Feeding Your Horse In Hard Economic Times
Hay Feeding and Selection
Presented by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
at McKenna Vet Clinic
January 12, 2009
Sponsored by BUCKEYE® Nutrition
by Shari Zachrich of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Beet pulp comes from sugar beets, which may sound familiar, as they are included in many human sweets and treats. Common table sugar typically comes from either sugar beets or sugar cane; however, in the US most of the sugar comes from beets. Beet pulp is the remaining material after the sugar is removed. Beet pulp contains a lot of pectin (a gel-like substance commonly used to make jelly and preserves) a very digestible fiber found in many fruits that is proven to promote intestinal health and is recommended in human nutrition to lower cholesterol (this is one reason sticky hot oatmeal lowers cholesterol).
After the sugar is extracted from beets, the remaining pulp is dried to kill off a majority of mold spores allowing for a longer shelf life. After drying, the pulp can be made into many forms such as pellets, crumbles, shreds, and cubes for use in human and animal feeds. In the horse, beet pulp fiber is highly digestible, and very comparable to many types of high quality forages. Because of this ingredient’s digestibility and hindgut health benifits, it makes for a great way to add energy to a diet, with out all of the added starch. Its sweet nature allows for increased palatability for even the pickiest eaters. Beet pulp is often recommended for horses that need to gain weight but have attitude issues with grain products. Other benefits of feeding beet pulp are because of the low starch and moderate sugar content, it can help decrease symptoms of tying up, laminitis, and EPSM compared to traditional grain-based feeds. The low starch and moderate sugar content can help to keep blood glucose response levels low.
Physically, older horses with poor teeth can benefit from the soaked beet pulp, however, finding a balanced ration with the beet pulp already included in it is always the best option. Because beet pulp is fairly high in calcium, it can cause some imbalance issues with a ration that is not properly tailored to keep adequate phosphorus levels in check. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (heaves) and other respiratory problems can be helped by adding beet pulp in the diet. The dust in the feeds complicates these problems but by soaking the beet pulp, these issues can drastically be reduced. Other benefits of soaking beet pulp are to increase water intake in your horse’s diet and also because the beet pulp swells as it is moistened, horses with weight management issues can feel more satiated as a result.
Overall, beet pulp has been utilized in horse rations for over 20 years due to its many benefits for a variety of issues in horses. Metabolic, weight, respiratory issues, older horses, horses with poor teeth; the list goes on and on. Beet pulp is low in starch, high in fiber, highly digestible, very palatable, easy to store, and of reasonable cost. It’s a valuable part of any equine feeding program.
Foals can lose their mothers for a variety of reasons, whether it be a mare who will not accept her foal, a mare that does not produce milk, or, in the worst case scenario, a mare that dies before the foal is weaned. In any case, having an orphan foal is not especially uncommon. People used to believe that orphan foals would never turn out to be like normal adult horses because they would be too small and unthrifty or would have horrible behavior. Now, with the help of advanced equine nutrition practices, orphan foals can grow up to be healthy, well adjusted adult horses.
While all orphan foals must be managed carefully, those orphaned at birth present a specific problem. Newborn foals rely on the mare’s colostrum, or first milk, to provide essential antibodies (necessary to fight off infection). If a foal does not consume these antibodies within the first 24 hours of life he is at great risk for serious infections. Supplemental colostrum can be stored and kept on hand in case a foal is orphaned at birth, but often times veterinarians will give orphaned foals an equine blood plasma infusion to ensure immunoglobulin uptake. Either way, orphan foals must have their immunoglobulin levels checked regularly to be sure they are protected from infection.
Once you are sure your foal has immune protection, it’s time to plan a nutritional program. You have two main options in feeding your orphan foal: find a nurse mare or manually feed the foal. While finding a nurse mare may seem like the most natural choice, there are a few concerns with this method of action. First, finding a nurse mare in your area is sometimes extremely difficult, and it can be quite costly. Even if you find a nurse mare, there is no guarantee that you will be able to convince the nurse mare to accept the foal. Most importantly, however, is the fact that sometimes milk from a nurse mare does not provide the foal’s needed nutrition. Mare milk quality is best right after foaling but declines as time goes on. If a young foal is placed on a nurse mare that has been lactating for six months, that milk may not provide the orphan foal with the nutrients he needs.
Because of these problems with nurse mares, many breeders choose to feed orphan foals manually with a milk replacer. There are many milk replacers on the market today, but it is absolutely vital that owners choose a species-specific milk replacer. If you have an orphan foal, you want to make sure you’re using a milk replacer formulated to match the milk of a mare, not a cow or a goat. Foals have nutritional needs different than those of babies from other species, so they need a milk replacer targeted to fit their needs.
Once a milk replacer is chosen, the question becomes how to feed it. It’s important to keep in mind that young foals will nurse from a mare several times per hour, and an owner must mimic this frequency when manually feeding a foal. You can either feed your foal via bottle or bucket. Bottle feeding is quite labor intensive and can be impractical, especially considering how often a young foal needs to be fed. Feeding by a bucket is much more practical and is better for the foal as it allows him to feed in a natural, free-choice state. Foals can easily be taught to drink from a bucket. To do so, dip your fingers in the milk replacer and insert them into your foal’s mouth. This should make him start to suckle. While he is still suckling on your fingers, slowly lower them into the bucket of milk replacer. A bucket of milk replacer can be left in the foal’s stall for up to 12 hours. It’s important clean the bucket containing the milk replacer regularly, and always provide fresh water next to the milk.
In addition to a milk replacer, foals should be offered small amounts of creep feed starting at two weeks of age. Because a foal’s digestive system is not fully developed at this time, owners should choose a feed formulated for the nursing foal and stay away from a grain mix formulated for the mature horse. These grain mixes will not hurt the foal, but he will not be able to digest the ingredients in the grain mix and therefore cannot utilize any of the nutrition. There are a few creep feeds designed for nursing foals on the market today and are usually milk based. The general rule of thumb for feeding rate of these products is 1 lb per month of age per day. Once the foal is three months old, he can be transitioned slowly from the milk replacer/creep feed combination to a grain mix formulated for breeding stock or growing horses. By this age, his digestive system has developed and matured enough to process the ingredients in normal grain mixes, so he can now utilize them.
Having an orphaned foal can be a complicated, labor intensive endeavor, but it is possible to produce a foal who looks and acts no different than his normal counterparts. Owners of orphan foals should work closely with a trusted veterinarian and equine nutritionist to carefully monitor and tailor the feeding rates of any milk replacer and creep feed to the particular foal. With proper management and the right effort, there should be no long term effects of having an orphaned foal.
Talk to any equine vet around today, and one thing they might tell you is that insulin resistance is on the rise. This disorder is occurring in much higher number today than it ever has been. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for laminitis, which can be a very painful, possibly deadly disease for the horse. By understanding exactly what this disease is and what causes it, horse owners can reduce the risk that their horse will become one of the many affected by it.
To understand insulin resistance, it’s helpful to first understand how insulin works in the normal body. In any animal, after a meal is eaten the food is converted into glucose, or a simple sugar used for energy in the body. This glucose travels in the animal’s bloodstream to various muscles and organs, where it can be used for energy to fuel vital life processes. In a normal horse, insulin’s job is to “grab” the glucose molecules from the bloodstream and pull them into the cells of whatever tissue may need them. In an insulin resistant horse, the insulin can’t grab hold of the glucose molecules. Because the insulin can’t move the glucose from the bloodstream into the tissues, blood glucose stays high and never returns to a normal, pre-meal level. In an effort to fix this problem and reduce blood glucose, the body secretes more and more insulin to try to remove glucose from the blood steam. It’s these high levels of blood insulin that result from insulin resistance that cause so many health problems for our horses.
Horses most at risk for insulin resistance include those that have Cushing’s disease and those that are older, or senior horses. Many of the horses that fit these categories are overweight, and obesity is a major risk of insulin resistance. What are especially dangerous are the horses who are not only obese, but who show obvious fat deposits in certain key areas. Abnormal, lumpy fat deposits at the base of the tail, behind the shoulders and along the crest of the neck are referred to as “regional adiposity” and are a sure warning sign of insulin resistance.
If you have a horse that has insulin resistance, or one that is at risk, the first mode of action you need to take is to make sure the horse is at a healthy bodyweight. If your horse is overweight, it’s important that you implement a weight reduction program (see “Overweight and Under Concerned?”). It’s also important that obese horses are started on an exercise program. Exercise not only help reduce body weight but can also improve the efficiency of how insulin works in the horse’s body.
For any insulin resistant horse, whether overweight or not, the key rule for the horse’s diet is to reduce the starch and sugar consumed by the horse. To do so, an owner should choose low starch and sugar grain mixes. A ration balancer is an excellent option for IR horses, as they are very low in starch and sugar but also low in calories to help control bodyweight. It’s important to also choose a grain mix with a very low feeding rate, as the pounds of starch and sugar the horse consumes per day is much more important that the actual percentage. For example, a feed that is 10% starch and sugar may sound like a good feed for and IR horse, but if the recommended feeding rate is at least 10 pounds per the actual amount of starch and sugar consumed per day will be too much.
Forage is vital to the health of all horses, but must be closely monitored in an IR horse. Fresh green grass can be quite high in sugar, so the consumption of this type of pasture by IR horses needs to be controlled. These horses can either be fitted with a grazing muzzle or turned out in a dry lot to control their grass intake. When choosing hays, owners should look for a more mature, stemmy hay, as these hays are usually lower in starch and sugar then younger hays.
by Shari Zachrich of Mars Horsecare US
Our first discussion on the feed tag encouraged you to evaluate your horse against the description of the feed and pointed out important information on the guaranteed analysis. In the edition, we move on to the rest of the tag which, by AAFCO regulations, should immediately begin with the ingredient section.
Ingredients can be listed in two different ways. One method is least or best cost. This method lists ingredients in collective terms, where substitutions can be made for that type of ingredient. For example, “Grain Products” can be listed on the tag but inside the bag can be barley, corn, grain sorghum, oats, wheat, rice, or rye. Price is usually the main factor in determining which of these “Grain Products” will be included in the formula. Where collective terms are used, consistency of actual product from bag to bag can be fairly uneven - depending on which substitutes are made. But by regulation, these tags have to meet the guaranteed analysis. Keep in mind too the quality of that feed. If a guarantee is the only specification a company has to meet, how does that affect the nutrition of that feed. As horses have digestive systems far different from cows or humans, some ingredients may not be as readily utilized in the horse’s body as you might think. What this means is, from a guaranteed analysis point of view, feeds can be clearly within regulation, but fail to actually meet your horse’s nutritional needs - based on the accessibility of that grain or protein product. For some collective terms there can be as many as forty different sources acceptable to substitute.
The other method of feed labeling is known as “fixed formulation”, which specifies the exact ingredient used in the product - making it impossible to formulate by price week by week. There are specific conventions for listing ingredients in a tag. Take distillers for example. In a fixed formulation, distillers must include its plant source (e.g. “Maize Distillers Dried Grains”). Using that title, no other dried grain or distillers can be substituted. This terminology for fixed formulation rations assures the consistency, quality, and nutrition of each product. Feeds using this method are not always the cheapest because ingredients must be bought at a rate that reaches a certain pre-determined analysis of their own. These sources must also be accessible to purchase time after time in order to keep within the guaranteed analysis standards.
Generally, feed companies will list their ingredients in order of amount, much like human food we see in the stores. Tags will begin with the ingredient in the greatest amount (typically a grain of some sort), followed by mineral and vitamin sources, and the last ingredient is likely found in the least amount. This is not required by AAFCO for equine products, though it is required for pet food. Despite this, you will find that many companies voluntarily follow these guidelines for the benefit of the horse owner.
After ingredients, feed companies will include specific feeding directions - including the type of horse, their work or age, and possibly weight or working conditions. This will help the owner and the horse get the most out of the feed so that it will not be wasted - and the horse will receive all of the important nutrients necessary for optimal performance. Recommendations typically follow requirements listed from the National Research Council’s Nutritional Recommendations of Horses based on numerous years of research.
Risk statements or warnings are listed last on the feed tag - informing owners not to feed product to specific animals due to toxic or detrimental effects. This is critical in multi-species farms. Horse feed should only be fed to horses and sheep feed be only be fed to sheep. Most toxicity problems occur in when a feed is used against its prescribed use, just like medications. Certain cattle medications are extremely toxic to horses or other animals, for example. Never feed your horse a medicated feed not specifically designated for horses.
At the bottom of the tag you will find information about where the feed was made and contact information if you have any questions or concerns. CALL YOUR FEED COMPANY! If anything about your feed doesn’t seem “right” to you, let the company who manufactured it know. They will either be able to fix the situation or explain why the feed is the way it is. A reputable company will be more than happy to assist you with your feeding questions - whether it’s “how much to feed” or “how the quality of your hay will change your horse’s nutrition.”
One last thing to look for is the tag itself. Make sure it is visible - and think about its presentation. Typically, tags are sewn onto the bag; this is a common practice this is both efficient and trustworthy. If a tag is actually printed on the bag, there is a good chance that company has made that formula virtually permanent. It is very difficult to change a feed when the tag is printed on the bag itself. If a tag is a sticker, or some other form of temporary inclusion, have a watchful eye. This could make it easy for a company to maintain a fixed formula, but there is a good chance that formula is not permanent. A sticker is easily replaced and the manufacturer could very well be using this method as a new way to label a least cost formulation. Companies can include specifics about what is in that particular bag of feed, but there is no way of telling if next week’s bag will have the same sticker.
There is a lot of information offered on a feed tag, which can be either useful or headache-inducing. But don’t be shy! Ask questions, go to seminars, do whatever you can to help educate yourself on reading a feed tag properly. Find a reputable company and stick with it! Some feeds may look and seem similar to others, but many profound differences can come to light with a closer look. Whether it comes to process or presentation, owners have numerous options when it comes to selecting a feed - and not all feeds are created equal. Companies have more options than ever before in terms of tailoring a diet to a specific horse. Ask them about it if that is something your farm could utilize. Will this feed fulfill my horse’s nutritional requirements? Am I getting the most nutrition for my dollar? Is this company dependable and reliable? At the end of the day, make sure your tag tells you what is most important to you!
by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horscare US, Inc.
For many years, corn has had a bad reputation in the horse industry, and many horse owners today refuse to feed corn because they believe it is bad for their horses. But is corn really a grain that needs to be avoided in horse feeds? In order to really answer that question, it’s important that we understand a few basic principles about cereal grains in general. The most common cereal grains we see included in horse feeds in the United States are corn, oats and barley. These grains are included in horse feeds primarily to provide energy, but they are not created equal. There are two main factors that affect the safety and performance of these grains in horse feeds: the starch found in the grains, and grain processing. We’ll take a look at starch first.The starch found in cereal grains is what supplies energy to the horse. Starch is an important component in horse feeds, but an excess of starch can lead to obesity, over excitability and metabolic problems. Of the three cereal grains we mentioned earlier, oats have the lowest starch level of about forty to fort-five percent, barley has an intermediate starch level of about fifty to fifty-five percent, and corn has the highest starch level of about seventy to seventy-five percent. If you’re just looking at starch levels, it’s easy to see why corn has such a bad reputation in horse feeds, as it is quite high in starch. However, many of the problems that have occurred in horses fed corn are due to the amount that has been fed. Corn is much more energy dense than oats. This means that when looking at equal volumes of corn and oats, the corn will provide much more energy than the oats. Many of the problems we see with horses on corn is due to the fact that these horses are fed a direct can-for-can substitution of corn for oats, which leads to an overfeeding situation. When equal amounts of energy are fed, feeding corn does not bring any increased risks of obesity or making a horse hot than feeding oats or barley.
When looking at the starch in cereal grains, it’s important to also look at the form of starch in that particular grain. The different starch structures play a huge role in the digestibility of starch. We want the starch in our horses’ feed to be digested in the foregut of the horse – the portion of the horse’s digestive tract that includes the stomach and small intestine. The general rule of thumb is that the more digestible the starch is, the safer it is for the horse (and the lower the risk of metabolic problems). Oats have a form of starch that is readily digested in the horse’s foregut. The starches found in corn and barley, however, are not readily digestible in the horse’s foregut and therefore have a higher risk of passing undigested into the horse’s hindgut where they could potentially cause problems.
Knowing that corn has a higher starch content than oats -and that corn starch is also less digestible, it might be easy to say that corn deserves it’s bad reputation. Before we make that assumption though we need to consider one more factor: grain processing. A few examples of processing methods include rolling, cracking or grinding, and these methods all exist to increase the digestibility of grains. Studies have shown that processing of oats and barley does not make any substantial differences in the digestibility of starch. However, when corn is ground or popped, the starch digestibility increases dramatically. If we can pop corn, or cook it at high heat, we can increase the starch digestibility to about 90%, which would make corn an extremely safe grain to feed your horse.
As you can see, there are reasons that corn should be fed in moderation and with some caution, but it is not as terrible or dangerous as it’s reputation would have people believe. As long as corn is fed in the correct amounts and is processed to aid in starch digestibility, it can actually be a nutritious, healthy addition to your horse feed.
Horse owners are given countless options at the feed store when it comes to purchasing the perfect feed for their horses. These numerous options can sometimes bring both stress and headaches. To navigate the options and nutrify a healthy, well-balanced animal, it is important to learn exactly what the feed tag means to your specific horse’s needs.
More is not always better. There are restrictions put on levels for feeds and tag labeling along with restrictions on your horse’s daily nutrient requirements. Instead of asking yourself which brand contains more of a certain ingredient or nutrient, look for quality ingredients instead. Creating the perfect feeding program takes time but by balancing your horse’s needs to what a product can provide can help alleviate this problem. Here is a start to finish tag justification that will help you not only look at what is in the tag, but be able to relate that information to how your horse can utilize that feed.
Evaluate your horse. What are their current nutritional needs? Take into consideration their age, amount of work, and even if your horse is a hard or easy-keeper. Since forage should always be the foundation of your horse’s diet, it is also beneficial to find a feed that complements the type and quality of your hay. Every commercially-made feed should have a tag sewn to the bottom of the bag, or include information on the bag itself. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, the following information is required for any non-medicated feed: Brand Name and Product Name, Purpose Statement, Guaranteed Analysis, List of Ingredients, Direction of use and any warning or caution statements, Name and address of manufacturer, and a Quantity Statement.
Brand and product name aside, the purpose statement should include the class of horse for which the feed is intended. For example: “for horses over three months of age” or “when forages are grass or grass/legume mixed”. Another common purpose statement is “scientifically formulated for mature horses in light work” or “maintenance feed” allowing consumers to rule out certain feeds if their horse does not meet that criteria. There are four classes of feed that commercial manufacturers can divide into including complete concentrate including both forage and concentrate sources, processed concentrate including pelleted and extruded feeds, texturized concentrate (or sweet feed) including molasses, and supplement including vitamin or mineral sources. Complete feeds are preferred when hay is either difficult for your horse to consume, or in low supply. Processed feeds are utilized to increase digestibility and palatability. Texturized feeds are helpful if your horse has a sweet tooth or for more finicky eaters and supplements are used to help balance out the diet of any nutrients your other feeds may be lacking.
The guaranteed analysis should be located directly below this statement. The only guaranteed analysis nutrients required by AAFCO to be included on a label are Crude Protein Minimum, Crude Fat Minimum, Crude Fiber Maximum, (in terms of percent) Calcium Minimum, Calcium Maximum, Phosphorus Minimum (in terms of percent). Copper Minimum, Selenium Minimum, Zinc Minimum all have to be labeled in terms of parts per million, and Vitamin A Minimum should be in terms of International Units per pound. Many feed companies have added other nutrients to this list in the past few years but are not required to do so
Crude Protein is the most misunderstood and misused nutrient gauged by the consumer when comparing feed. For proper protein utilization horses require a certain amount of dietary protein in terms of pounds per day. According to the National Resource Council, the average 1100 lb horse with light work requires 1.54 lb of protein per day. Taking this into consideration when finding the right concentrate, a 10% Crude Protein concentrate fed at 10 lbs per day supplies that working horse with 1.0 lbs of dietary protein (10% X 10 lbs = 1 lb protein). If a feed is 32% Crude Protein fed at 3 lbs per day your horse will receive .96 lbs of protein. Your hay can be calculated the same way in order to incorporate forage into your total intake for total protein sources. Along with protein, essential amino acids are a vital part of your horses diet contributing largely to enzyme function and muscle development. Lysine is the first limiting amino acid, followed by Methionine and Threonine. A guaranteed analysis that includes multiple amino acids can be very helpful in making sure your horse receives proper amounts of the necessary building blocks they require for proper growth and development.
Crude Fat provides energy, or calories, to the diet. By increasing the amount of fat you can decrease the total pounds per day needed of the concentrate. This is a great way to cut back on starch and sugar in the diet by feeding the minimum amount of protein and fiber and still include an appropriate digestible energy range. Fat supplements are a unique way to tailor your horse’s diet. If a horse is susceptible to anything from Tying-up, EPSM, Cushing’s, Laminitis, or even hyperactivity or nervousness, low starch is a plus. Increasing the calories alone, while keeping protein, starch, and sugar to a minimum can help decrease issues caused by these ailments.
Crude Fiber is another misleading nutrient in the horse’s diet. Fiber is required and beneficial for microbial growth and sustenance, which is why forages are so important and the foundation of a good balanced diet. Depending on the quality of your hay, the emphasis of fiber in the concentrate can vary. Crude fiber encompasses both digestible and indigestible sources. Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) and Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) make up Crude Fiber. ADF refers to cell wall portions including cellulose or lignin. These values are important it is used to evaluate horse’s capability of digesting the feed. As ADF increases, digestibility typically decreases. NDF refers to the total cell wall portions of feed components and can relate to your horse in terms of dry matter intake. As NDF values increase, dry matter intake generally decreases. Crude Fiber is the nutrient that is required to be listed on the tag although that information alone is difficult to gauge the actual digestible fiber consumed by the animal. Non-structural Carbohydrates, or NSC values are a measurement of starch and sugar in the feed. Starch and sugar have been deemed the culprit in many health issues previously mentioned. This is yet another beneficial tidbit of information that if not labeled on the tag itself, consumers that own horses with these problems should be very skeptical about. Calling your feed company and asking for the NSC value of your feed can be to your advantage. The lower the NSC value, the better. Typically, feeds less than around 20% NSC are recommended for horses with these special need diets.
Calcium and Phosphorus ratios can be a balancing act in itself depending on your hay. They are the most important minerals to consider as they contribute greatly to muscle and bone strength and repair. Many feed companies have attempted to resolve this ratio dilemma by providing feeds specifically formulated for legume or grass types of hay. Mother Nature has set forth a calcium to phosphorus ration of around 1.6:1 found naturally in most milk and therefore, it is a great gauge for what these mammals should be receiving. Generally, you see preferred ration at 2:1, and not be lower than 1.1:1. These ratios all reflect a total calcium intake per day - not to be mistaken with concentrate ranges alone. The sort of percentages you can find on a tag usually fall between 0.4 and 1.0 percent for calcium and between 0.3 and 0.5 percent for phosphorus depending on the diet for which that feed was designed. Calcium and phosphorus requirements increase greatly for the young and growing horses and gradually decrease as they mature.
Their amounts may seem small. However, these minerals are not to be overlooked. Copper, selenium, and zinc contribute to anything from joint and bone health to reproductive and immune response. They are noted on a feed tag in parts per million, or ppm. It takes 10,000 ppm to equal 1%, which explains why 40 ppm is never listed on a feed tag by percentage. Minerals of all kinds must be in correct ratios with other nutrients. Often times, if there is an imbalance, certain minerals can “tie-up” other minerals. If this is the case, a mineral could be so overbearing in the diet that it would be as if other minerals weren’t included at all. This is yet another example of “more is not always better”. Other minerals sometimes included in the feed tag, as incentive to the consumer, are potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, iodine, and cobalt. Each mineral has its own purpose and function in the body and the more information you can obtain from the feed company, the better.
Vitamin A is the only required vitamin to be listed on the feed tag. Vitamin A aids in vision, integrity of skin and mucous membranes, connective tissue, resistance to infection, bone development, and reproduction. Typically we see vitamins listed in International Units per pound, or IU/lb). IU’s are used to measure activity or effect of a vitamin or drug. To obtain an exact measurement in metric terms is sometimes difficult because of their variable activity depending on preparation. Other vitamins provided on the feed tag by certain companies are Vitamin D and E. Vitamin C is provided on some tags as ascorbic acid in mg/lb. Vitamin B-1, or Thiamine and Biotin are also listed in mg/lb. These vitamins are equally important contributing to metabolism, fatty acid synthesis, hoof quality, hair and bone growth, immune function, and are good sources of anti-oxidants. Omega acids, more sources of anti-oxidants with a multitude of benefits, can also be included in a feed tag and are a good resource for consumers to know.
The more information your feed company can provide you on the tag, the better informed you could be. If a question ever arises about tag information or a nutrient not listed on a tag, call your feed company and ask. They are more than willing to work with customers to get them the information they need. Always keep in mind; a feed tag is much more than numbers and percentages. And, tags are not just about “the more the better”. Feed tags are informational tools given to the end-user to help make better decisions about your horse’s diet. Your horse does not care what the bag looks like or how pretty the tag is; it’s the nutrition inside the bag that counts and your feed tag should help tell that story.
by Shari Zachrich of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
There are several causes of obesity in horses; too much energy (or too many calories) consumed, too little exercise, and other medical conditions such as insulin resistance or laminitis. Just like in humans, a healthy diet and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to shedding the pounds. It is unlikely that you will have the results you desire without one or the other. There are many concerns involved with an overweight or obese animal in which owners should take notice. Overweight horses are subject to many additional stresses due to their overall health including decreased time to fatigue, increased sweating and heat stress, increased respiratory difficulties, leg or joint trauma, and overall decreased performance. Overweight horses are at high risk for metabolic disorders such as Insulin Resistance or laminitis.
Assessing your horse’s overall condition is an important first step in changing the weight and lifestyle of your horse. Attaining a Body Condition Score and using a weight scale are some easy methods to determine a starting point for the new diet. Please refer to the April 2, 2008 edition of The Horse-Podcast for more information on Body Condition Scores. If your horse has no pending medical conditions, then decreased caloric intake and increased exercise is the preferred method to decrease your horse’s weight. After considering just how obese or overweight your horse is, you should then evaluate his current diet. Your assessment should include everything your horse consumes on a daily basis; hay, grain, pasture, supplements, etc. Many owners decide their horse is overweight and decrease the entire intake that horse has in order to lose weight. Typically, the average horse owner believes grain and concentrate to be the culprit and limits the intake of these feedstuffs. It is important, however, to consider exactly what portion of the diet you are limiting. Your goal is to meet the horse’s total daily requirements for protein, mineral, vitamin, and fiber to maintain healthy gut function, while reducing the amount of energy, or calories to lose weight. By decreasing the amount of grain or concentrate, you are usually decreasing the amount of vitamins and minerals your horse requires to function properly. Instead of limiting the concentrate and starving your horse of important essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other imperative nutrients, it is better to change the forage regimen first.
If your horse is on pasture, that is a major component to limit. Horses that are prone to being overweight or with little exercise are not a good combination with free choice pasture. Pasture has higher energy than hay because the plant in pasture is less mature. For a weight loss program, hay is recommended. There are two types of hay to choose from, grass and legume. Grass hays are timothy, orchard grass, fescue, coastal Bermuda, brome, etc. Legumes include alfalfa and clover. Because grass hays are typically lower in energy or calories than legume hays, they are also preferred for decreasing the weight of your horse. Grass hays are also an excellent source of fiber for the horse and essential for normal hindgut motility and function. By decreasing the amount of hay and fiber your horse consumes, you risk digestive upsets and even colic. Unhealthy vices can also occur in a horse lacking proper fiber intake such as eating bedding, cribbing, and other indigestible fiber sources. Typical grass forages do not meet daily requirements for mature horses in terms of protein, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients must be added to the diet by other means.
There are a few options when it comes to deciding your horse’s feed sources. Option 1 is to feed a reduced calorie feed, such as a low calorie, low starch concentrate. This allows owners to provide a typical grain ration without the added energy. Option 2 is the preferred method including a ration balancer that includes the protein, vitamins, and minerals designed specifically for your hay. A ration balancer is formulated to be fed in very small quantities yet supplies your horse with the essential nutrition your hay is lacking. Ration balancers can create a more tailored feeding program to your specific horse without the guesswork in larger grain rations. Keep in mind to make all feed changes gradual and maintain a total intake of 1.5%-2.0% of your horse’s bodyweight.
Once you have your nutrition program settled, a gradual increase in exercise will accelerate weight loss for maximum results. It is important to begin exercise routines slowly, depending on the fitness of your horse. Monitoring signs of fatigue such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and sweat is a good practice for avoiding overexertion.
It takes time and persistence for the horse to allow these changes in weight to occur. By making changes in your horse’s diet and lifestyle you can ensure your horse a longer, healthier life with improved performance and decreased risk of laminitis, insulin resistance, and colic. Obesity in horses is definitely something to be concerned about but it is preventable and a problem easily solved with proper well-balanced nutrition and exercise.
by Vicki Hershey of Mars Horsecare US
Mycotoxins are toxin compounds produced by fungi such as molds. Very often molds are visible, however, the visual absence of mold, does not mean Mycotoxins are not present. Many are microscopic. The right conditions for growth include temperature, oxygen and moisture. These conditions increase the likelihood that fungi will be present in small grains. High moisture levels in grain encourage fungal growth, while the cool temperatures increase the production of Mycotoxins. Temperature treatments, such as cooking and freezing, do not destroy these mycotoxins. Secondly, grains are often stored in grain bins where little or no aeration or re-circulation occurs. The three most common Mycotoxins that could be present in grains received are, aflatoxin, deoxynivaleno or DON, and fumonison. However, these Mycotoxins are not limited to grain, and can also be present in hay, grass or silage.
Aflatoxins (Aspergillus flavus) affect a number of crops predominately corn. It can also be present in: wheat, midds, barley and rice. Typically, it has a yellow green appearance when growing on kernels. Chances of growth increase during hot dry weather. Its presence is greater in grain that is produced under stress conditions such as drought, heat, insect infestation, and fertilizer stress. Management practices such as irrigation, good insect control and timely fertilization may reduce stress and reduce chances of aflatoxin levels. Aflatoxin levels are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Levels must not exceed 20 ppb (parts per billion)
Fumonison Fusarium moniliforme (Fusarium verticillioides) is a group of Mycotoxins that are common pathogens of corn and possibly rice. It is so common in fact, that it is found wherever corn is grown. It can appear white to salmon colored. Fumonison have been implicated as a possible cause of equine leukoencephalomalacia (ELEM), a serious disease in horses, and porcine edema – a disease in swine. Poultry and cattle are not especially susceptible to fumonison. Fumonison levels are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must not exceed 5 ppm (parts per million)
Vomitoxin or DON are Mycotoxins produced by certain species of Fusarium, the most important of which is F. graminearum (Gibberella zeae). This fungus causes Gibberella ear (also known as red ear rot) or stalk rot on corn and head scab in wheat, possibly found in midds, barley and oats. The fungus itself appears reddish to pinkish. The fungus may cause a reddish discoloration of the cob and kernels. Disease tends to be worse when corn is grown without crop rotation or after wheat as this pathogen also infects wheat. It may be worse when corn is grown in no till situations. FDA has recommended that total feed levels of DON not exceed 5 ppm (parts per million).
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have provided education on Mycotoxins management in the field with better farming practices and improved crop plants with greater resistance to insect damage and fungal infection that leads to Mycotoxins production. Mycotoxins management and education continues with improved harvesting practices, and better storage conditions.
Using both science and common sense as guidelines, feed-producing facilities can develop and implement strict quality control programs and good manufacturing practices (GMP’s) to reduce and eliminate the risk if Mycotoxins being introduced into their facilities. However, they must be committed to making sure these programs and GMP’s are followed by; educating associates, monitoring processes and providing documentation to ensure traceability in case of accidental or intentional contamination to the feed chain. By following these guidelines, and implementing these programs, we can protect our facilities, and the animals we feed.
by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Ulcers are a major problem in the horse industry today, and it has been reported that 60-95% of all mature working horses have ulcer problems. Horses most at risk for ulcers include performance horses - especially race horses, but leisure horses can be at risk for ulcers as well. Any horse, regardless of being a high level race horse or a weekend pleasure pony can develop ulcers if exposed to some of the risk factors we will discuss here.
To understand why the horse is so at risk for ulcers, it’s important that we understand the horse’s stomach anatomy. The horse’s stomach has two main regions. The first region is the non-glandular region, which takes up the top part of the horse’s stomach. This region is made up of very sensitive tissue, similar to the type of tissue that makes up our esophagus. This region does not produce any acid and also does not have any protective factors against it. The lower region in the horse’s stomach is the glandular region, which has tissue that is much tougher than the non-glandular region. The glandular region does produce acid and has protective factors lining the tissue, such as mucus. It’s important to note that the horse’s stomach produces acid at all times, even if there is not food in the stomach. This means that if the horse’s stomach is empty at any time, some of this unused stomach acid will start to eat away at the sensitive non-glandular tissue. Because the non-glandular region is the more sensitive of the two regions, the majority of stomach ulcers in horses occur in this upper region.
Hard physical work also contributes to ulcer formation in horses. As a horse works, the muscles in the horse’s body put pressure on the stomach. This pressure pushes the acid that normally stays in the glandular portion of the stomach into the non-glandular portion, so it exposes that sensitive non-glandular tissue to acid. The harder a horse works, or the faster he goes, the more pressure is put on the stomach, so more acid is pushed into the sensitive non-glandular region. Diets that are high in NSC (or sugar and starch) contribute another factor that increase the risk for ulcers. The bacteria in the stomach ferment the NSC when it enters the stomach in high amounts. When this fermentation occurs, acid byproducts called volatile fatty acids are produced which increase the acidity of the stomach. So on top of the normal stomach acid that’s already in the stomach, diets high in NSC contribute to the acidic environment by producing high quantities of VFA’s.
One of the major management factors we see today that may increase the risk of ulcers is a horse’s change from their natural setting to a very unnatural one. In its natural setting, a horse is on pasture all the time and can eat 24 hours/day if they wish. This continuous eating means that there is always something in the stomach for the acid to work on, and this food that’s always in the stomach serves as a protective factor for the sensitive non-glandular portion. Also, the constant chewing that comes with grazing means that there is constant saliva production. Saliva is a very important buffer for the horse and plays a big part in protecting against ulcers. In today’s setting however, most horses are stalled for all or at least part of the day. The problem with stalling horses isn’t necessarily the actual containment; it’s the meal-feeding that goes along with stalling a horse. Meals create periods where the stomach is empty, so the acid that’s always in the stomach has nothing to work on. Periods of time without food also mean the horse isn’t chewing, so there’s no saliva production as well.
If you have a horse who is at risk for ulcers or has had ulcers in the past, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the ulcer problem. The first rule of thumb is to keep a routine, and this should be the rule of thumb to use with any horse. Horses are routine animals, and keeping a constant routine with them helps to manage stress. Turn-out, preferably with a buddy, is an excellent way to reduce the risk of ulcers because it increases the time spent with food in the horse’s stomach and the amount of saliva produced. It also helps to feed before exercise to give the stomach acid some material to work on besides actual stomach tissue. Once an ulcer case has occurred though, we need to treat it medically to heal the existing ulcer before we can start fresh with a healthy horse.
We also need to lower the NSC in the diet, since diets high in NSC can produce VFA’s in the horse’s stomach. For an easy keeper, you need to look for a grain that has a very low amount of starch but also a low amount of calories, such as a ration balancer. For a hard keeper, your best bet is a high fat grain mix to provide the calories the horse needs but still keep the starch levels low. It’s also a good idea to lower the total amount of grain in the diet, both to lower the amount of NSC and allow for the addition of more hay in the diet, as hay can give a horse bulk in his stomach and increase chew time (which also increases saliva production).
What grain is fed needs to be provided in small meals so that excess NSC cannot be fermented in the stomach and produce VFA’s. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that grain meals do not exceed 0.5% of the horse’s bodyweight per meal. This means that a 1000 lb horse should have grain meals no larger than 5 lb. It’s also a good idea to offer free choice hay, as we’ve talked about how allowing your horse to eat continuously throughout the day keeps the stomach from being empty and allows for good saliva production. Studies have shown that including alfalfa in the diet is an excellent idea for ulcer prone horses, as the high calcium and protein in alfalfa hay buffers the stomach and helps control any excess acidity. The alfalfa doesn’t have to be fed in high levels either. We’ve seen evidence that levels as low as 1 lb of alfalfa per day can have a beneficial effect on ulcer development.
by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Nutrition may be one of the most misunderstood facets of daily horse care, and there are many myths and misconceptions about feeding horses that still exist today. These wives’ tales are often passed down as tradition from one generation to another. However, as we gain scientific knowledge about horses and how to feed them, we are finding that most of these traditional beliefs are actually false. In this talk we’ll discuss the three most common myths about feeding horses we see today.
The first myth, and probably the most common one circulating the horse industry, is that excess protein will make your horse over excitable or hot. Protein, however, has never been scientifically linked to mental attitude. In fact, it is the energy in the horse’s diet that leads to high-spirited behavior. Simply put, the more energy in the diet, the more energy in the horse. A good example of this would be a hyper horse that is fed high amounts of alfalfa. While alfalfa is higher in protein than grass hays, it is also higher in energy. If the horse is being fed enough alfalfa that it is supplying more calories than the horse needs, it is the excess energy in the alfalfa causing the over excitability, not the protein.
The second myth in feeding horses is that a weekly bran mash will act as a laxative. The principle ingredient to bran mashes is wheat bran, but this ingredient is not actually high in fiber. In fact, wheat bran has approximately the same amount of fiber as oats. Studies have shown that adding wheat bran to a horse’s diet does not induce a laxative effect and does not soften the stools. In fact, regular bran mashes can be harmful to your horse. Wheat bran is very high in phosphorus; so repeated use of this ingredient can unbalance the calcium to phosphorus ratio, as well as reduce the absorption of other minerals. Weekly bran mashes may disrupt the normal microorganisms in the horse’s digestive tract as well, as any rapid change in a horse’s diet can cause digestive upset.
Another common myth in the equine industry is that you should never allow a hot horse to drink because it will cause colic or founder. Numerous scientific studies have shown that allowing horses to drink immediately after work will not cause harm, and that withholding water from these horses is actually the worst thing we can do. The horse’s greatest thirst and need for water is immediately after exercise, and if we withhold water we prolong dehydration. Once a horse has cooled down, he loses his interest in drinking and may not drink the amount of water he needs to prevent a dehydrated state.
By Charlie Poling of Mars Horsecare US
As a source of nutrition for livestock, hay offers numerous advantages. It can be made from many different crops and when protected from the weather it can be stored and preserved with little nutrient loss; package sizes and shapes can vary greatly, and harvesting, storage, and feeding can vary from being baled by hand or completely mechanized. When supplemented, hay can often meet the nutrient needs of many classes of livestock. But how should you select the best forage for your horses?
Depending on your horse’s job, his requirements for forage will be different. For instance, how do you decide whether to feed a grass or a legume? Lets weigh the benefits of both. Grasses commonly fed to horses include timothy, orchardgrass, bromegrass, tall fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass. In general, grass hays are lower in protein compared to legume hays. They also can be low in calcium and phosphorus. Grass hays are usually easier to harvest than legume hays without them becoming dusty, and they are nutritionally sound for most mature horses. Legumes that are commonly used for horses are alfalfa, red clover, ladino clover, and birdsfoot treefoil. Legume hays on the other hand are generally higher in protein compared to the grass hays. They are also higher in minerals, but have an incorrect ratio of calcium to phosphorus. As a result of the high protein, they are very desirable in the ration of growing animals, but the calcium-phosphorus ratio must be balanced to prevent bone abnormalities.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when selecting types of hay and their quality. Lets start with simple visuals to score your hay. Does it look soft? Does it smell fresh? Is it leafy? Is it green or brownish? All of these clues are going to help you find the best hay possible for your animals. Hay should be sampled at the time of purchase for a better indication of the quantity of dry matter as well as the quality oif the hay in general. By considering the stage of maturity of the crop when it was harvested, you will be able to indicate quality. If the hay has large coarse stems and seed heads along with blooms present than you know that the plant was not cut at the right stage. This is going to mean fewer nutrients available to your animal and may not be as palatable. A lot of leaves and few to no seed heads will be the ticket. The leaves contain more digestible energy and protein than a bale full of stems would provide. The leafiness is going to decrease as the plant matures, leaving a visual for you to buy by.
Texture is going to be the next biggest thing, and finding the right size stem could be an indication of how palatable the hay is going to be for your horses. Look for a smaller more flexible stem to please your horses diet. Check the hay out with all your senses, think touch, sight, and smell. Look for insects, weeds, trash, and mixtures of grass/ legume so you know exactly what your horse is ingesting. Next get your nose up to the bale and smell, if it is musty or has a moldy odor just walk away, no matter what the price. This means that the hay was not cured or stored in the right conditions and there is mold present. The smell of new mown hay is the standard by which hay odor is going to be judged. Mildew, and mustiness usually are the result from weather damage or insufficient drying before baling - indicating a lower quality of hay. And remember — it may be more than just you turning up your nose at these bales; your animals will do the same and may not even eat it. A bright colored hay generally indicates that the vitamin and protein levels are going to be higher than a dark brown color. That dark brown color may indicate that the sun has caused heat damage and may not be able to provide vital nutrients. Color is not necessarily the best quality indicator when choosing hay but is one of the many tests that your hay needs to pass before purchasing.
Now lets talk about how hay can be baled. First the most popular methods are either round bales, or small square bales. Both are convenient in their own ways. Round bales are great to take outside and put into feeders, but bad to store. The shape of a “round” bale makes this selection difficult to store in the barn. It also looses quality once it is put out; especially with out a feeder and it usually ends up becoming wasted. This could also be a great place for mold to grow, so make sure that you are looking at it daily and checking out the quality. Square bales come in small, medium, and large sizes and depending on what your storage plan is, decide on which is going to be best for your barn. Small bales are great for in- barn storage and can be stacked easily; large bales on the other hand need machinery to be moved. Before purchase, make sure that you have a way of moving and storing this type of bale. Larger bales are easy to stack, but do take up a significant amount of space. Once stacked make it a point of rearranging all your leftover hay before each new shipment is stacked, you end up feeding newer hay first and leaving the old stuff to grow more aged and nutrient washed-out. Pull old bales to the front or side before stacking in new hay, and feed them first before starting on the fresher supply, this is also a great idea to use for your grain bins. Hay can also be cubed. Cubes are another way of providing forage to your horses, they are easy to store, and are low in waste though they are more expensive. Horses will tend to eat more in a cube, but giving the processing they won’t end up with a hay belly and often have less fecal output. These could also be useful when an older horse is having difficulty chewing.
Once you have selected your hay the next big question is where are you going to store it? Do you have a pull barn, hayloft, or backyard barn; does your hay sit outside? Is your hay covered by tarps or shrink-wrap? Depending on what type of bale you get, the storage is going to significantly differ from one to another. Storing hay inside a building results in minimal Dry Matter losses of 1-5%. Hay should be stored inside to reduce the exposure to moisture. Bales will absorb moisture from the soil if left outside on the ground yielding the highest Dry Matter losses, so be sure and protect your investment by keeping it safe from all weather condition.
Remember — forage should be the basis of your feeding program and understanding the differences between various forages and storage options will help you keep your horse healthy.
by Dr. John Sylvester of Mars Horsecare, US.
Laminitis and Founder are two words that are often used interchangeably, but do not actually mean the same thing. Laminitis refers to an inflammation of the laminar tissue in the hoof and tissue that hold the coffin bone in place. Founder refers to an actual rotation of the coffin bone within the hoof. Laminitis does not necessarily lead to founder, but it can if it’s not treated quickly. There are several situations that can lead to laminitis or founder, including trauma, concussion, drugs, toxemia, and a diet high in soluble carbohydrates (starches and sugars). Most of these can be managed with some forethought and attention to detail.
Nutritional laminitis is linked to the amount of soluble carbohydrates in a horse’s feed. Bouts can be caused by an over consumption of grain, either in one sitting, or by feeding large grain meals. A rule of thumb for an average 1000-pound horse is to feed no more than (4) pounds of a standard mixed grain or pellet at one time. Straight corn should be fed in even smaller amounts.
Laminitis can also be caused by an over consumption of rich spring pasture. Grasses or legumes, such as clover or alfalfa, are growing rapidly in the springtime. These plants can be very high in starches and sugars. If the horse’s digestive system is not accustomed to a high level of starch it can cause digestive problems that can lead to laminitis. Therefore, it is recommended that the horse be introduced to young pastures slowly. They should only be turned out for one to two hours per day to begin and the gradually the amount of grazing time can be extended. This may mean that the horse may need to be taken off of the pasture used in winter and kept in a stall, or a dry lot until adapted to the new grass in the pasture.
Fructans are a type of soluble carbohydrate that is not digested in the small intestine. Fructan sugar accumulation can reach high levels in cool-season grasses such as: orchard grass, timothy, and fescue. Research suggests that when fructans are consumed they reach the bacteria in the cecum and are fermented into lactic acid, which can lead to laminitis and founder. Fructan levels tend to rise during the spring and fall, which are times when the nights are cool, the days are warm, and the grasses are growing rapidly. Horses prone to laminitis should be kept off such pastures from mid-morning until late afternoon.
If fructan levels are too high, you may need to restrict your horse’s access to pasture – but it may be difficult to take a horse off of a pasture entirely. If you can at least limit the horse to a smaller section, particularly one with little grass, it is better then doing nothing. Another alternative is to use a grazing muzzle to limit the amount of pasture the horse can consume in one day, which may keep the horse from becoming laminitic. It is also helpful to keep hay where the horse has access to it, particularly if the pasture is lush.
When should you be concerned about Laminitis? Obese horses and ponies, horses that have foundered before, and horses with Cushing’s, are more prone to laminitis. You should especially be concerned about the possibility of laminitis if your horse is overweight or obese. If his body condition score is 6 or higher, limit the amount of pasture using the methods discussed earlier. Another condition that must be strictly managed involves the Cushing’s horse. Horses with Cushing’s syndrome are very susceptible to Laminitis when the starches in their diets change rapidly, or are very high. While a horse may be very thin, this is not a reason to give them a lot of high-starch grains. Minimizing starch intake is vital for health and soundness. Be sure to avoid exposure to rapidly growing pasture during the early spring and fall seasons. Feed a low-starch/high-fat grain mix or pellet.
Once your pasture is out of the rapid-growth season (April to June in the spring, and for a short time during the fall), most horses can be left on the pasture full-time. It is never recommended to leave a horse out the pasture for a long period of time if they’ve recently been confined to a stall - these horses can eat considerable amounts of pasture quickly and must be introduced to the pasture slowly or utilize a grazing muzzle.
If your horse is showing signs of laminitis – Warm hooves, bounding pulses in his lower limbs, walking “on eggshells” so to speak, or leaning backward in an attempt to keep weight off the front feet – You should call your veterinarian immediately. Early treatment can stop or at least retard the progress of laminitis and may allow the horse to recover completely. Your veterinarian will provide you with a suitable treatment program.
By Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US
Horses today are living much longer than they did in previous years – in fact it is not unusual to have a horse live into his thirties. As our equine partners live longer lives, it is our responsibility to support them nutritionally in their later years.
One question people often have is how to determine if a horse is “old.” At what point does a horse move from being “mature” to being a “senior”? The answer to this question really depends on the individual horse. While most people consider 20 to be the start of old age in horses, there is no real age when a horse can automatically be considered chronologically old. The most effective way of establishing old age in horses is to watch for certain physical signs. Chronically low body condition, loss of muscle over the topline leading to a sway-backed appearance, graying of the coat, and hollowing out of the grooves above the eyes are all symptoms of old age.
There are four primary characteristics of senior horses that can affect their overall nutritional outlook. The first is deteriorating dental health. This is very common in the senior horse and effects their consumption of hay – the most important part of any horse’s diet. Senior horses with bad teeth will simply not be able to chew and process long-stem forage, so alternative fiber sources must be provided in their diets. The second characteristic of senior horses is decreased digestive efficiency. Older horses have nutritional requirements similar to those of a long yearling because they simply cannot metabolize nutrients as easily as they did when they were younger. The third characteristic is a changing metabolism. This means that some older horses may develop problems in maintaining weight and become “easy keepers”, while some may develop problems in holding their weight and become “hard keepers.” The final characteristic we see in older horses today is arthritis. Arthritis actually has a huge impact on nutrition, as it causes both pain and stress, which can cause an older horse to begin losing weight or go off of feed completely. Also, in group-feeding situations, older, arthritic horses may not be able to fend off other horses to eat their feed.
When feeding senior horses, it is a good idea to use a commercial grain mix specially formulated for these older horses. These types of grain mixes are designed specifically for the needs of senior horses, so the protein, and vitamins and minerals in the mix are adequate for a senior horse’s higher needs, and are correctly balanced to fit his nutrient requirements. When shopping for a senior feed, look for a high amount of fiber in the grain to compensate for any loss in ability to process hay. Some senior feeds can even be fed as complete feeds – replacing hay altogether. Also, be sure to look for form in your senior feed. Pelleted feeds are best for those senior horses that have poor teeth, as pellets are easy to process and digest. And finally, be sure to look for a low starch and sugar level. Senior horses can become susceptible to many metabolic disorders due to high starch and sugar levels, including Cushing’s disease and insulin resistance. By choosing a senior feed that is low in starch and sugar, you can reduce the risk that your senior horse will develop one of these diseases.
by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Horses that are in training or showing have vastly different nutritional needs than horses that are inactive. But it’s the level of activity is what determines how to feed our performance horses. The NRC categorizes the different activity levels into four categories: light, moderate, heavy, and very heavy. Horses in light activity are those used for events such as trail and pleasure, where the work is mainly done at the walk level – and generally working 1-3 hours per week. Those in moderate work include school horses in a lesson program and those used for frequent showing — but in disciplines that are less strenuous, and these horses usually work for 3-5 hours per week. When we get into the heavy work category, we start to see horses that work for 4-5 hours per week but undergo strenuous speed or jumping work during their training — polo horses and those in low to medium level event training for example. Horses in very heavy work spend the bulk of their training doing strenuous activities including speed and jumping work and may work anywhere from 6-12 hours per week. These include elite racehorses and elite event horses. The higher the intensity of the work, the greater the energy requirement will be.
Energy is the first nutrient that is required in higher amounts in the working horse, but the source of that energy is just as important as the amount. The first source of energy we see in equine nutrition products is soluble carbohydrates, or sugars and starch — found mainly in grains, like corn, and sweetening agents like molasses. When a horse digests soluble carbohydrates, they are absorbed in the small intestine. The problem with soluble carbohydrates is that when they are digested they cause an increase in blood glucose and insulin that can lead to metabolic disturbances and increase the risk for tying up and ulcers, so it’s critical that we don’t overload the small intestine with them. If this happens, the starch that doesn’t get digested in the small intestine goes to the hindgut where it is fermented, which can cause acidosis, diarrhea, and even laminitis.
If starches and sugars can be dangerous when fed in high amounts, what can we substitute as a safer energy source? And the answer is Fats - and these are actually the preferred energy source of the horse. As we train our horses and they increase in physical fitness, their bodies actually shift naturally from using carbohydrates for energy to using fats. Fats are also more energy-dense, meaning that a small amount of fat can actually hold a much larger amount of energy. Like sugar and starch, fats are absorbed in the small intestine but they do not cause a large metabolic disturbance, so they are safer than sugars and starches. Some sources of fats common in horse diets are vegetable oils (such as corn or soybean oil), flaxseed and rice bran.
Fats also provide some additional benefits to performance horses. They improve the skin and haircoat, which is important in the show ring, for example. Fats can also calm behavior and make a horse more manageable. They reduce the heat load and delay lactate build up, both of which help to delay fatigue so the horse can go for longer periods. And since fats are power packed, we can feed less — and the horse has a lower intake so carries around less gut fill. By lessening the gut fill, we can reduce the amount of weight the horse carries and therefore help him to jump higher or run faster.
In addition to energy, water is a nutrient that is greatly affected as the horse starts to work. Performing horses lose massive amounts of water as they sweat, and this water needs to be replenished to keep the horse healthy. In moderate climates, horses can lose 6-8 L of sweat per hour, and this loss can increase to 15 L per hour in hot and humid climates. One L of sweat weighs about 2 pounds, so in a hot climate a horse can lose up to 30 pounds of bodyweight per hour. This is a huge amount of loss that needs to be replenished.
There is a common myth in the horse industry that says we should not let a hot, tired horse drink because it will make him founder or colic, and we shouldn’t let them drink cold water for the same reason. But actually, withholding water is the worst thing you can do when your horse is hot or tired — your horse has his greatest thirst immediately after exercise. If we withhold water until he isn’t hot anymore, he may not feel thirsty – and he could still be in need of water. Numerous studies have shown that letting a hot horse drink will neither cause colic nor founder. In fact, letting a hot horse drink is the best way to help him cool down. Water that is ice-cold is safe as well and won’t cause any health problems — the only potential problem we could see is that the horse may not drink as much, so he may not get the water amounts that he needs. As a rule of thumb, allow your horse water at all times, whether he is hot or not.
Electrolytes are another class of nutrients that working horses need. They should all have free choice access to a salt block… but performance horses need a little extra in terms of electrolytes – and there are many choices available. The first is top-dressing, or adding an electrolyte powder directly to the grain mix. You can also dissolve electrolytes in water. Some electrolytes are available in paste form, or you can create your own paste by mixing a commercial electrolyte powder with applesauce or plain yogurt.
Along with electrolytes, vitamins play a large role in the health of the performance horse. Fat soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin D is made by the skin in response to sunlight, and Vitamins A, E and K come primarily from fresh, green forages. Water soluble vitamins include the B-vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin and Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a nutrient we’re beginning to realize as very important in the performance horse. Vitamin C works closely with Vitamin E as an important antioxidant.
While the performance horse does have increased vitamin requirements, these needs usually increase in proportion to energy. In other words, if we feed our horses better grain and hay, or increase the daily amounts fed in the horse’s diet, generally we are already meeting these vitamin needs. The one exception to this may be Vitamin E, which is critical in protecting the body from oxidative damage. This is increasingly important in the working horse, as the muscle breakdown and rebuilding these horses go through can increase the oxidative products in the body. Vitamin E is found mostly in fresh green grass, so if you have a hard working horse that has little or not access to pasture it may be a good idea to supplement with Vitamin E.
So we’ve talked about other nutrients, but what about protein? Doesn’t a working horse have higher protein needs? Well, yes, but not to the extent most people think. What we actually see now in the performance industry is horses being overfed protein. Excess protein is detrimental as it can stress the liver and increase fatigue and dehydration. And since excess protein cannot be utilized for energy in the body, it is excreted in the horse’s urine as ammonia. Which as we all know, has a very bad smell when it builds up on the stall floor and can cause respiratory problems in horses.
With protein, it’s all about QUALITY, not quantity. Horses need grams of amino acids, not just a percentage of crude protein. Providing a high quality protein source (such as soybean meal) is vital in giving the horse the building blocks he need to build strong muscle and bone. It doesn’t matter how much protein we give them—if this protein is of poor quality and doesn’t have the correct amino acids, the horse can’t use it – and it’s excreted in the urine.
Now — a few general rules of thumb to remember when feeding any horse, but especially the performance horse.
- First - always develop your horse’s diet around his hay – the most important part of the horse’s ration.
- Second, know the exact amounts of starch and sugar in your horse’s grain mix. You have a right to demand to know this information from your feed company.
- And finally, it’s always a good idea to work with a qualified equine nutritionist to plan your horse’s diet. They can recommend the best grain to complement your horse’s hay type and keep your horse healthy and happy.
by Shari Zachrich of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Many of our horses today are overweight. As in humans, obesity can cause health problems, especially in older horses. Reasons for obesity can be a result of excessive caloric intake, not enough exercise, or certain medical conditions. Problems associated with obesity may include laminitis, founder, insulin resistance and possibly heart disease. Obese horses also have higher occurrence of joint and ligament disease, tendon strains, and birthing problems. In many cases, more than one problem can result. Insulin resistance, also known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome, interferes with the way insulin breaks down glucose and other sugar molecules, thus elevating blood sugar levels. Research has proven that increased blood sugar levels can interfere with the circulation around the lamina of the hoof causing laminitis.
Today’s most well-known body condition score method was developed by Dr. Don Henneke from Texas A & M in the early 1980’s. It is utilized to estimate body fat in relation to muscle using a numerical ranking between 1 and 9. Excess energy in your horse’s diet can turn into fat deposits, which serve as a “back-up” for later energy deficits. Once energy reservoirs are depleted, your horse will lose those fat deposits and begin to extract energy containing compounds from muscle, making your horse appear weak and thin.
Body condition score is a useful tool in tailoring your horse’s diet to their individual needs. Proper technique for this method includes visual evaluation and physical palpation of fat and muscle. The score itself can be affected by a variety of factors such as food availability, reproductive activity, weather, performance, parasites, and even dental problems. There are six main areas of interest when it comes to evaluating your horse’s condition; the loin or top line, ribs, tail head, withers, neck, and shoulders. The top line is a good starting point in assessing fat and muscle. If the top line is weak and spinous processes are visible then your horse is probably too thin. If there is a noticeable crease down your horses back with deposits of fat around the backbone, the body condition score will increase significantly. The loin area is one of the first places to accumulate fat on the body. The ribs are the next area to observe. As a rule of thumb, ribs should be easily felt but not seen. The tail head area in extreme conditions can either be prominent and distinct or rounded and bulging. Your horse’s withers can be a tricky area to assess body condition score. You must take into account your horses breed standard, size, and age. For example, a thoroughbred has prominent withers as norm whereas quarter horses are a little more concealed. Neck and shoulders should be a point of reference in fine tweaking your final score. Places to look for fat deposits in these areas are on the crest of the horse’s neck and directly behind the shoulders.
A few examples of extreme body condition scores are as follows:
A score of “1” is considered extremely emaciated with spinous processes, ribs, tail head, hooks and pins projecting. Bone structures of withers, shoulders, and neck area easily noticeable with no fatty tissue to be palpated.
A score of “5” is moderate. The back is level and ribs cannot easily be distinguished but easily palpated. Fat around the tail head begins to feel spongy, withers appear rounded over the spinous processes, and the neck and shoulders blend seamlessly into the body.
A score of “9” is extremely fat. There is an obvious crease down the backbone with patchy fat surrounding the rib area. There is bulging fat around the tail head, along the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the neck. Fat along the inner buttock may rub together and the flank is filled in flush with the rest of the body.
There is no standard in what number is “overweight” or not, that is subject to the owner but the number itself serves as a guideline to which is universal among all breeds. Keep in mind that your horse’s purpose can give reason to a specific body condition score. For example, a broodmare is seen typically around a body condition score of 6 or 7 to give optimum reproductive performance. Athletic performance horses are seen typically around a 5. No matter what your preference on how you like to see your horses fit, this scoring system can easily be coordinated into your daily routine in caring for your horse and playing an active role in utilizing proper nutrition in your horses diet.
by Dr. John Sylvester of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
As horse owners, we know that our horses are different from production animals such as pigs and cows; however, most of us rarely stop and take the time to understand why.
Modern horses come from the genus Equus that branched off a common ancestor about 5 million years ago. And about 5 thousand years ago, horses and humans met for the first time. Humans fell in love with horses and we decided that horses would be a part of our lives from that point forward.
During the past five thousand years, we have selected characteristics from many different horses that have developed into breeds of all different shapes and sizes. Although five thousand years is a long time, from a genetic standpoint is a matter of only a few seconds. So, even though many horses may look different, their physiology (i.e., the structure of their gastrointestinal tract) has not changed much and we must understand that in order to keep our horses healthy.
The GI tract of a horse is divided into 3 major compartments, the stomach, the small intestine and the hind-gut which contains the cecum and large intestine. Feedstuffs are digested and absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, while fiber is fermented in the hindgut. The hindgut makes up for approximately 70% of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract and is designed to ferment forage (and specifically fiber). Forage can be from pasture, hay, silage, or any other plant material. Fiber is absolutely necessary to maintain horse health. Through a complex partnership between horse and microorganisms; fiber is fermented by microbes, which produce beneficial end-products that the horse can use for energy. Fiber is also needed to maintain gut health.
Horses are unique animals with specialized digestion to allow them to eat forage. We must not forget that modern day horses do more work in recent times than in years past and are eating more feed to get the calories needed for optimal performance. The horse’s requirement for forage, however, has not changed — so whatever your horse does for a living, feed at least 1% of the horse’s bodyweight from forage. For example, an 1100 lb quarter horse should get at least 11 lbs of hay per day minimum.