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Hay Steamers


The Problem
Mould and fungal spores cause respiratory and problems

Horses are particularly sensitive to dust from mould spores which in the early stages may just show itself as a light cough which develops then disappears as the horse works. In the racing industry where horses are scoped regularly this is often diagnosed as Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD).

As the allergy progresses it can cause a permanent respiratory disease called Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), commonly referred to as heaves. A horse with RAO will not necessarily appear ill, with no temperature or loss of appetite but will have a decreased exercise tolerance, coughing and nasal discharge. Laboured breathing may be experienced during exercise and in acute cases at rest.

It would appear that some horses are very allergic to mould spores including Aspergillus, seen pictured on the left, while in others the effects and clinical signs are minimal. However, they all breath in these mould spores from dry hay which is detrimental to the health of the horse. In addition some moulds, in the right conditions will produce mycotoxins, the effects not only challenge the respiratory system but induce digestive problems and may alter the nutritional value of the hay.

In the early stages of a respiratory condition a horse will only have mild signs of exercise intolerance, a show jumper may knock down more poles, a dressage horse may show a reluctance to carry itself so can be difficult to identify until the disease has progressed to show clinical signs.

Who else is affected?

Its not only your horse that is affected, Perennial Rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever can be triggered by these spores and Farmer's Lung is also caused by mouldy crops including hay.

Where do these spores come from?

Problems associated with hay making particularly in the UK climate causes dust in hay from several sources, leaf shatter and soil can contaminate the hay during production and mesophilic and thermophilic mould spores can develop during production and storage.

What are the traditional ways to counter act these spores?

One option is to soak the hay but this is time consuming, laborious, uses large quantities of water, leaches out a lot of the nutrients and as a result is classified as an environmental pollutant.

Another option is to feed haylage but there are many problems associated with quality control during production, how it is stored, how quickly it is used once open and the mis-feeding of it. In addition, there is an argument that horses fed haylage stand for longer periods of time with no forage and as a result can develop stable vices and potentially gastric ulcers.