Equine Metabolic Disease along with Equine Autoimmune Disease and evident parasite burdens are on the increase and becoming an epidemic in our equine populations worldwide, not to mention all other species of domesticated animals.
I examine just a few of these in this article and the strong correlation and possible connection to our land and the loss of soil Biodiversity. There is so much irrefutable scientific evidence that our planet is polluted from the overuse of chemicals and pesticides on the land. What significance does this have and what are the consequences for the health and wellbeing of our animals, not to mention ourselves?
How do we begin to fully understand the moving parts of this Ecosystem?
Soil biodiversity is one of the richest, most complex biological communities on earth – it is home to a larger share of biodiversity and genetic diversity than tropical forests. This publication aims to raise awareness of the critical importance of soil and soil biodiversity. In addition, it highlights some good practice land management techniques that can be adopted to support the generation and regeneration of healthy soil.
Healthy soil depends on the vibrant range of life that lives below the ground, from bacteria and fungi to tiny insects, earthworms and moles. Together, this rich biodiversity brings immeasurable benefits for life on Earth. These include recycling nutrients and enhancing plant health, storing and purifying water, providing antibiotics and preventing erosion, and even mitigating climate change. And although these benefits are largely invisible to us, we benefit from them more than we could ever know. They are of vital importance to our world.
The diversity of our soils is shown by the wonderful range of biodiversity on display above ground. This means that if we do not care for soil, we put even greater strain on our biodiversity, and ultimately on our own sustainability. Colourful images of endangered birds and butterflies call for our attention, but what of the ‘bugs’ and bacteria that inhabit our soil; do earthworms, springtails, soil mites and microbes enjoy the same level of attention?
Their diminutive nature and underground existence keeps them out of sight and out of mind; their other-worldly appearance, their crawling, squirming and gnawing conspire to render them unattractive; but what they lack in size and beauty, they make up for in numbers and worth. The mites, lice and bacteria that inhabit the world beneath our feet are vital for maintaining balanced ecosystems and agricultural production – quite simply, we could not live without them.
A fertile soil provides the nutrients for the food we consume; its organisms form the base of the food chain for many carnivorous and herbivorous insects, birds and mammals. Soil acts like a sponge to soak up water and reduce the risk of floods; it acts as a sink for carbon dioxide and other gases and so contributes to the regulation of our climate. Exploitation of healthy soil has allowed our populations to grow and enjoy improvements in health and wellbeing. However, the cultivation of food, feed and fibre can damage soil quality and reduce its capacity to provide agricultural and other ecosystem services. Our reliance on soil and soil organisms affects a use of these natural resources that is potentially unsustainable.
Agriculture has an acknowledged impact on the health of soil and soil organisms; fortunately, research has fostered the development of technologically advanced soil-friendly agricultural practices which can in fact enhance the natural engineering processes that take place within soil. Appropriate land management can allow the sustainable coexistence of agriculture and biodiversity – including soil biodiversity. Soils will benefit from a wider uptake of soil-friendly management practices, and whilst this is something that can be regulated at a national, regional or local level, a broader soil protection strategy could provide the framework for improving the overall standards of soil management. If we understand the value of soil, we have incentive for its protection; if we are aware of good agricultural practices, we have guidance for its sustainable use.
There are many ways in which we can accomplish the protection our soil biodiversity and this magnificent ecosystem, and make necessary changes in how we nurture the land by giving it back the nutrients it requires to sustain our present day agricultural requirements. All of which are vital, so that farmers and land managers, may continue to provide us with the wide variety of nutritious food and the living countryside that we enjoy today.
Humus is the name given to the stable end product of the microbial break-down of plant and animal residues in the soil. It occurs in different types, depending on humidity and temperature, in various degradation stages, in forms of mixtures with mineral components and a variability of living soil organisms. Humus can hold 3-5 times its own weight in moisture, it therefore increases a soil’s capacity to withstand drought conditions.
It takes somewhere between 100 and 300 years for 1cm of humus to develop in top soil. Humus is dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decays.When plants drop leaves, twigs, and other material to the ground, it piles up. This material is called leaf litter. When animals die, their remains add to the litter. Over time, all this litter decomposes. This means it decays, or breaks down, into its most basic chemical elements. Many of these chemicals are important nutrients for the soil and organisms that depend on soil for life, such as plants.The thick brown or black substance that remains after most of the organic litter has decomposed is called humus. Earthworms often help mix humus with minerals in the soil.
Humus contains many useful nutrients for healthy soil. One of the most important is nitrogen. Nitrogen is a key nutrient for most plants. Agriculture depends on nitrogen and other nutrients found in humus. Some experts think humus makes soil more fertile. Others say humus helps prevent disease in plants and food crops. When humus is in soil, the soil will crumble. Air and water move easily through the loose soil, and oxygen can reach the roots of plants.
“Humus is therefore “Vital for Life” and if Humus goes then so do we”
Salinity, toxicity and extremes in soil pH (acid or alkaline) result in poor biomass production and, thus in reduced additions of organic matter to the soil. For example, pH affects humus formation in two ways: decomposition, and biomass production. In strongly acid or highly alkaline soils, the growing conditions for micro-organisms are poor, resulting in low levels of biological oxidation of organic matter (Primavesi, 1984). Soil acidity also influences the availability of plant nutrients and thus regulates indirectly biomass production and the available food for soil biota. Fungi are less sensitive than bacteria to acid soil conditions.
The Power of Photosynthesis:
In the miracle of photosynthesis, a process that takes place in the chloroplasts of green leaves, carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and water (H2O) from the soil, are combined to capture light energy and transform it to biochemical energy in the form of simple sugars. These simple sugars – commonly referred to as ‘photosynthate’ – are the building blocks for life in and on the earth. Plants transform sugar to a great diversity of other carbon compounds, including starches, proteins, organic acids, cellulose, lignin, waxes and oils.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains are ‘packaged sunlight’ derived from photosynthesis. The oxygen in our cells and the cells of other living things utilise during aerobic respiration is also derived from photosynthesis. We have a lot to thank green plants for!
Significantly, many of the carbon compounds derived from the simple sugars formed during photosynthesis are also essential to the creation of well-structured topsoil from the lifeless mineral soil produced by the weathering of rocks. Without photosynthesis there would be no soil. Weathered rock minerals, yes … but fertile topsoil, no.
Please read these articles for an in depth understanding of the importance of Biodiversity and Soil Restoration.
Light Farming: Restoring Carbon, organic nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils
Why do Fructans, Sugars and Starches Accumulate on Grass?
Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a fungus and plant roots. The fungus colonises the roots of the host plant, either intracellularly or extracellularly. This association provides the fungus with relatively constant and direct access to glucose and sucrose produced by the plant in photosynthesis. In return, the plant gains the use of the mycelium’s very large surface area to absorb water and mineral nutrients from the soil, thus improving the mineral absorption capabilities of the plant roots. Since both involved organisms benefit from the interaction, it is defined as a mutualistic association.
There seems to be no doubt in the importance of the soil and its ecosystem, having an understanding of this system allows us to fully comprehend how our grasses have changed and the very basic nutrition is lost. It certainly has to have an effect on the amount of sugars and starches that are accumulating on our grasses that have become harmful to our horses – especially those who suffer with metabolic disease. Higher levels of toxic minerals like Iron are also evident and the losses in minerals that keep balance are declining.
So, understanding that this process of photosynthesis, the importance of the soil and its ecosystem, leads to a healthy soil biodiversity with an ecosystem that is functioning at its optimum. This provides nutritional grasses as nature intended.
In the ideal world, these plants that make sugar – sucrose, glucose and fructose which are after all food for the soil, are readily taken up by the vibrant range of life that lives below the ground, from bacteria and fungi to tiny insects, earthworms and moles.
These sugars and starches should be immediately taken from the stems directly into the longer roots, (roots that should be several feet in length, as opposed to inches) as they are food for the soil and root systems. Therefore they don’t accumulate on grasses as they are presently, instead they are utilised much faster and absorbed by the range of life that needs them to feed the soil.
Together, this rich biodiversity brings immeasurable healthy soils and plants alike.
So the question is what can we all do about this? Here we are with a basic understanding of the necessity of healthy soil biodiversity and what we can all do to make some very important changes in order to help our horses.
The old saying of “Dr Grass” doesn’t exist anymore due to the loss of this ecosystem that keeps our grasses healthy and providing our animals with the essential macro and micro minerals, keeping the sugars, starches etc, under control especially for these Metabolic horses. Changes necessary begin with the soil, there are many things we can do. First we need to give back import nutrients to the soil, using natural fertiliser’s such as Sobac to enhance the root systems and the whole soil biodiversity.
Key Points Highlighting a Few of the Equine Diseases on the Rise Worldwide:
Key Point 1 – Chronic Stealth Infections:
According to Dr Bishop VMD, Stealth infections now exist in epidemic proportions worldwide like that of Lyme disease and its co-infections – Bartonellosis (bacterial infection with any one or multiple Bartonella species). Bartonella like many other infectious bacteria utilise the immune system of the horses they infect as part of their infection strategy.
The consequences of these infections are having negative effects on the whole systemic system causing a myriad of health problems. The result of a disabled immune system, is an important aspect of both Lyme disease and Bartonellosis.
Bartonellosis is explained in full here – www.equineshivers.com
It is certain that the connection between Zoonic Diseases and the ecosystem will be fully revealed in time, but presently the lack of soil biodiversity and a non-functioning ecosystem has a huge part to play in the whole process. It certainly isn’t simple to explain fully as there are so many aspects to this and it’s relationship to equine diseases.
The healthy bacterium and certain species of the all important insect populations in the soil are diminishing rapidly and hence the unwanted ones are increasing, like that of ticks, in which the population is escalating due to the loss of the mammals and other insects, healthy bacteria, that kept some control on the their population.
Some very interesting reading here to denote that there is a connection to loss of Biodiversity and worldwide patterns of zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Biodiversity and Emerging Zoonoses:
Biodiversity and Health- Including reference on Lyme disease
Key Point 2 – Parasites:
Equine Parasite burdens are on the increase at a dramatic rate, and horses are becoming more resistant to chemical paste wormers. Hence they are burdened with parasites, which can have devastating consequences. We have come to depend on Faecal Egg Counts to determine parasites, but unfortunately there is evidence that this is not an exact science and definitely not reliable.
The Dung Beetle activity in controlling the parasites and flies that affect livestock, pets and people, and secondary seed dispersal, have become almost extinct, but the question is why?
The Role of Dung Beetles in the sustainability of pasture and grasslands
Negative Impacts of Human Land use on Dung Beetle Functional Diversity
Dung Beetle populations are being killed off by cattle medication:
Of course it is all about What Lies beneath this amazing ecosystem. It simply is not functioning as nature intended it to. The loss of the dung beetle and over grazing are consequences of how we have interfered with the whole system. These consequences are becoming more evident each day, and there are so many layers to this whole ecosystem.
So once again it all comes back to good management and respectively we all need to take responsibility for the part we play in Biodiversity.
Here are some photos of horses that were wormed with a sheep wormer and followed up with a herbal blend. The reactions are quite fascinating.
This photo is the result of a mare that was treated with Cydectin oral sheep drench and then followed with a herbal wormer. She became very itchy and this swelling appeared on her face. It has since disappeared and the mare is doing well.
Note the distinct line here on his shoulders just across the spine off the scapula., about twelve inches below the withers. This is common in horses that have chronic threadworm.
Pin Worms and Thread worms (4 yr old TB Gelding with Bartonella):
Grey Mare dosed with Cydectin – obvious Threadworms and Pinworms:
Things you can look out for that may indicate that your horses may have a parasite burden:
- Dry unproductive cough of unknown origin, like that of COPD.
- Unusual swellings on the skin
- Severe itchiness
- Sweet Itch
- Abdominal pain or colic
- Poor hair coat-yellow tinge especially around rib cage and top line
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Weight loss
- Chronic Laminitis
- Foot pain
- Pain over the Nuchal Ligament, Rhomboid Muscles, Sacro-iIliac pain
- ERU- Equine recurrent Uveitis
Parasites can cause a multitude of problems systemically:
- Recurrent or fatal colic
- Ulcerated and bleeding digestive system
- Damage to the liver and other internal organs
- Damaged and irritated lungs and blood vessel damage
It seems likely that thread worms are a factor in Sweet Itch.
We can, however, do so much to help our horses by incorporating herbal wormers in conjunction with certain chemicals. They certainly do work and there have been dramatic results with their use, although they need to be given frequently and over a few weeks each time, preferably up to and after a full moon. They can be added to the feed daily and horses find them very palatable. Fortunately they do not become resistant to the herbs.
Rotating grazing and not over populating pastures with horses is important. You need a minimum of 3 acres per horse. Incorporating herbal Anthelmintic plants in our pastures can also help. We need to be careful that the horses aren’t building up a resistance to chemical wormers and this approach can help this current problem.
Key Point 3 – Equine Metabolic Syndrome & Grass Sickness:
Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Grass Sickness – definitely associated with EMS – is yet another new disease, that is on the rise in our Equines especially in the UK. There is no doubt that there is a strong correlation to the specific grasses that are grown on land with adverse soil biodiversity and mineral disruption.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in a horse’s environment may play a role in the development of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), according to new research.
Equine metabolic syndrome, which has no cure, is characterised by endocrine abnormalities in horses and ponies. Affected horses and ponies have a tendency to develop pockets of fat and/or become obese, and they have altered insulin dynamics.
EMS also is one of the most common causes of laminitis, a painful and very debilitating inflammation of tissue in a horse’s hooves, leading to reduced performance, and in severe cases necessitating euthanasia.
Do Fructans cause laminitis?
Nutritional needs generally are not being met in accordance with the NRC Council. We are all subject to using Complementary Feed Supplements and with all the scientific research done to date, it is coming to our awareness that there is a substantial need for independent balanced nutrition and the use of nutraceuticals to promote health and wellbeing, for proper growth and development, general health and healthy immune system in our horses.
The use of proper balanced nutrition and correct farm management can be achieved by each one of us taking responsibility for what our horses eat.
There is science behind the actual daily requirements of essential nutrients and that understanding is very advanced today. The most successful method of achieving this is to have our forage, grasses and grains tested and having a nutritional analysis done to determine what is in need of balancing, whether there are deficiencies or excesses and balancing accordingly.
Then apply the science to the level of work a horse is under, maintenance or if used for breeding purposes. This does indeed assist the horses in performance and work and helps them to cope with the demands we put on them both physically and emotionally.
The question for us all is – does all this really work? And if it does, is it sustainable? How do we re-acquire all minerals in the soil that supplied ‘Dr Grass’ once upon a time?
Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus are extremely important minerals and need to be balanced correctly. They are vital components of the diet and as they require the correct pH of the land to thrive. They are important for growth and development in young and growing foals and yearlings. If these essential minerals aren’t adequate then there will be bone related diseases like that of Osteo Chrondritis dissections (OCD), splints in young horse in training, etc. A neutral pH encourages a greater and more diverse population than acid soil for these minerals to flourish.
Symptoms associated with EMS/Grass Sickness syndromes that are relevant and can be addressed:
- Parasite Burdens causing Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Insulin Resistance
- Chronic Stealth Infection – Auto Immune Disease -Lyme/Bartonella
- Microcirculation deficit disorders
- Chronic bacterial foot abscessing – foot pain
- Chronic lung infections RAD/COPD
- Seasonal allergies
- Gastric and /or colonic ulcers
- Retention of food fermenting in the gut-Hard, dry droppings (Constipation)
- Leaky gut
- Immune compromised
- Extremely toxic
- Nutritional deficiencies eg. (Iron overload) due to lack soil biodiversity, lack of copper and other vital minerals
Insulin Resistance and EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) is incurable but can be managed exceptionally well. It is generally found in horse breeds that have a slow metabolic rate, but it is on the rise in fast metabolic rate horses like Thoroughbreds.
It therefore takes good management on behalf of the owners and this is the main reason I feel that there is a definite connection between the lack of soil biodiversity of the land and pastures – that our horses are grazing on and of course where all our forage sources come from – and the increase in all Metabolic diseases in horses.
Genetics play a role in this but that can be changed or altered with the use of Epigenetics, in that biological mechanisms that can switch genes on or off using good nutritional management and eliminating any stress that horses may be exposed to. Due to serious soil biodiversity problems our grass roots are only inches deep, instead of ideally being a few feet deep .
It then makes perfect sense that the sugars, starches that are essential food for the soil are lingering on the leaf and stems, and not being dispersed into the root system as they should.
This gives us food for thought and given the critical situation worldwide with soil biodiversity then we are creating an environment that simply does not sustain our horses and each of us are responsible for these increasing health issues in our horses. We all need to take some action, and knowledge is key to understanding the necessary changes we all can make.
If we continue to overuse chemical fertilisers and pesticides we are robbing the land of a vital ecosystem. This can only produce grasses, forage and grains that are lacking in vital nutrients, or even worse an excess of toxic minerals. There is a price to pay and consequences of using forage and grains that are grown on soil that is starved of nutrients. The soil needs nutrients but it has to be sustained with specific products, eg. SOBAC.
Bottom line – we all can change this?
Obviously changing the biodiversity is the key to making some dramatic changes.
But what are our options available to make necessary changes – controlling sugars and parasites and achieving pastures that are healthier, providing proper balanced nutrition with natural and organic products? By taking these baby steps each of us can have an effect on our own pastures and make changes that are extremely positive.
- Using Sobac Products ‘Bacteriosol’ and ‘Bacteriolit’, instead of chemical fertilisers
- Growing healthy grasses, using specific grass seeds that are suitable for horses, like Timothy, Meadow Fescue, Cocksfoot.
- Incorporating anti-parasitic herb seeds like Sainfoin, Yarrow, Fenugreek, Birdsfoot trefoil, Thyme to our pastures
- Reduce Overgrazing, starving grass may be higher in sugar. Overgrazing forces horses to eat only the lower portions of grass plants, where the concentration of NSC is higher. Starving grasses are usually due to loss of soil biodiversity. Higher risk of parasites.
- Minimum of 3 acres per horse, rotation of stock, grass harrowing on hot days.
- Growing trees and hedges to sustain wildlife, and the bees.
- Using Herbal wormers in conjunction with chemicals, more often as a feed supplement
- Incorporate balanced minerals and vitamins into daily diet
- Keep feeding as natural and organic as possible, high in fibre (Omit processed, GMO Feeds)
What is Sobac?
There are amazing products like SOBAC that is a natural fertiliser developed by Marcel Menzy, a French farmer in the 80s. Available in Ireland from P & T Stapleton Ltd.
SOBAC contains Bacteriolit and Bacteriosal which are made up of a complex of micro-organisms which improves the level of micro-life in the soil, allowing the soil to fulfil its full natural cycle. It helps to transform organic matter into humus. Any positively charged element is naturally fixed on to the clay humid complex via the law of attraction as the clay humid complex is negatively charged.
The more humus you have in the soil, the more minerals you will fix and prevent from leaching. The pH will neutralise and the land can sustain the products Bacteriolit and Bacteriosal. There is significant reduction of weeds like docks, ragworts and buttercup. It provides you with the advantages of having drier land due to better drainage, and allowing horses have more winter access to grass.
Grasses and forage suitable for Horses
To restore our soils and feed the microbes:
Fruit hill Farm
P & T Stapleton Phone : +353 (0) 87 232 8051
Grasses that we can use in our pastures-understanding grass terminology, form and function:
Here is a link for a very interesting read on a farm in Ireland which is very impressive.
Calverstown House –
I understand that you may be thinking that this is totally out of your reach, but just take a leaf out of their book. If we all take baby steps and incorporate new healthy grasses and herbs, use natural and organic fertilisers like that of SOBAC and each of us can make steady progress each year to help and change our pastures for the better. If on the other hand we keep taking from the land without putting something back then we will evidently create more problems.
We can all help to show others how they too can make changes. We need to recognise that the marketing of chemical fertiliser companies and the financial pressures of both farming and horses as a business have forced us down a path which, unknowingly, has in the end proven to be detrimental. There are other more profitable measures we can take to farm safely and for all our sakes, both human and animal.