Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Changing Feeding Routines for Older Horses

I try not to give too narrow of advice about feeding horses as there are just too many factors to consider. There are cases were something needs to change and this usually pertains to the amount of feed a horse is getting - much too little, or too much. Over the years, with my horses and managing a public barn for 6 years where we had an average of 40 horses, I saw just about every problem you could think of concerning feeding programs. When I was running that barn I contracted for a Equine nutrition doctoral student at nearby New Mexico State University to some in and give a seminar on nutritional requirements and developing a sound feeding program based on the individual horse. He too was careful not to give too narrow of advice, but he succeeded in reducing the incidences of colic and founder. Perhaps the best advice he did give was routine dental exams on all horses, especially the older horses.

Horses have individual needs based on their age, health, condition of teeth, and activity so those needs to be taken into consideration in their feeding program. And older horses can have rapidly changing conditions and nutritional requirements. Long ago, we started feeding a mix of alfalfa and grass hays. Some horse's get 70% alfalfa and 30% grass (in weight) and others the reverse ratio. Horse's generally don't need that high of a protein content that comes with alfalfa, and the grass helps balance out the minerals. So the horse I am describing below, Charlie, was getting about 6 lbs of alfalfa and 14 pounds of grass (Bermuda) each day.

Charlie is a big stout Quarterhorse type, 15.1 hands and around 1,300 lbs. In the picture above right, he is the sorrel horse with the white socks and one stocking. Although the young man I bought him from couldn't produce papers, Charlie came from substantially good breeding and had really good feet. Despite my advice to this young man, Charlie was on a straight alfalfa hay diet, also receiving one large coffee can of dry wheat bran on odd numbered days and a large coffee can of Strategy pelleted feed on even numbered days - see? I told you I have seen quite a bit of different, if not odd feeding programs. This young man never succeeded in being able to load him to take him to any ropings, which he had his Pa send Charlie to him for. He never asked me for help nor did I offer......as I kinda liked that horse.

Eventually this young man approached me about buying Charlie. He started asking $2,700 and ended over a few days settling for $800. He tried to pass Charlie off as an 11-12 year old, but I could tell he was near to 20. But knowing how resilient that horse was by surviving the odd feeding program and his obvious excellent conformation and good nature, I bought him for my wife.

Fast forward 12 years later, Charlie is near to 30 years old. My wife rides him often and even rode him in a Randy Rieman clinic where Randy called Charlie the Old Campaigner. He is animated as ever, especially at feeding time, trotting around with is head shaking wanting you to hurry up with the feed, but never aggressive or disrespectful when you are in his pen with the feed.

Lately Charlie would drop bolts of partially chewed hay and his manure was pretty loose as his gut absorbed more water trying to move the bigger pieces of lesser chewed hay through his system. We feed in huge box feeders, but it doesn't stop Charlie from throwing his feed out onto the ground most of the time. Thinking that the symptoms were a result of ingesting too much sand, I just upped the interval on him getting Sand Clear. Half the time this would clear up his less than formed manure. But the years have taken their toll. Despite dental exams and teeth floating every 12 months his molars are worn down where he can't masticate the longer stemmed hay anymore which causes some distress in his gut and sometimes, colic type symptoms. In the last couple months we changed his feed where more than half his grass hay needs are received using Standlee Timothy grass pellets soaked pretty good in warm to hot water to avoid so much of the long stemmed hay that he has a hard time chewing. We had other older horses but none of them had the problem with the longer stemmed forage that Charlie had, so this was a new problem for us.

Since we made the feeding change, Charlie's manure is well formed and moist. He has lost just a little weight, which he needed to do anyway, and his energy level is much higher. He gets about 3 lbs of alfalfa in the morning, along with 5 lbs (dry weight) of soaked Standlee Timothy grass pellets. Around noon he gets about 6 lbs of mixed Bermuda and Timothy grass. In the evening he gets about 3 more lbs of alfalfa, following by another 5 more lbs (dry weight) of soaked Standlee Timothy grass pellets and his Glucosamine supplement.

So really the whole purpose of this article is to pass on a lesson learned or maybe just a reminder that older horses can have rapidly changing conditions and needs, including routine or even a shorter interval for dental exams. And never having been a big proponent for pelleted feeds being a large part of my horses diet, I am very much pleased with the quality of the Standlee products. They make a wide variety of products from compressed bales of alfalfa and timothy hays; pelleted and cubed timothy and alfalfa-timothy blends; and much more. Plus their web site offers a ton of good information on equine nutrition which we all could benefit from.

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