Draft Horse Nutrition – Feeding the Gentle Giants

ClydesdaleThe Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire and Suffolk breeds are the primary draft horse breeds in the U.S.  The breeds are named for their country or area of origin.  The Belgians originated in the Belgium, the Clydesdales originated in the river Clyde district of Scotland, the Percherons originated in the Perche region of France, the Shires originated in the east of England and the Suffolk originated in the counties of Norwich and Suffolk in England.  They were originally imported to the U.S. for true horsepower and are now very popular for shows, pulling competitions, parades and work.  The commercials and advertising associated with the Clydesdales have made that breed one of the most recognized of the draft breeds.

Draft horses are large, heavy muscled animals that are relatively slow to mature and are metabolically very efficient.  Mature horses will weigh anywhere from 1500 lbs to well over 2000 lbs.  Hoof quality, bone strength, muscle development and hair coat are all key criteria that are important in raising and using draft horses.  As draft horses perform work, energy requirements increase substantially.

Good quality forages, grass or grass/legume mixtures, are an important part of the draft horse diet.  Horses will consume 1.5-2.5% of bodyweight in forage.  Properly balanced grain mixtures, pelleted or textured, may be used to provide the additional energy, amino acids, minerals, trace minerals and vitamins to balance the diets.

Poor quality hoof growth can be a problem with draft horses.  The use of feeds containing biotin, zinc and methionine may be beneficial for these horses.

Draft horses may also be affected by Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, which used to be called Monday Morning Disease or Azoturia.   This conditions results in the horse “tying up” with stiff muscles and reluctance to move.  These horses may benefit from a diet that has controlled levels of non-structural carbohydrates or soluble carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and that contains added fat from vegetable oil as well as optimum selenium and vitamin E levels.  Regular exercise and turn out are also important for these horses.

Growing draft horses may also develop Developmental Orthopedic Disease problems as a result of genetics, conformation, stress or improper nutrition.  Feeding a balanced diet and avoiding excess body condition score may be beneficial in reducing the risk of these problems.

Be sure to provide free choice salt and access to fresh clean water for all your draft horses, especially those who are performing heavy work.

Six Ways to Slow Horse Feed Intake

hand feeding red sizeThere has been a recent trend to manage horses in a more “natural” manner, especially when it comes to feeding. Extending the length of time horses spend foraging has been linked to improvements in horse health and wellbeing, including reductions in unwanted behaviors, ulcers, choke and insulin and glucose responses after a meal. Slowing feed intake is also important for horses on restricted diets, those who are meal fed a few times each day, and horses who tend to aggressively and quickly feed. Many horse owners can slow equine feed intake rates by simply altering how they deliver feed to their horse.

1. Slow‐feed Hay Nets
Researchers from the University of Minnesota recently evaluated different hay nets to determine the effect on horse intake rates. Horses were fed hay (1% bodyweight twice daily) off the boxstall floor (control), or from one of three hay nets, including a large net (6 inch openings), medium net (1.75 inches) and small net (1.0 inch). The study revealed that horses feeding from the medium net took just over 5 hours to consume the hay meal, while horses eating from the small nets took 6.5 hours to consume the meal. Both the control and large net resulted in consumption times of 3.2 and 3.4 hours, respectively. If small or medium hay nets (Hay Chix hay nets) were used for twice daily feedings, the anticipated amount of time horses would spend foraging would be 10 to 13 hours each day, more closely mimicking a horse’s natural grazing behavior.

2. Grazing Muzzles
Recent research has shown that grazing muzzles can help slow horse intake of both pasture and grain. Researchers from the University of Minnesota determined the use of a grazing muzzle (Weaver) reduced a horse’s pasture intake by approximately 30%. Researchers from Illinois recently evaluated two grazing muzzles (Tough 1 Nylon and Easy Breathe) when horses were fed grain and determined that the use of a grazing muzzle slowed grain intake but tended to spill more grain. However, horses were able to acclimate to the grazing muzzle and increased their intake rate over time.

3. Specialized Grain Feeders
Researchers from Texas A&M University tested a newly designed feed bucket (Pre‐Vent Feeder) and determined that the bucket slowed grain consumption and reduced grain spillage. Horses spent 21 to 60 additional minutes eating grain from the feeder compared to a bucket or tub. In some situations, regular cleaning of the feeder will be needed. In a separate study, researchers from North Carolina State University developed a waffle structure that was inserted into a feed bucket. They concluded the waffle insert increased grain consumption time by nearly 50% compared to a bucket without the waffle insert.

4. Obstacles
Researchers from North Carolina State University tested grain feeding time using a bucket with four movable boccestyle balls (4 inch diameter) placed in it and found the balls were effective at extending (by 4 minutes) and maintaining the time it took horses to consume feed after multiple days of use. Additionally, the researchers found that the balls produced the lowest glucose and insulin responses compared to other feeding methods tested.

5. Forage Quality
The fiber content in hays can be used to slow horse consumption. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) is a measurement of insoluble fiber and provides the plant with structural rigidity. The higher the NDF, the less a horse will consume. NDF levels between 40 and 50% are considered ideal and promote hay intake, while NDF levels above 65% tend to result in a reduction in intake by most horses. Hays high in NDF tend to be classified as “busy hay” and are especially useful when managing aggressive and quick eaters or horses on a restricted diet. However, only a small proportion of a horse’s diet should be comprised of “busy hay” high in NDF.

6. Feeding Order
Many people believe that feeding hay before grain slows feed intake. Research has confirmed this belief and determined that horses consumed grain slower when hay was fed 20 minutes before the grain meal. When hay was fed before grain, grain consumption was 0.3 pounds per minute compared to 0.4 pounds per minute when hay and grain were fed simultaneously.

Slow‐feed hay nets, grazing muzzles, specialized grain feeders, obstacles, forages high in NDF and feeding order are all effective management strategies for slowing horse feed intake and represent simple and affordable management options horse owners can implement.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

The Skin Health of Your Horse

mom daughter grooming horseHorses can encounter many skin health issues on a daily basis. Geographical location and seasonal variations have a major influence on the range of possible skin issues.

Before diving too deep into skin issues, it is important to understand skin components. The skin is the body’s largest organ, representing 12-24% of the animal’s body weight, depending upon species and age. The skin is composed of five zones:

  • Dermis
    • Supports and nourishes the epidermis. There are cells, fibers and nerve plexuses present in the dermis.
  • Basement Membrane Zone
    • Primary function is to attach and act as a barrier to the epidermis and dermis. Several factors including autoimmune conditions can impact the health of the basement membrane zone.
  • Epidermis
    • Often hair covered and the first barrier of defense. Also composed of multiple layers. The overall health of these layers are influenced by nutrition, hormones, tissue factors, immune cells and genetics.
  • Appendageal System
    • Contains structures that grow with the epidermis such as hair follicles, sebaceous and sweat glands. Hair growth is impacted by many factors including nutrition, hormones and sunlight.
  • Subcutaneous Muscles & Fat
    • Has many functions such as insulation, shock absorber, and a reservoir for hydration. (Merck, 2015)

Skin issues generally fall under five categories:

  1. Traumatic skin issue or skin wounds/lacerations often from environmental hazards such as fencing, barn structure, or other objects.
  2. Granulomatous skin issue or “proud flesh can occur when a wound goes untreated or unnoticed following injury.
  3. Nodular skin issue or skin associated with seasonal conditions or allergic dermatitis from insects such flies and ticks.
  4. Pruritic and alopecic skin issue or contact dermatitis often from plants, irritating chemicals or “Sweet Itch” associated with gnat bites. Other Ectoparasites such as Lice and Mange are contributing factors of this type of skin issue.
  5. Nonpruritic and alopecic skin issue or “Rain Scald”/“Rain Rot” from prolonged exposure to environmental conditions is one major factor contributing to this type of skin issue.

Because of these various potential skin issues, it is important to include a quality care, management and grooming routine for your horse. Brushes and equipment should be cleaned between horses. If a contagious skin disease is suspected, designate a set of grooming supplies to be used only on the horse with an issue.

Skin health is affected by many components of nutrition. Proper hydration and access to a quality water source is the cornerstone of skin health. A quality balanced diet rounds out an optimal skin health plan. Diets balanced in essential amino acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6, and vitamins and minerals.

A proper farm insect management program starts with cleanliness and prevention. Keeping manure removed or far from horse barn, stalls or paddocks is essential. In a barn environment use fans to help deter flying insects from horse stalls or confined areas. Remove standing water or keep horses further from standing water sources to help reduce insect experiences. During peak insect seasons use of fly bonnets, fly sheets or safe insect repellents. If desired, a feed through fly control product can be incorporated into a full insect control program.

Bathing or “cold hosing” the horse’s skin can help with discomfort of skin issues. It is appropriate for horses in exercise to be “bathed” or hosed off after exercise. It is important to scrape/wipe off excess water and properly cool out any horse to avoid additional complications. Care should be taken to not “over bathe” or use harsh shampoo or chemicals on the horses’ skin.

Please consult your Veterinarian before administering any medicated or chemical treatments or for additional information on skin diseases and treatments.

Feed Room Security – What is most important to your horse?

Feed Room 004The area where feed is stored can be very important to the long term health of your horse.  Failure to store feed properly can be hazardous to your horse.

Feed storage areas should have the following characteristics:

  1. Dry and well ventilated – Feed must be protected from moisture. Feed bags should not be stacked directly on the floor as moisture may be absorbed in the bottom bags and the feed may mold in the bag. Any feed storage containers (bins, garbage cans etc.) should be water and pest resistant.  Also, you should completely empty and clean out the feed storage container on a regular basis.  If you store feed in bags, make old feed is not allowed to accumulate by stacking new feed on top of the old bags.
  2. Well lighted – It is important that you be able to see clearly the condition of any feed or supplement products stored in your feed room. Feed and feed supplements are produced under controlled conditions.  Once the feed has left a feed mill, it may be exposed to other conditions in storage, so it is wise to be able to see clearly what the feed looks like every time you feed your horse.
  3. Clean – It is important to keep the feed room/storage area free of spilled feed, dust and potential sources of contamination.
  4. Pest free – Feed tends to attract rodents, birds and insects. Spilled feed should be cleaned up.  If pest control is required, care should be taken to make certain that any pesticides or rodenticides cannot contaminate the feed and that animals cannot access the pest control material.  The hay storage area should also reduce the risk of exposure to pests.  Opossums are identified as potential carriers of Equine Protozal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).  Other species may also be carriers.
  5. Secure – Horses and other animals should be prevented from accidental access to the feed storage area. If the Houdini in your barn opens the stall and gets into the feed room, lots of bad things can happen!  Also, if you have multiple species, you need to keep horse feed clearly separated for any other species feed, particularly medicated ruminant, poultry and swine feeds.

Unusual Eating Behavior – Culprit Could be Salt Deficiency

Salt Block for HorsesUnusual eating behavior ( sometimes referred to as pica) can be caused by a number of factors and may cause the horse to eat manure, eat dirt, eat bark off trees, chew on board fences, chew on stable mate’s mane & tail or chew on tool handles or leather equipment.

I usually suggest going thru the following check list for the most common causes of unusual eating behavior:

  1. Lack of salt. Lack of salt can trigger a number of unusual eating behaviors (eating manure, chewing bark on trees, eating dirt, chewing on objects, chewing on tool handles etc.) Recommendation is to offer loose salt free choice as horses will consume more readily than block salt, particularly in cold weather. Block salt is better than not offering any salt source. Maintenance horses require 1-2 ounces of salt per day.  This may increase to 4-6 ounces per head per day in hot humid conditions or with added exercise.  Commercial feeds may contain 0.5% salt.  Horses may still benefit from salt being offered free choice along with access to fresh, clean water.
  2. Fiber intake in the diet might be inadequate. If a horse does not feel full, it will look for other things to eat. Make sure there is adequate long stem roughage available.  Fences, trees, manes and tails may suffer if there is not sufficient roughage!
  3. Phosphorus deficiency. Horses have quite limited “nutritional wisdom”, but phosphorus deficiency may trigger unusual eating behavior, including eating manure or dirt. Offering a free choice calcium, phosphorus and salt mineral may be useful.  In the wild, animals frequently consume bones or shed antlers to get minerals.
  4. Protein deficiency. Again, horses have limited “nutritional wisdom”, but inadequate protein or poor quality protein may trigger some of the unusual eating behaviors. Evaluating the forage and the overall feeding program is useful.
  5. Ulcers. Horses that have ulcers will sometimes eat dirt or manure as well as chew on other objects. The saliva produced when chewing is believed to have a buffering effect.

I always start by offering loose salt free choice and making certain that fiber intake is adequate. If that does not remedy the problem, I will then go to offering a good mineral product (calcium, phosphorus, salt combination, perhaps with some trace minerals) and perhaps a full ration evaluation.  Other behaviors may help decide if ulcer assessment is needed.

Unusual behavior may be the horse’s way of trying to tell us something!

Bringing Horses Home: What You Need to Know

When you bring horses to your own farm for the first time, there are a lot of unexpected things that you learn quickly!  Vlogger Shelley Paulsen recently brought her beloved mare Maggie Sue home from a boarding barn, and then added Fritzie to the mix as well!

From just how much poop they really do generate, to the incredible support system it takes to have horses on your property, Shelley shares a few key learnings that just might help you out if you are considering bringing horses on to your property for the first time.

Listen in as she shares “6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months of Caring for Horses.”  Oh, and fair warning – you might want a kleenex in hand! Happy tears, we promise!

If you’ve been through this journey, share in the comments other things that new horse owners should know!

Glycemic Response to Soaked Hay

Horse HayFor horses diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, obesity, laminitis and/or insulin resistance, the need for dietary management of nonstructural carbohydrate intake is necessary. One management tool horse owners can use is regulating the glycemic response in diseased horses, which is the effect food has on blood glucose levels after a meal. Past research has shown that soaking hay for 30 to 60 minutes reduces nonstructural carbohydrate levels; however, researchers have yet to explore if hay soaking has an effect on glycemic response. Recently, researchers at Middle Tennessee State University examined how soaked hay versus non‐soaked hay affected the glycemic response in horses.

Two different hay types were evaluated both as soaked hay and non-soaked hay; prairie grass and alfalfa. Wet hays were soaked in cold water for 60 minutes and 12 healthy horses (average of 17 years and 1,207 pounds) were fed the hays. Blood samples were taken immediately at the time of feeding and every 30 minutes for 2 hours, and every 60 minutes up to 5 hours.

Researchers found that horses had a higher glycemic response to alfalfa hay compared to prairie grass hay. However, there was no difference in the glycemic response to non‐soaked or soaked hay of either type. Over time, plasma glucose levels were higher in horses fed alfalfa versus grass hay.

Researchers concluded that although the type of hay fed influenced the glycemic response, no difference in physiological glycemic response was observed in healthy horses fed non-soaked or soaked hay. Additional research is needed to determine if soaking hay has physiological merit in horses diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, obesity, laminitis and/or insulin resistance.

For more information on this study, click here.

For more information on hay soaking, click here.

Summarized by: Devan Catalano, BS, University of Minnesota.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Avoiding a Hay Belly

I’ve often heard, ‘my horse has a hay belly, what should I do differently?’ Or,” he’s really big in the belly but he doesn’t have good muscles.”   Apart from a broodmare belly, post-colic surgery effects or a parasite situation, the answer sounds like a nutritional imbalance.  The good news is, once you know what a nutritional imbalanced hay belly is and what causes it, you can make adjustments in your program and avoid it in the future.

What does it look like?

Willow has had 4 foals, and as a result, tends to show characteristics of a hay belly.

Willow has had 4 foals, and as a result, tends to show characteristics of a hay belly.

Have you ever seen a young or growing horse with a big belly while the rest of their body looks small? Or a mature horse that has a midsection that hangs low, while ribs are visible and muscles along the back and hindquarter are hard to find?  How about the ‘pregnant gelding’ situation?  All of these are describing a hay belly.  On a regular basis, you should conduct a body condition score on your horse to check for muscle mass as well as appropriate fat deposition in key areas.  It’s important to check all areas indicated, since a rib or belly check alone doesn’t provide all the information.

What causes it?

When too many low-value calories are consumed without adequate protein (including essential amino acids), the body stores the calories as energy in cells yet the needed protein isn’t available to maintain muscle mass. In the absence of adequate protein, muscles atrophy while stored energy increases. Over time, a hay belly emerges as muscle mass over the top is lost and gut size may expand.

The biggest factor is overfeeding fiber high in Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) while under feeding adequate levels of quality protein. NDF is a measurement of cell wall content in plants such as grasses.  As the plant matures, it builds up stronger cell walls so that it may hold itself upright.  The stronger these walls, the less digestible these cells are for a horse.  So when fed very mature hay, your horse is less able to digest that hay, as compared to hay with a lower NDF value (less mature).  In addition to being higher in NDF, the grasses also tend to be lower in the quality proteins; important nutrients for developing and maintaining muscles.

How to prevent a hay belly

First, feed the best quality hay that you can find in the correct amount for your horse’s body weight, age and activity level. The hay that is smooth and ‘leafy’ tends to have levels of NDF that are better for the horse to digest. Hay that is pointy to the touch or looks like it’s a green version of straw should be avoided as it simply offers little nutritional value for the horse.

How do I get rid of a hay belly if my horse has one?

First, check the quality and quantity of hay your horse is eating. If the quality is adequate, then it’s time to reevaluate the quantity fed.  A horse should be fed 1.0-1.75 pounds/100 pounds of body weight of hay per day.  Not a fan of math? Yea, me neither.  Here’s a quick answer: for a horse weighing 1,000 pounds, that would be between 10-17.5 pounds of hay each day, ideally divided into 2 or even 3 feedings. Check to be sure you’re not inadvertently overfeeding, or underfeeding if your horse is actually bigger than 1,000 lbs. Learn to estimate your horse’s weight accurately here.

The last piece of the puzzle is feed. Make sure that the concentrate you provide is offering adequate quality protein.  Total protein alone can’t support or develop ideal muscles.  The right balance of amino acids is needed to build and maintain muscle quantity and quality.  Look for feeds that guarantee levels of Lysine, Methionine and Threonine.  These three key amino acids are the most important for your horse. And lastly, check to be sure you’re feeding the appropriate amount of concentrate.  Feeding a balanced diet and adding some exercise to help develop muscle mass and tighten up that tummy is a great way to reclaim that belly!