shoes or boots that are contaminated,” Dr. Noble says. “If people get infectious material on their clothing or coveralls, they can come in contact with another horse that nuzzles up against that or happens to lick that.”
Or you might rub some of that material off into a grain bucket or onto a feed scoop. It’s something to be aware of but not concerned about, he says.
“That’s only important with the most infectious disease,” Dr. Noble says. “Probably the transmitting of disease occurs more from horse to horse than it does from horse to human to horse.”
Still, if you have horses in quarantine, he recommends that you tend them last, so that you don’t go back into your regular herd after you’ve fed and watered your quarantined horse.
On the road, you can take precautions to keep your horse safe.
“More and more of my high-end performance horse clients are going in and pre-disinfecting their stalls before big events,” he says. “I am surprised each year with the increased number … even though it’s an added hassle that takes more manpower and expense.”
Soap and water are key to the disinfecting process, Dr. Noble says.
“Use soap and water to remove the organic material and then use the proper disinfectant to sterilize all the surfaces that the horse is going to come in contact with,” he says. “Then, when possible, allow the area to dry completely, because one of the best disinfectants is dryness. If you just remove organic material and allow an area to dry thoroughly, that’s an adequate way to disinfect that area.
“Certainly, it’s not 100 percent, but it’s a very, very good way to decrease bacterial and viral contamination. The next step is to apply the proper disinfectants, and they will apply them more than once.
“It’s something you need to be aware of but not obsessed with. It’s only important with the most infectious of diseases. If you’re working around a sick horse, just be cautious.”
It’s a lot of work, but worth it for valuable animals, Dr. Noble says. Or even just for animals you value.
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