What’s for Dinner?
|April 30, 2014
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
With a new horse coming home, it’s a good time to reevaluate my horse ration and see if there are any easy gains to be had!
This won’t be a comprehensive post about horse nutrition, rather some tools and thoughts and opinions that might be useful when thinking about your own horse. As you can see, a lot of thought goes into a relatively simple feeding program.
For more detailed discussion of carbs, oil/fat, corn, particle size, antioxidants, etc, I encourage you to search through the past post archive. If you have a specific question, leave a comment I’ll either link the relevant post, or answer it if I haven’t already addressed it!
Step 1: establish the management structure
- Dry lots and fed grass hay. The exact composition of the hay varies but it’s usually good quality orchard grass hay. The barn buys it in big lots – but because they feed so many horses, a block or so doesn’t last long and so the same lot of hay is never fed for more than a couple months at a time – if for that long.
- No access to pasture.
- Salt block.
Step 2: Consider the purpose of supplementation
Its always wise to consider the purpose of supplementation. The purpose of Farley’s supplementation is:
- to provide a source of vit E for muscle metabolism health
- to gain the aerobic metabolism benefits of feeding oil in the down time between rides.
- to acclimate her to the taste of a salty mash so she will eat electrolytes in her food during a ride.
- To provide a carrier for 1-3 with commodity ingredients that will be suitable for ride mashes.
At this point I am NOT supplementing Farley so that she will gain weight. If she is fed free choice grass hay, she will maintain an appropriate weight. I feel very strongly that before supplementing to put weight on a horse, that horse should be totally maxed out on forage consumption. This usually means consuming around 2% of their body weight.
Step 3: Make sure that your supplementation sorta resembles NRC requirements.
My responsibility when choosing to add “stuff” on top of the hay is NOT to totally screw up the typically balanced diet that is being provided by the hay. In general, nutrient requirements of the average horse can be met with good quality hay ONLY. I identified the reasons in step 2 of why I’m supplementing.
I like to run in through the NRC tables to see if what I’m considering will still meet the general nutritional profile for the horse. I don’t worry about all the nutrients – like one source says – we don’t often see sulfur toxicity or deficiency in horses so we can assume that most horse diets are sufficient for sulfur. The nutrients that are on my radar are:
- Ca:P ratio
- Vit E
- amino acid profile
- Vit B complexes
Depending on your geographical location or the career of your horse, your nutrients of concern might be different.
Here’s 2 online tools that will can help you play with NRC requirements, in addition to just looking at the tables and making your own calculations
- http://www.horsemath.com/horse-feed-calculator. I haven’t specifically checked the calculator against my NRC book, but it looks right to me (if you find an error, please let me know!).
- http://nrc88.nas.edu/nrh/ – from the national academies
Here’s something things to keep in mind when working with NRC tables.
- You have to pick a hay – I tend to pick a “middle of the road” grass hay that has moderate amounts of the nutrients compared to the other grass hays, since I don’t know the exact nutrition content of the hay I feed.
- You need to know how much hay your horse is eating. I usually pick something between 1.5-2% of body weight if I don’t know the exact weight.
- Most of the measurements are done in kg. 1kg=2.2lbs
- There is a limited list of commodities. Some things like “beet pulp” and “vegetable oil” and “rice bran” are listed. Other things like “EGM senior stable mix” are not. My work around is to make an excel table and look up the feed label for the feeds that aren’t listed and make my own diet composition tables.
There’s many different ways to meet the NRC requirements of an animal. You can feed all sorts of crap and still have the numbers look good. So, when looking at NRC tables and making decisions, it’s nice to keep in mind your feeding “philosophy”. Here’s mine:
- As much hay as my horse can eat, forage based diet
- No corn
- No molasses or other added sweetners
- Minimize starchy small particles
- Cost effective
- Fat source and significant vit E supplementation for competing endurance horses.
- A feeding style that supports the requirements on ride day – ie wet mash, with added electrolytes.
Step 4: Put it all together
Farley has been getting a very consistent mash over the last couple of years and it takes into consideration everything that we’ve discussed above.
- vitamin E capsules (~3K I/U unless we are close up to/from a ride when it is increased to 5k I/U). She doesn’t have another source of vitamin E in her diet, and by feeding vit E, I’ve been able to eliminate Se supplementation. Walmart human product. the 400 I/U product is the cheapest per unit so that’s what I use. I was unsure about the efficacy of the human product in a horse – but it does seem to work and is cheaper than my horse alternatives so I’ve continued to use it.
- couple pounds of elk grove milling’s (EGM) senior stable mix. A forage based pellet that contains beetpulp, and is low starch, does not contain corn or molasses. The senior stable mix has a higher fat content than the maintenance. I don’t feed their performance stable mix because it does not contain beetpulp, and I want the option to offer her a beet pulp mash on ride day and have it not be “new”.
- table salt. The pickling type since it’s pure salt without iodine or an anti-caking agent. I’ve worked Farley up to the point where she can handle an incredible amount of salt….and now I add enough so that I don’t lose that taste conditioning. This translates to a “handful” thrown in. Prior to a ride I’ll switch to an electrolyte so I don’t have any race day changes. But day to day plain ole NaCl is cheaper and provides the taste acclimation.
- Vegetable oil. NOT corn oil. About a cup. Yes, there’s better oils, but sourcing a good oil is pricey and I can’t just pick it up when I’m grocery shopping, so this is what I’ve stuck to over the years. I’m feeding oil for the aerobic metabolism benefits, not necessarily the antioxidants or aesthetic reasons so I just try to make sure I grab something that isn’t corn.
- Alfalfa at and after rides to provide a more complete amino acid profile for recovery. Source of electrolytes during a ride.
Now we’ve added Merrylegs to the mix. Here’s a real life example of me working through the stages above, starting from scratch.
Merrylegs is a 2 year old that is still growing. Most “junior” or starter feeds have a 2 year age cut off or “until horse reaches skeletal maturity” statement. My personal opinion is that NRC tables don’t take into account the differences in breed maturity rate and so it’s important to be flexible and view them as a guideline. My 2 year old arab does NOT look like a 2 year old quarter horse and OBVIOUSLY is still growing. (Matt says he can tell the difference between Farley and Merrylegs because Merrylegs has “pony legs” from behind).
Step 1: Management considerations
Same as Farley
Step 2: Purpose of supplementation
Merrylegs isn’t in training, I’m not trying to push growth or development. So why supplement?
- Introduce the concept of wet mashes – both for her future as an endurance horse, and as a carrier for medications etc in case something happens. Better she gets in the habit now of eating a wet mash, then convince her to eat one for the first time when it’s laced with bute.
- Vit E source (remember there is no fresh forage in the management)
- Make sure Merrylegs has the macro and micro nutrients required for growth – specifically keep an eye on protein, copper etc.
- Provide a fat source. Fat is expensive, so why feed it to a non-performance horse? In addition to aerobic improvements in a working horse, I’ve also seen differences in skin/hair/hooves (my trimmer can totally tell when I’m getting lazy and haven’t bought oil in a while).
Step 3: Compare desired changes to NRC requirements and feeding philosophy
This is a long detailed section. Feel free to skip down to step 4 and then come back if you want to read more about my justification for a particular decision.
- Try to reduce cost of the wet mash. Now with 2 horses, I need to see where I can make feeding less expensive. A bag of beet pulp costs less than a bag of EGM. By feeding half EGM and half Beet pulp, I will save some money, without negatively impacting any of my goals for supplementing, or substantially changing the nutrient composition of the diet. Conclusion: Add beet pulp and reduce EGM
- Because Merry isn’t working, add vit E at a maintenance requirement – which is about 500 I/u. Since I feed tablets in increments of 400, she will get about 800 i/u. Conclusion add 2 vit E tablets
- Fat source. Oil is messy, makes my buckets icky, and while my tack room is dark year round….it gets hot in the summer and I worry about oxidation. In the past I’ve used a freeze dried oil product and really liked it – but it’s cost prohibitive for me right now. What about rice bran? Grass hay has a relatively good Ca:P balance. Rice bran has an inverted Ca:P ratio (meaning that the phosphorus levels are very high compared to Ca) and added even at relatively low amounts COMPLETELY screws up the Ca:P of a grass hay based diet. If you feed a higher calcium diet – like alfalfa – then feeding a small amount of rice bran actually helps bring the Ca:P ratio back into balance somewhat. After playing with the NRC calculators and confirming what I had already learned several years ago, I gave up on rice bran….until I saw a stabilized rice bran with added calcium carbonate in my local feed store. Based on the feed tag the relative amounts of Ca and P in the product shouldn’t impact my overall Ca:P. Yeah! I worry about Ca:P ratios in all horses, but especially in a growing horse. The downside is that about 2 pounds of rice bran is needed to provide the equivalent of 1 c. of oil. This makes feeding rice bran much more expensive for a horse (like Farley) that I want to maintain at ~1 c. equivalent of liquid oil during competition season. My plan is to switch both horses to rice bran in the summer time when it’s difficult to keep my oil cool. Farley will get a 1 to 1/2 pounds when there’s no upcoming ride, Merrylegs will get 1/2 pound. Five weeks prior to a ride I will switch Farley back to liquid oil (4-6 weeks is the time you need to feed oil to get adaptations, so want to make sure she is fed 1 c. oil at least 4 weeks prior to a ride). I will reevaluate rice bran versus oil when the whether cools down in November. Conclusion: Feed a stabilized rice bran with added calcium carbonate.
- The protein in a grass hay *should* be sufficient to address NRC requirements. However, an equine nutritionist that I trust mentioned that even while grass hay has sufficient protein, she recommends feeding alfalfa during recovery from rides because it has a more “complete amino acid profile”. I make sure I throw alfalfa to Farley a few days after an endurance ride, however for a lot of reasons it’s difficult for me to add alfalfa on a semi regular basis beyond after endurance rides. It would be nice to have a more flexible way to feed protein as needed. Even if the horse doesn’t need the extra protein, excessive protein is safe up to a point. It can increase water requirements, and increase ammonia in urine – which isn’t desirable, but neither is not providing the muscle substrate for repair, conditioning, or growth. Calf manna is a readily available high protein feed that also contains some flavorings (like anise) that can flavor a mash and help hide other stuff (like medications) or even flavor water, which I see as an added benefit. Conclusion: feed calf manna in relatively small amounts.
Step 4: Put it all together
Merryleg’s mash (fed 4-5/week since getting out to the stable isn’t likely).
- EGM/beetpulp 50/50 mix
- 2 vit E capsules (800i/u)
- rice bran (.5 to 1 lbs)
- calf manna (.5-1 lbs). Variable depending on when I think she needs the extra protein.
- small amount of loose salt.
Farley’s mash will also change slightly
- EGM/beet pulp mix (formally just EGM)
- vit E (amount depends on ride schedule)
- Rice bran or liquid oil (depends on ride schedule)
- Calf manna (~1 lb) after long rides and after competitions. Will not replace alfalfa during a ride or the first 24 hours after a ride, but will allow me to increase protein at other times that I feel it is needed.
I think the biggest question I get is why I don’t just feed a complete feed?
It’s hard to find a feed without ingredients that I consider a no-no such as corn and molasses. Considering I would never feed 10-12 pounds (or even 6 pounds) a day, I’m not even close to approaching the levels of nutrition that is listed on the label. Even if I did feed at the recommended levels that the feed tag is based on, the amount of fat and vitamin E is usually lower than I want. It’s also expensive – especially if you are feeding anywhere near the recommended amount. IMO if you aren’t, then you aren’t really supplementing or adding anything of value to the diet beyond getting the horse used to a mash – and if you are doing that then do yourself a favor and just feed a wet mash of cubed forage or a component forage pellet (which is what EGM is). When I break out the cost of my feeding system, it’s cheaper, and it’s more flexible.
It’s also more work :).
Another good question – where is your ration balancer?
In the past I’ve sung the praises of the value of a ration balancer, but you notice that I don’t have one listed here. I’m having a hard time getting one in my area that I like, and I’m hoping that the fact that the hay being fed comes from multiple locations and multiple fields means that my nutrients sorta average out.