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Maintaining horse welfare through dry times

Horse owners have a responsibility to ensure appropriate care and welfare during dry times and drought when feed and water resources are in short supply.

Dry times result from periods of lower rainfall and are not usually as severe or prolonged as drought. During the cooler months, the amount and quality of feed available in the paddock can decline rapidly.

You should plan and evaluate your capacity to feed your horses ahead of dry periods so relief measures can be implemented quickly. You should seek help early if caring for your horse becomes challenging.

Be prepared for good horse welfare outcomes

Evaluate

  • Understand your circumstances including seasonal conditions, feed and fodder availability.
  • Know your options to agist, lease, sell or euthanase your horses if you can no longer care for them.
  • Seek help and advice if necessary.

Act early

  • Be prepared. Complete the checklist to assess how prepared you are for dry times and drought.
  • Develop and implement strategies for times of insufficient food and water.
  • Research your agistment options and plan for transport.
  • Develop plans to lease, sell or euthanase your horses when you can no longer care for them.
  • Review your budget. Work with your bank, accountant or financial planner to prepare yourself financially.

Know your obligations

  • You have a legal duty of care for the welfare of your horses under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 .

Seek help

  • We are committed to working with you to ensure you can access the right help and advice to manage horse welfare during dry times. A range of support resources are outlined below.

Supplying feed and water

The amount of feed and water needed to maintain a horse will vary under different circumstances and depends on:

  • sex
  • breed
  • age
  • factors such as pregnancy or lactation
  • environment
  • activity level.

You can monitor your animal’s state of welfare by:

  • demeanour – the animal is alert and responsive to its environment and behaves and interacts as expected
  • body condition – monitoring body condition scores can assist in decisions about whether horses need more food
  • gait – the animal moves freely without swaying, stumbling or limping (lameness)
  • mares with a foal-at foot produce sufficient milk to sustain the foal and maintain good body condition during lactation.

You should consider the availability and type of fodder and seasonal conditions to decide the amount of feed and water your horse needs.

A horse will drink between 25 to 50 litres of clean fresh water a day depending on temperature and the moisture content of the feed. If horses become dehydrated, they are more susceptible to developing colic. Shade should also be available.

Read more about calculating feed for horses. If you believe you will struggle to afford supplementary feed or water, you need to consider your options to ensure the welfare of the horse.

Monitoring your animals

If your horse has a sub-optimal body condition score it is important to implement actions such as moving the horse to a paddock with sufficient pasture or supplementary feeding early. Monitor the condition of your horse and if they are not responding consult your veterinarian as underlying conditions such as dental issues, worms or disease may be contributing. Your veterinarian can also provide advice on the nutritional requirements of your horse.

Feed or sell

If you cannot provide sufficient feed and/or water, horses should be moved, agisted, leased or sold on to a place where sufficient feed and water is available.

Horse owners or managers should act early while horses are fit and strong, as delays reduce the number of options available. If all other options have been exhausted euthanasia should be considered. Any decisions must be humane and reasonable.

Animal welfare complaints

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries receives and manages complaints relating to animal welfare. When a complaint is received, it is assessed and if required, one of our experienced inspectors will investigate under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001.

Inspectors work with the owner of the horse to determine if the duty of care has been met. If someone fails to meet their duty of care, we will act to ensure good animal welfare outcomes through a range of actions, including:

  • education or verbal advice
  • written warnings
  • animal welfare direction
  • seizure or forfeiture of an animal to remove it from harm.

Serious offences may proceed to court.

Financial and wellbeing assistance for horse owners

If you are living in a drought-affected rural and remote area, community support and assistance is available through the Drought and Farmer Assistance Hotline on 13 23 16, Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm.

Financial and wellbeing support is also available through: