Natural worming for
owners are aware of the need to worm their horse to avoid symptoms such as
weight loss, colic and poor condition and indeed, controlling the worm
burden of your horses is an important aspect of caring for them. It must
be noted, however, that healthy horses can carry a small load of worms
without ill effects. It is even possible that in a healthy gut, a small
infestation plays a supportive role in maintaining a balance. But there is
no doubt that a heavy worm infestation in a horse can be very serious and
may lead to all sorts of problems.
Nowadays, the usual way to control worms is with chemical dewormers. These
offer the advantage of being extremely convenient: modern dewormers
usually only need a single dose every 8 to 13 weeks, making them easy to
administer to the horse, and, if used properly, will indeed kill all types
of worms and prevent infestation. However, as is often the case, this
convenience comes at a price. They are persistent, chemical drugs,
designed to kill or disable worms, and some of them, particularly the so
called "combination" wormers, can have serious side effects. The horse's
body will have to process them (through the liver and kidneys), and one of
them (moxidectin) is not recommended for foals or weak horses as an
overdose can be very dangerous. Drug resistance is also a growing concern
for many horse owners, and rightly so, as parasite resistance has been
observed with ivermectin, moxidectin, benzimidazoles, tetrapyrimidines,
and piperazine. Furthermore, the dung of horses treated with such wormers
is not suitable for use as a fertiliser on organic farms as it contains
chemical residues that would kill earth worms. For all these reasons, a
growing number of horse owners are now looking for more natural ways of
keeping their horses worm free. And the good news is, it is possible.
Most of the worms that affect horses have a somewhat similar life cycle:
the horse swallows the worm larvae from the pasture, the larvae then spend
a period of time developing within the horse before reaching adulthood
within horse's digestive track. The worms then produce eggs that are
passed in the dung onto the pasture. These eggs hatch into the infective
larvae again. Breaking this life cycle through proper pasture management
is an efficient and perfectly natural way of reducing worms infestation in
horses. If the pastures are cleaned twice weekly, grazed in rotation by
other animal such as cattle or sheep, and rested regularly for long
periods, worm infestation will be greatly reduced and so proper pasture
management should be part of every horse owners worming strategy. However,
this alone may not be enough, and most likely some worming product will
have to be used as well.
There are a few alternatives to chemical wormers for horses on the
market. The best known is Verm-X, a herbal wormer available in powder,
pellet and liquid formulations. We used Verm-X for a while
at Macalla farm, until the faecal egg count of a horse who had
been treated with it regularly at the recommended dosage came up extremely
high, casting doubt on the product's efficiency. We contacted the manufacturer and they recommended
treating the horse with a double dose, but we instead stopped using
Werm-X and switched to the Four
Seasons' herbal and homeopathic wormer (available on line through Bitless Bridle UK),
used in combination with a home made worming preparation (see recipe
below). The four seasons herbal and homeopathic wormer uses a
combination of homeopathic ingredients which support the digestive
organs, facilitating the natural expulsion of parasites via the animals
own natural defence systems, and herbal ingredient whose astringent
effects create a hostile environment for parasites. Faecal egg
counts have consistently come back very low since, so this programme
seems to be working well. The
Seasons' herbal wormer is also a lot easier to use (a single dose mixed
with hard feed once a month at the full moon).
Another option we have
started exploring recently is the use of Diatomaceous Earth, which is what Joe
Camp (the author of "The soul of a horse, and now an expert in natural
horse management) recommends. See the Soul of a horse blog article about it for more information. Diatomaceous Earth is available in Ireland from Willow farm organics
you want to make your own herbal wormer, this is a recipe that was
given to us by Rachel Kelly, an equine herbalist practising in County
Kildare (see her website at http://www.equineherbalist.ie).
Put 500ml of cold pressed organic olive oil (or good quality raw linseed oil) and 200g of raw peeled garlic
cloves into a blender Blend it all up until it is like a paste, it only
takes a few seconds. Leave this paste in a dark place for 3 days to
macerate, shaking 1-2 times daily. Do not strain. (if using olive oil, you can make extra and
use it as a salad dressing if you want). Use 40ml daily into horses feed,
shake well before use. Must be stored out of sunlight in a dark container.
The above recipe, she says, can be done with cider vinegar instead of olive oil, with
the addition of wormwood.
Using cider vinegar as a carrier adds minerals to the diet, aids digestion
and brings the horse's body to an alkaline state, which is good to prevent
arthritis and other conditions.
Wormwood is a natural vermifuge which will cause the expulsion of worms
from the body and along with garlic, which is a natural vermicide will
destroys worms in the body. (Garlic is one of the main ingredients in the
Verm-X formula mentioned earlier). You can even plant wormwood near where
the horses drink and let them self medicate.
It is also possible to add pumpkin seeds to the oil / garlic
mixture. Pumpkins seeds are vermifuge and are very efficient against tape
worm. They must be soaked for 12 hours before being put in the blender
with the olive oil and garlic mix.
Rachel is a great advocate of feeding raw garlic to horses. However,
garlic treatment, she says, works best over a continued period of time
(which is probably why all the Verm-X preparation have to be taken for a
few days in a row).
Many horse owners feed powdered garlic to their horses, but, Rachel points
out, while it is more convenient, some powders contain additional
ingredients such as preservatives and non caking agents, so labels should
be checked carefully. Furthermore, the medicinal value of garlic is
largely in its sulphur compounds, (called allicin) which is only active
when the garlic is crushed or cut and is inactivated by heat. This sulphur
compounds is responsible for the odour and many of the medical effects of
garlic, so raw garlic will generally be more efficient.
At Macalla farm, we occasionnally use the following recipe:
For 2 horse, put 250ml of cold pressed linseed oil, 200g of raw garlic
cloves (no need to peel them), 50 g of dry wormwood (available online from
spiritgarden.co.uk) and 50 g
or organic pumpkins seeds into a blender. Blend into a paste and store out
of sunlight in a dark container. Feed 50g daily for 5 days in a row,
mixed with hard feed. It is much cheaper that Verm-X and just as effective!
Whatever method of worming you use, having manure samples tested regularly
for the presence of parasite eggs should be part of every horse owner's
worm control strategy. It is often cost effective to have regular faecal
worm egg counts done for all your horses, because you can then avoid
worming horses that do not carry any worm burden. Although worm egg counts
don't show all the worms (encysted stages of redworm are not mature to lay
eggs which are counted in the dung sample, and the test is not definitive
for tapeworms, for which a blood test is available), but worm counts are
still very useful, if only to get an idea of how your worming program is
working. Westgate Laboratories (www.westgatelabs.co.uk)
offers a postal worm count service at a reasonable price (around 10 euros / horse, depending on the number of
horses). And if you are worried that alternative worming strategies might
not be efficient enough, a worm egg count may put your mind to rest.
with a lot of help from Rachel Kelly (www.equineherbalist.ie).
Article originally published in
Horse and Pony Ireland