Friday, May 15, 2015

Top 10 Nutritional Tips for Horses

I ran across this article from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). While I think it's a pretty good baseline article for the care and feeding of horses, I have added some comments underneath each topic in italics.

From the ASPCA:  Remember that old nursery rhyme that begins, “Hay is for horses…”? As it turns out, that’s sound advice for feeding companion equines—as are the following tips from our experts at the ASPCA Pet Nutrition and Science Advisory Service.

1. Base Your Horse’s Diet on Grass and Hay.

A horse’s digestive system is made to process large quantities of grass, which is high in fiber and water. The basic diet for most horses should consist of grass and good-quality hay that’s free of dust and mold. As a general rule, companion horses should be able to graze or eat hay whenever they want to.

Forage (grass and alfalfa) first. That's the motto of ADM feeds and something that guides my feeding program. It would be nice to have horses on pasture but there is very little of it in West Texas.

2. Feed Several Small Meals a Day.

Because horses’ stomachs were developed for grazing, horses function better with a feeding plan based on “little and often.” ASPCA experts recommend that horses should eat several small meals—at least two, preferably three or more—in the course of a day. When feeding hay, give half the hay allowance at night, when horses have more time to eat and digest.

I  feed three times a day.  Grass, alfalfa and Patriot (a processed feed from ADM) in them morning; grass and alfalfa in the early afternoon; and Grass, alfalfa and Patriot in the evening.   

3. No Grain, No Gain.

Most horses, even fairly active ones, don’t need the extra calories found in grains. Excess grains can lead to muscle, bone and joint problems in young and adult horses. Unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian or other equine professional, it’s best to feed low-energy diets high in grass and hay.

Good point that most horses don't need grain. I don't feed grain but I do feed a processed feed from ADM called Patriot. My horses do well on this. They get about 3.5 lbs of this divided up into two of their three feedings. I feed this primarily for two reasons: to provide for vitamins and minerals they don't get in their grass or alfalfa, and to get their systems used to this processed feed so I can feed more to make up forage shortages when away from my barn.

4. Be Aware of Individual Needs.

Feed according to the individuality of the horse, including condition and activity level. Some horses have difficulty keeping on weight, and need more feed per unit of body weight. However, most horses should eat between 2 percent to 4 percent of their body weight daily in pounds of hay or other feeds. Your veterinarian can help you decide how and what to feed your horse.

Two percent is a good baseline number. For the average 1,100 Quarterhorse this would be 22 lbs of hay a day. Four percent is really quite a bit of feed. If a horse worked all day long, he would require additional feed to replace calories burned, but again 4 percent of a horse's body weight is a lot.

5. Water Works.

Plenty of fresh, clean, unfrozen water should be available most times, even if the horse only drinks once or twice a day. Contrary to instinct, horses who are hot from strenuous exercise should not have free access to water. Rather, they should be allowed only a few sips every three to five minutes until they have adequately cooled down.

Ensuring that horses have fresh, clean water is often over looked. Many places I visit have really dirty stock tanks and this does not facilitate the horses wanting to drink. Automatic waters are great at keeping a supply of fresh water available. However, they still need to be checked every day for function. I have also seen issues with automatic waters if they are not maintained.   I use old fashioned stock tanks. They allow me to see how much water my horses are drinking. I have to dump them once or twice a week to scrub them and re-fill. The wet sand I create when I dump my stock tanks allows my horses' hooves to soak up some moisture.

6. Provide a Supplementary Salt Block.

Because most diets do not contain mineral levels high enough for optimal health and performance, horses should have free access to a trace mineral and salt block. This will provide your horse with adequate levels of salt to stabilize pH and electrolyte levels, as well as adequate levels of trace minerals. As long as plenty of fresh water is available, you needn’t be concerned about overconsumption of salt.

It's been my experience that while most horses will lick a salt block, many horses don't like the conventional mineral blocks. There are different mineral solutions from powdered minerals that can be top dressed on your horses grain or processed feed, to newer type mineral blocks such as the ADM GroStrong Mineral Quad Block. I provide a white salt block for my horses and I break up a GroStrong mineral block and keep a piece in each horse feeder. 

7. Take it Slow.

Any changes in the diet should be made gradually to avoid colic (abdominal pain usually associated with intestinal disease) and laminitis (painful inflammation in the hoof associated with separation of the hoof bone from the hoof wall), either of which can be catastrophic. Horses are physically unable to vomit or belch. Overfeeding and rapid rates of intake are potential problems. Consequently, a horse or pony who breaks into the grain bin, or is allowed to gorge on green pasture for the first time since autumn, can be headed for a health disaster.

I change out from one cut of alfalfa to the next through a seven day period. Some recommend a gradual change through a longer period. Either way, different feeds and different sources of the same feed should be introduced slowly. 

I would describe Colic and Laminitis a little differently, Colic is distress of the intestines which can be caused by several issues, one of the worst being a blockage (called an impaction) of the intestines, and colic symptoms are almost always a medical emergency for that horse. Founder (Laminitis) is actually the separation of the hoof bone (the coffin bone) from the laminae which can caused the coffin bone to rotate in the hoof capsule and in the worst case (usually requiring euthanasia) causes the coffin bone drop and even penetrate the bottom of the sole.

8. Dental Care & Your Horse’s Diet: Chew On This.

Horses need their teeth to grind grass and hay, so it is important to keep teeth in good condition. At the age of five years, horses should begin annual dental checkups by a veterinarian to see if their teeth need floating (filing). Tooth quality has to be considered when deciding whether or not to feed processed grains (grains that are no longer whole, such as cracked corn and rolled oats). Horses with poor dental soundness—a particular problem in older horses—tend to benefit more from processed feed than do younger horses, who have sounder mouths and teeth.

This is an over looked routine health care need or horses. Some advocate a dental checkup once a year. I average about every 16 months. A checkup usually results in some dental work as the Vet has to sedate the horses in order to do the checkup, so may as well get some work done even if it is just minimal. Some horses will require shorter intervals between floating. Having a competent Vet do your floating, keeping good records on how much sedation each horse needs, is a blessing and keeps your horses healthy.

9. Exercise Caution.

Stabled horses need exercise. Horses will eat better, digest food better and be less likely to colic if they get proper exercise. Horses should finish eating at least an hour before hard work. Do not feed grain to tired or hot horses until they are cooled and rested, preferably one or two hours after activity. You can feed them hay instead. To prevent hot horses from cooling down too quickly, keep them out of drafts or warm in blankets.

Horses do need exercise.  They need a large enough pen to move around in.  A smaller pen is adequate if the horses are taken out to turn out or exercised by a human through ground work and/or riding. People who keep their horses day in and day out in a ten foot square pen are just slowly killing their horses in my opinion.    

10. Don’t Leave Home Without It.

Because abrupt dietary change can have devastating results on a horse’s sensitive system, you should always bring your horse’s food with you when you travel. Additionally, some horses will refuse to drink unfamiliar water, so you may also want to bring along a supply of the water your horse regularly drinks.

Again changing feeds suddenly can cause big problems - see paragraph 7 above.  Also, I've experienced horses not drinking strange water so this is absolutely true about some horses not drinking unfamiliar water. 

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