Horse Mom’s homemade anti-fungal recipe

Every once in awhile — particularly in “mud season” in the spring, we have some outbreaks of fungal skin conditions such as scratches, rain rot, or just random crusty or itchy spots.  I’ve always been leery of using harsh chemicals, some of which interact dangerously with each other.  So, I was looking for something natural and less expensive than some of the preparations in the tack store.  For the past several months I’ve been using a simple lotion made with two ingredients, and having success with it.  I have a white dog who suffers terribly from allergies.  He often licks and scratches until he gives himself a staph infection.  I tried a bunch of products that promised to control the problem, but had no success.  Desperate, one day I tried adding a little bit of tea tree oil to aloe gel, and spread it on the dog’s irritated and discolored belly skin.  It did not seem to hurt him, and by the next day his skin was a normal pink and healthy-looking.  Needless to say, I keep up that treatment anytime he starts to act uncomfortable.  I no longer need to use it every day — we’re down to about once every ten days to two weeks.  What does this have to do with horses, you ask?  Read on…

One day, my daughter complained of a particularly persistent and painful fungal infection that was plaguing one of the horses that recently came to us as a boarder.  She had been scrubbing his “scratches” and felt bad that she was hurting him when scrubbing and picking off huge chunks of scurfy mess.  I suggested that she try some of my mixture of aloe and tea tree oil, to see if it would help him.  She started applying the mixture every morning and evening.  The horse didn’t object to it, and within two days she reported a noticeable improvement.  She kept it up for five or six days, and the problem cleared up.  Now I keep a pump bottle of the mixture around the barn, to use on itchy spots and fungal problems.  The tea tree oil seems to kill the bad stuff, and the aloe promotes quick healing, healthy skin and hair re-growth. 

Disclaimer and cautionary note:  the above should in no way be construed to be veterinary advice.  If you decide to try this yourself, do so at your own risk, and be sure to read the cautions on the aloe and tea tree oil bottles.  Pure tea tree oil is very strong and can burn or irritate the skin if not properly diluted.  I use about 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil to 5 or 6 ounces of aloe vera gel, and shake *well* to mix it up.  The result is a cloudy, slightly watery gel with a strong smell somewhere between eucalyptus and pine turpentine.  Tea tree oil and the anti-fungal gel from this recipe should NOT be taken internally, and should not be used in or around the eyes.

Dung Beetles Rock!

You could call this an ode to the Scarab Beetle — a much more artistic and acceptable name for those little (and sometimes not so little) beetles that live to eat, drink and reproduce in poo! 

I have (quite by accident) a really beneficial ecosystem going on in my horse pastures, supported by dung beetles. That’s right, dung beetles! Little shiny scarab-like beetles that I’ve always known lived in the ground on my farm, but never fully appreciated – until now.
 Before you write me off as a complete crackpot, let me explain. First you have to realize that anyone who calls themselves a horse farmer is really a “grass farmer.”  Or for those of you who don’t have pasture or don’t grow your own, you’re dependent upon a “grass farmer” who provides your hay.   While it’s possible to raise horses without pastures, the very best way to keep the average horse sleek and healthy is to have plenty of well-managed grass pasture for the herd to graze on (I could write an e-book about pasture management; maybe I will someday!).Until recently, I never realized that my decision to use natural products and very limited quantities of chemical pesticides and herbicides has had some special benefits that I didn’t count on. Now, even though I temporarily have a few more horses than I really should on my pastures (overpopulation is a bad thing for growing grass), I’ve noticed that the individual manure piles dropped by my horses disappear very quickly – they sort of spread out, become desiccated and disappear! I always thought the birds must be digging in them for grain.  Maybe they are.  But as it turns out, it’s the dung beetles who are doing the lion’s share of that work.

Manure laying around in horse pastures is a bad thing – any “grass farmer” will tell you that. Manure harbors flies and fly larvae, which torment the horses and spread disease. More importantly, manure harbors parasites that can permanently harm and even kill horses. If left laying around in piles in the pasture, manure allows parasites to spread from horse to horse while they’re grazing. I have several horses tested each year to check for parasites, and the results are always really good. Turns out, the dung beetles have been helping to control the parasite population, which is complementing our regular de-worming program! I hear people talking about having to buy equipment to drag their pastures or pick up manure to keep their horses healthy and reduce parasites – I never have to do that – the manure piles just disappear within a couple of days. Pasture vacuum prices start at $3,000.   I’ll take free pasture manure management any day.  Dung beetles rock!

 

I always assumed that everyone with manure-making livestock has dung beetles just like I do (where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?). Turns out, horse farms that are near large crop farms generally don’t have as many (or any) dung beetles. The pesticide/herbicide runoff from the crop fields kills or shortens the life cycles of the dung beetles.   Some local horse farmers in my area suffer from too much manure collecting in their pastures and too-high parasite loads in their horses.  If your pasture’s manure piles don’t disappear within one to two days, you probably are lacking dung beetles. 

Stay tuned for more dung beetle entomology — how to encourage them to thrive on your farm, what wormers to avoid at certain times of the year, and other benefits of beneficial bugs. 

 

 

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