Last year we started a new worming protocol at Halcyon Acres. In fact, the subject was a blog topic here and included a promise to report back on our findings.  Here they are:

Opting for fecals over standardized worming practices

Basically, we decided to stop systematic worming in deference to a plan that is safer for the horses – both now and into the future. Research is increasingly sounding the alarm about parasite resistance to equine products. Studies have shown horses can be kept healthier and infestations better controlled with customized approaches based on manure examination. The recommended approach is to take fecals twice annually – in the spring and after a good couple of killing frosts in the fall (horses with issues may need to be checked more frequently until they are resolved). The findings determine customized future worming regimens for each horse. The results, including cost savings, were surprising.

Because we tend to get a lot of traffic through the farm with client horses coming in for short-term training, we were pretty aggressive about worming – covering the entire equine resident count monthly with a rotational approach. These wormers ranged from $4 – $15/ horse, per treatment. We stopped all worming about mid-year in 2009 and took stool samples of the twelve horses that were here in April. Three had high counts. All, but one were a surprise. Those we would have expected to be vulnerable came back clean.

The three with high counts were wormed twice, eight weeks apart (in April and June). Given the findings, we were able to use an inexpensive wormer ($4) that addressed the present parasites. There were a number of horses at the farm that were mid-range, and wormed once. All nursing mares will be wormed once after the foals drop, now and in the future. Four of the twelve had such low counts they did not require any treatment.

Surprising findings with the herd

One of the strange revelations in all this was that the healthiest looking horses with the least stress on their systems accounted for two of the three high count critters. The low count horses included our maiden broodmare who suffered a terrible time recovering from injuries, weight loss and despondency after coming home from a live breed fiasco; a two-year-old who’s spent much of his life on antibiotics as an accident magnet; a ship-in client horse that travelled cross country with some existing health concerns; and a mare in training who acts out aggressively with the herd due to some clear confidence issues. The three high counts were all turned out in different areas. Ditto for three of the low counts.

Are you wasting money on your worming program?

While the number of horses are never the same here with the influx and departure of client horses coming in for training, since there were twelve for the April fecals, this serves as an easy figure to work with in determining costs. Each fecal was $25 (this can be done much more cost effectively and with more refined conclusions if you’re willing to do your own collection, labelling and shipping out of state – we’ll probably do this next year). So the total cost this spring (we didn’t do fecals in the fall) was $300 for the service of putting manure under a microscope. We’ve determined our average worming cost per month, per horse is $10. That’s $120 per month to worm twelve, or $1440 a year. Because we had test results in hand, we were able to use a $4 wormer to address the concerns (instead of a $10 or $15 product). We wormed nine once (including a nursing broodmare who did not register a parasite count of concern, but worming was advised to transfer through to the foal’s milk) and three twice, for a worming cost this year through fall of $48. So, assuming costs and results are the same in the fall (it’s likely they will be reduced now that we’re on a knowledge-based treatment plan), that’s $696 for the year, a $744 savings (or more than 50%). Plus, we’re increasing the likelihood of healthy horses, doing our part to reduce future parasite resistance to wormers and probably helping the environment in more ways than we realize.

Take better care of your horse

So, if you’re on the fence about springing for the cost of fecals on your horse, or your herd, think again. It’s likely you’ll save a good deal over the course of the year in funds, stress and potential horse health issues that may arise from unknown parasite residents. We didn’t embrace this new approach blindly or spontaneously. These studies have been going on for years. You should be alarmed at the prospect of parasites in your horse that cannot be controlled. We now have our own success story to add the mix, at least at an anecdotal level on a smarter, safer and visionary approach to horse health maintenance.

What’s been your understanding of worming? Do you have protocols that have worked for you that you’d like to share? Horror stories? Questions? Please comment below with your ideas, resources, concerns, queries and experiences. Thanks.

8 Responses

  1. Your article makes a lot of sense (no pun intended)…

    By checking the manure rather than just giving horse worming medication on a monthly basis not only saves money but avoids giving horses medication that is not needed. Much healthier for them!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marie. There’s been a lot of research over the past few years. Last year I really started seeing a good number of the equine vet practicies starting to endorse this approach. We figured we’d try it and were pleased with the results. Long-term, this should be much better for the horses (here and everywhere – there really is cause for alarm over the resistance developments).

  2. Great article Nanette. Considering that there have been no new drugs released for many years, resistance is inevitable. Such has occurred with Round-Up and certain weeds. This method seems to not only save money (always good, that) but also gives you peace of mind that you are doing the best you can for your horse.

  3. Thanks, Susan. Honestly, the cost savings was an unanticipated bonus. Of course, there’s a lot you can do with good pasture management practices, and we’re focusing on this more too. And you’re right, these are products designed to kill, so it makes sense with today’s resources to focus treatment on the specific parasite issues.

  4. We started doing this type of checking quite a few years ago, when we managed Rosebud River Ranch in Snoqualmie, Washington, we found that a lot of our horses did not show signs of needing worming. Because we had so many horses we did groups of horses, some by pasture. We were told then by the vets that some worms did not show in the testing – I believe the one was pin worms. What are they saying today?? We have tested the horses where we are living in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and have found no worm issues or I should say the count is not high enough for concern, so no need to really worm.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      Thanks for reading and posting. Honestly, I’m still learning on this front too as we just implemented this progam in the last year. This year, we checked egg count only (and did find some surprising results). Apparently (I’m still doing research here, but will report back when I have some answers), there are a number of facilities set up that can assess fecals in a much more thorough manner than can be done by the typical local facility (and it’s less expensive). I imagine if you don’t have such resources in CA, you could ship to the US.

  5. Nanette,

    I seem to have more problems with tapes and bots than anything else-they’re spread by a mite rather than by eggs. I have sufficient acreage that all manure dries out sufficiently and has enough solar exposure that my horses have a fairly low parasite burden year round. They rarely travel, so there’s little chance of exposure, unless I have visitors.

    Bots have been decreasing of late-the neighbors have been fairly good about keeping their cattle taken care of-and that is critical with bots. Most horse owners don’t know that-there is a relationship with the proximity of cattle herds to the number of bot flies you will see.

    Tapes, on the other hand, are pesky little devils, and each segment of the things can grow into an intact worm. I hate the things. They’re also horrible about causing a low grade colic. I finally figured that out and started keeping my horses wormed for them when one of my stallions kept colicing. After I started that-no more colic.

    Very-VERY-difficult to get tapes on a fecal test, too. Probably just better off to just worm for the blasted things twice a year. (I’m just saying-I’m a retired lab tech-if you want to make yourself crazy-then go for it….but I wouldn’t!)

  6. Thanks for reading, Ellen. The easiest way we’ve found to avoid bots entering the horse’s system is to remove the eggs from the horse’s hair were they are laid. There are a lot of ways to do this, but we found a great tool that’s like a small brick, course and gray in color. Simply stroke the horse’s body in the affected areas and they’re gone. I’ll try to find the name of it the next time I’m in a tack store, or maybe someone reading has used it and knows?

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