Reading codes can be a yawn, but it is important for both horse and donkey welfare!
Reading codes can be a yawn, but it is important for both horse and donkey welfare!

Have you checked out the new Horse & Donkey Animal Welfare Code? Yes, horses and donkeys now have their own specific welfare code and this came into force at the end of January 2016 after a lengthy process which included significant community consultation.

The code applies to all horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids (ie. mules) in New Zealand, no matter what purpose they are used for.

The various codes are prepared by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the Act). NAWAC is an independent committee formed to give advice about animal welfare to the Minister for Primary Industries, who has issued this code.

Codes of Welfare set out how animals should be treated, to meet their physical, health and behavioural needs and to alleviate pain and distress. There are already a number of codes developed, from dairy cattle through to cats, dogs, deer, pigs and rodeos and zoos.

The equine code took some time to be developed. Consultation was important and there were many discussions needed before decisions were made. We caught up with Dr Virginia Williams, a veterinarian who has recently retired from NAWAC after serving six years. While she wasn’t part of the sub-committee that finalised the horse and donkey code, she gave us some very interesting background about the development of the code and her role on NAWAC.

“It is important to get a range of perspectives, not just involving equestrian people. There is a lot of science and thought going into the development of the codes, and the level of detail of argument around the table is considerable.”

Some of the codes attracted a lot of attention, such as those for pigs and layer hens. The recently released rodeo code was one that was quite controversial with many saying it didn’t go far enough. The Horse & Donkey code went through with few issues, however. “There were fewer submissions received compared to the consultation process for other codes,” Dr Williams said. “Perhaps this was due to the perception that, generally speaking, people look after horses and there was nothing seen as controversial in the code.”

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Horses, donkeys and mules are covered by this code

While it may not be controversial, and indeed seem like common sense to many, those in charge of horses should be aware of what is in the code and what their responsibilities are. There are always many varying opinions on horse-related activities but the Code outlines what the minimum standards are. If you are charged with an offence under the Animal Welfare Act, the codes come into force and will be used to support the prosecution.

The key issues identified during the consultation process included the use of whips, tethering horses, whether a headcollar should be left on when the horse is in the paddock, issues around keeping horses in pairs or herds, how long a horse can be in a stall for, and whether pain relief should be used when branding / applying identification to horses.
The Code has minimum standards stating the specific actions people need to take in order to meet the obligations of the Act. These are complemented by recommended best practices. In order to be found guilty of a breach of the Code, you must be proved to have breached the minimum standards.

There are 15 sets of minimum standards in the Code. We highlight the main ones here, but there are others that we suggest you familiarise yourself with, especially if you are breeding from your mare, rearing, weaning and branding.

  1. Horses must be cared for by a sufficient number of personnel, who, collectively, possess the ability, knowledge and competence necessary to maintain the health and welfare of the animals in accordance with this code.
  2. Donkey eating hay
    Donkeys enjoy a bit of hay but get overweight easily on a lush grass diet

    Horses and donkeys must receive adequate daily quantities of food and nutrients to enable each horse to maintain good health, meet their physiological demands and minimise metabolic and nutritional disorders. For horses that are too skinny, or too fat, then urgent remedial action must be taken. All horses must have access to a reliable daily supply of drinking water that is palatable, sufficient for their needs, and not harmful to their health.

  3. Adequate shelter must be provided
    Adequate shelter must be provided

    Horses and donkeys must have access to shelter to reduce the risk to their health and welfare caused by exposure to cold or wet weather conditions and the means to minimise the effects of heat stress. Covers must be used to protect horses from climatic extremes where other forms of shelter are not sufficient to maintain the horse’s health and welfare. Any covers used must be fitted correctly and inspected regularly.

  4. All facilities must be designed, constructed, maintained and operated in a manner that minimises the likelihood of distress or injury to the horses. Faeces and urine must not accumulate to such an extent that they pose a threat to the health and welfare of the horses.
  5. When housed, horses must be confined in a manner which prevents them causing injury to themselves or adjacent animals, and have sufficient room to lie down, readily rise and turn around in comfort although horses may be tied in a stall, but for no more than six hours in a 24-hour period, unless under veterinary recommendation, and while untied must receive sufficient daily exercise.
  6. Those responsible for the welfare of horses must be competent at recognising the signs of ill-health or injury and take prompt remedial action, as appropriate. Hooves must be trimmed as required to permit normal mobility and to maintain hoof health, shape and function. Teeth must be maintained as required to permit normal grazing and chewing.
  7. Any method to restrain or contain horses must be used in a way that minimises the possibility of injury, harm or distress to the horses. Horses must not be tethered for longer than 15 hours without being released for sufficient exercise.
  8. When horses are mixed into new groups, they must be managed to minimise the effects of aggression and injury.
  9. Horses must be handled and trained at all times in such a way as to minimise the risk of pain, injury or distress. Horses must not be worked at such an intensity that is likely to cause exhaustion, heat stress, injury or distress. Electric prodders must not be used on horses. Horses must not be struck around the head or genitals with a whip, lead or any other object. The whip, lead or any other similar object must only be used for safety, correction and encouragement and not used in an unnecessary, excessive or improper manner.
  10. Equipment used on horses must be maintained in good condition and be fitted so as not to cause injury and used in such a way as to avoid pain, injury or distress to the horse.

There are many other minimum standards, so we strongly urge you to refer to the full Code of Welfare. Do not rely solely on the information in this article. The Code is easy to read, and contains a lot of very useful information. Examples of this are the information on condition scoring and the guidelines on euthanasia of a horse; the recommended best practices are also very good.

For more information from the Government Website, click here.