Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Evolving Feed Programs

I get the occasional e-mail from people with questions on previous articles I've posted on what I fed my horses.  More questions are specifically asking about prevention of sand colic. Katie and BL would be the last two I received - this article is for you.  It is intended to show you want I do.  You would be well advised to work with your Vet on what is going to be best for your horses in your specific area.

A significant portion of horse owners have the benefit (and sometimes the dangers as well) of keeping horses near yearly on pasture. In West Texas and the desert Southwest, putting your horses on pasture is rarely an option. And if you own horses long enough you will see a case or two (or three or ten!) of sand colic.  I saw a lot of it when I ran a large public barn.  And, in my observation, the rates of colic increased when horses were fed straight alfalfa and consumed much of it of the ground.    

Sand colic of course is distress or even an impaction of the gut caused by the digestion of sand. If you want to get concerned about sand colic, goggle the term and look for x-rays and pictures of necropsies showing just how much sand a horse can accumulate in their gut. 

While for centuries, horses grazed off the ground, it has usually been plants and scrub. The tendency of a horse to pickup sand in his feed increases greatly when small alfalfa leaves or grain is dropped onto the ground and the horse cleans up every bit of it. Generally, horses can eat long stemmed forage, such as grasses off the ground without a problem, but feeders, and mats, that will contain the feed of the ground is generally safer.

I used to feed in tubs that were small enough where the horses would pull out their feed and distribute it on the ground, where they would pickup sand while cleaning up. As a preventative step, I used to routinely feed a wheat bran mash, usually mixed with Sand Clear - a pelleted psyllium supplement, to help remove sand from the gut. This also presented it's own issue with horses (some more than others) dropping mouthfuls of the mash onto the ground then cleaning it up digesting more sand. It was only when I went to using large box feeders, where the horses would drop very little feed outside of their feeder, where I could cease the routine feeding of bran mashes.

This is the evolving part of a feeding program for horses. As factors change, so does what and how you feed.  Many factors would influence changing types and amounts of feed- these are just of them:

~ As horses get older their dietary needs will change. We've kept horses rideable into their late twenties and even early thirties by adding judicious amounts senior type feed to ensure these great old horses obtained a healthier amount of vitamins, minerals and pro-biotics their aging bodies need.

~ Teeth issues, causing pain to chew or inability to chew food small enough is a big facto.  Older horses will generally have teeth problems.  And in fact, all horses can have teeth issues so nothing better than an annual exam and floating to eliminate teeth as an issue.  While you are at it, have a conversation with the Vet on what types of feed will benefit the changing health of the horse.

~ Changing sources of alfalfa and grass hay, with changing quality and nutritional value, will also likely move you to change your feedings. we feed a mix of alfalfa and grass hay and that ratio changes as we detect quality changes in the hays. First cut alfalfa, with it's normally rich leafy and higher protein values, direct us to feed less alfalfa and more grass.  While you can normally find a nearby asset to send feed samples to for diagnosis, the horse owner usually develops a feel for the feed quality through sight, touch and smell.
~ Several of our horses receive a periodic dose of pro-biotics and when we change alfalfa sources, all the horses get another dose even though we mix old and new alfalfas for 7-10 days. We also give them an out of cycle dose of Sand Clear as well.

I do routinely use Sand Clear. Some people have commented that it's expensive, but having a Vet respond to a colicing horse is more expensive. Horses are going to be different - some get along just fine without the intervention of added psyllium. I have three horses who get one scoop (5 ounces) of Sand Clear once a week. Nothing indicates that they digest much sand, but Sand Clear isn't just helpful to prevent sand colic, it's helpful to keeping a healthy gut. And two other horses get Sand Clear two to three times week depending upon the condition of their manure.

As a rough 'sand in the gut' check, You can collect five or six balls of manure that haven't touched the ground and put them into a mason jar.  Cover the balls of manure with water; shake the jar up, and let the sand settle to the bottom.  While I have done this dozens of times, I no longer bother to do.  I can usually judge by changes to the horse's manure piles on the ground.  Wet, partially formed manure can indicate sand in the gut. We have been able to keep two of our older horses pretty well balanced this way for years, and actually eliminated the periodic colicing of one of these horses when we first came to us.

My Vet runs a large stables and her practice is that all horses receive Sand Clear once a week. The fact that she recommends it should be good enough for most of her clients. I do still believe wheat bran has a place in the barn. A sloppy wheat bran mash with a bit of molasses (and I usually put in some corn oil) is a good way to get fluids and nutrition into a horse.

So to answer several questions over the past few months, and those from Katie and BL, I obviously recommend Sand Clear.  However, not all psyllium products are the same. I would be hesitant to use psyllium products intended or humans, and would not use any of these products that had artificial sweeteners added to make it palatable to humans. Metamucil for instance contains Aspartame. No human could consume Aspartame, and neither will my horses.

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