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A comparison of unheated loose housing with stables on the respiratory health of weaned-foals in cold winter conditions: an observational field-study
- Junkkari, Reija, Simojoki, Heli, Heiskanen, Minna-Liisa, Pelkonen, Sinikka, Sankari, Satu, Tulamo, Riitta-Mari, Mykkänen, Anna
- Acta veterinaria scandinavica 2017 v.59 no.1 pp. 73
- Finnhorse, Standardbred, air quality, body condition, farms, fibrinogen, foals, hemoglobin, leukocyte count, loose housing, pastures, rearing, respiratory tract diseases, temperature, weanlings, winter, Finland
- BACKGROUND: Newly weaned horses in Finland are often moved to unheated loose housing systems in which the weanlings have free access to a paddock and a shelter. This practice is considered to be good for the development of young horses. The daily temperatures can stay below − 20 °C in Finland for several consecutive weeks during the winter season. However, the effect of unheated housing in a cold climatic environment on the respiratory health of weanlings under field conditions has not been studied before. This investigation was an observational field-study comprising 60 weanlings among 11 different voluntary participant rearing farms in Finland. Weanlings were either kept in unheated loose housing systems (n = 36) or in stables (n = 24) and were clinically examined on two separate occasions 58 days apart in cold winter conditions. RESULTS: The odds of clinical respiratory disease were lower in the older foals (logₑ days); OR = 0.009, P = 0.044). The plasma fibrinogen concentration was higher when the available space (m²/weanling) in the sleeping hall was smaller (P = 0.014) and it was lower when the sleeping hall was not insulated (P = 0.010). The plasma fibrinogen concentrations at the second examination were lower with a body condition score above 3 (P = 0.070). Standardbreds kept in loose housing systems had a lower body condition score than Finnhorses or Standardbreds kept in stables at both examinations (P = 0.026 and P = 0.007, respectively). Haemoglobin level was lower in weanlings in loose housing systems compared to their counterparts at the first examination (P = 0.037). Finnhorses had higher white blood cell count than Standardbreds at first (P = 0.002) and at the second examination (P = 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Keeping weanling horses in cold loose housing systems does not seem to increase the occurrence of respiratory disease, but special attention should be focused on ventilation, air quality and feeding-practices. Our field study data suggest it might be advantageous to keep Standardbred foals born late in the season in a stable over the Finnish winter.