Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feed Freshness and Storage

One of the many components of feeding horses properly is feeding fresh feed. This video will walk you through some simple steps to ensure that you are purchasing the right amount, storing it properly, and feeding it correctly to your horse, so that he always receives the freshest feed possible.

Switching Feeds Safely

Most horse owners know that changing their horse’s feed should be done with care – but how exactly should it be done? In this video, Nutrena Equine Consultant Kirk Carter explains the proper way to transition feed.

  • Slowly transition horse to new feed over 7 days
  • Weather can play a really critical role in transitioning horse to new feed
  • Make sure your horse is in an environment that they’re used to

Feeding the Easy Keeper Horse

Is your horse on the higher end of the body condition score chart? Or does he seem to gain weight by simply looking at a bag of feed? Then check out these feeding tips for the easy keeper.

  1. Limit pasture grazing time. This is especially true in spring and early summer, when pasture growth is most rapid. If this is not possible, fit the horse with a grazing muzzle.
  2. Don’t feed high-fat supplements. Eliminate corn oil, flaxseed and rice bran supplements from your horse’s diet to cut out some calories and prevent excessive weight gain.
  3. Eliminate high-calorie concentrates. Instead try a ration balancer product, which is a low calorie and low starch, vitamin and mineral fortified supplement in a pelleted form that supplies the missing nutrients for a horse consuming only hay or pasture.
  4. Start an exercise program. The main purpose of exercise is to increase energy expenditure or calorie loss. Other benefits of daily exercise include an increase in metabolic rate, a possible reduction in appetite, and prevention of bone and mineral losses that may occur during calorie restriction when the horse is inactive.
  5. Replace legume hay with grass hay. Legume hay, such as alfalfa and clover, contains more calories per pound than grass hays. Instead of alfalfa, feed a high-fiber, good quality grass hay that is free of dust, mold and weeds.
  6. Limit the amount of hay fed and divide it into several daily feedings. Limit the amount of hay fed to 1.5% of body weight, which is enough to ensure body condition maintenance while keeping proper digestive function happening. If the horse’s body condition is still excessive after weight loss has stabilized, then decrease the feeding rate of hay to 1.25% of body weight or less and continue feeding management for weight loss.

At the end of the day, the name of the game is simple – your horse needs more calories being burned, than calories being consumed. It just takes some planning, and sticking with the plan for the long haul, to keep your easy keeper in ideal condition.

Horse Feed With High Fat Content – The Evolving Role of Fat: The Omega-6 and Omega-3 Ratio

Horse Feed With High Fat ContentThe use of fat in the equine diet has a long history.  A very old book, Horse Secrets by A.S. Alexander, published in 1913, points out that horse traders knew back then that adding fat to the diet was beneficial for gaining weight and improving hair coat.  They may not have known why it worked, but they knew that it worked!

Corn oil was an early oil source as it was available and palatable.  Flax seed, boiled to both soften the husk and to eliminate anti-nutritional factors, was also used to provide both fat and protein.

The use of vegetable oil as an energy source has become standard in horse feeds.  Animal fat sources, while used in early research, have pretty much been eliminated from use in horse feeds, primarily due to palatability and perception issues.

SafeChoice Horse Feeds are where good equine health starts. Each product has controlled starch levels that may help support horses who have metabolic concerns, while added-fat options improve energy and enhance performance.

From an energy standpoint, all of the common vegetable oils are very similar.  More recently, considering the essential fatty acid content, particularly the Omega-6 and Omega-3 levels, has become important in selecting the oil source.  As with many things, balance along with quantity is important.

As grazing herbivores, horses are accustomed to the limited amount of fat (3-5%) found in forages, particularly fresh pasture, which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, whereas oils from grains and seeds tend to be higher in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the ideal total dietary intake or ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids for horses.  Multi-species work has indicated that a ratio someplace between 2:1 and 10:1 is an acceptable Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio in a total diet.  This considers the higher Omega-3 content of forages and the higher Omega-6 content of grains and some vegetable oils

Dietary supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acid sources has been shown to provide numerous benefits to horses and other animals including:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality
  • Decreased joint pain in arthritic individuals
  • Reproductive benefits
  • Reduction in risk of gastric ulcers
  • Anti-inflammatory effects

Flax seed, flax oil, soy oil and fish oil (limited use due to palatability) are some of the better sources of Omega-3.  Chia seed and oil may also be a useful source and other sources are becoming available.

Feeds and supplements containing added oil are generally balanced to complement the fat present in forages to deliver balanced Omega-6 and Omega-3 levels in the total diet.

Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., pages 44-53, is an excellent source of detailed information.

Creep Feeding Foals-An Important Time Period for an Equine Athlete

Creep Feeding FoalsCreep feeding, the process of making feed available to the foal before weaning, is an important element in a feeding program to maintain a consistent growth rate and to prepare the foal for weaning and long term development as an equine athlete.

The feed selected for use for creep feeding should be a feed designed with foals and weanlings in mind. These feeds will generally be 14-16 % protein and have a minimum guarantee for lysine and perhaps methionine and threonine as well, the first 3 limiting amino acids.  It should also be fortified with adequate calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium as well as Vitamins A, D and E.  Controlled starch and sugar levels may also be beneficial in a creep feed.  Prebiotics and probiotics are frequently included in these feeds as well.

There are multiple creep feed designs, ranging from buckets/feeders with bars across the top to keep the broodmare from eating the feed to feeding areas with entry openings wide enough to allow the foals to enter, but narrow enough to prevent the mares from entering. It is important to be able to keep the feed fresh and free of contamination.

The mare’s milk production will generally not provide adequate nutrition to support optimum growth past about 2 months of lactation. This is why it is important to start creep feeding prior to this time.  Relying on the foal being able to eat with the dam is not a very reliable way to provide nutrition to the foal.  The foal should be consuming about 1 pound of feed per day per month of age (2 month old foal, 2 pounds per day, 4 month old foal, 4 pounds per day).  Foals should also have access to fresh, clean water and salt free choice.

Foals will also start nibbling on forage early in life, but the cecum is not well developed at this time, so the forage will not be a good source of nutrition.

Monitoring Body Condition Score and rate of growth is useful with foals to make certain that they are on track and maintaining a smooth growth curve. This may also help reduce the risk of Developmental Orthopedic Disease issues.

A good creep feeding program, coupled with proper management (parasite control and vaccination) and proper handling can help make weaning a smooth process and get the young growing horse off to a great start to achieving their genetic potential as an equine athlete!

Why Topline is Not Just Important in Show Horses

Having a healthy topline is important for all horses whether they are pleasure horses, show horses or pets. If you go to the gym you will see everyone from the extreme athlete to people recovering from injuries to stay-at-home-moms and elderly people working toward a healthy and strong core for overall health. Horses are similar in that they need a strong core in order for the rest of their bodies to work to properly.

It’s been said that a healthy topline is the key to overall horse health and 7 out of 10 American Association of Equine Practitioners agree. The rest of your horse’s body can’t work to its maximum potential if his core isn’t strong. Even if you have an idle horse that’s recovering from injury or has had the winter off he will come back into work more safely and quickly if you keep up with a balanced diet that’s supportive of his topline health while he’s taking a break.

No matter what job your horse has, he will be feeling and/or performing his best if his overall health is the best it can be. That all starts with a diet that is supportive of his topline. Your lesson horses and trail horses may work just as hard as the elite show jumpers and you as their care taker want them feeling and looking their best no matter what their job is. Even the retired horse will age more gracefully and without compromising stature if their topline is maintained through diet.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which provide for the building of muscle supporting the topline. Feeding a feed that is specifically formulated to support these muscles in the correct ratios for your horse is the best way to support his overall health. Nutrena has solutions for all types of horses; the senior, the athlete, the easy keeper, and the maintenance horse with our SafeChoice and ProForce lines as well as with our Empower Topline Balance diet balancer. Talk with an equine specialist today to help determine the best feeding program for your horse to help support a strong and healthy topline.

To learn more, visit ToplineBalance.com.

Amino Acids and Horses: Why are Amino Acids for Horses Important?

Amino Acids and HorsesIn order to fuel, repair, and recover muscle, equine diets must optimally contain a superior amino acid profile, including all 10 of the essential amino acids.

Most horse owners can quickly name the crude protein level in the feed they provide their horses. But, what horse owners really need to know about is the amino acid content.

Protein is made up of amino acids, similar to how a chain is made up of links.

There are two basic categories of amino acids: Essential and nonessential.

Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet, as the horse cannot create them on its own in the digestive tract, where the nonessential amino acids can be made. Nutrena products that include Topline Balance help to provide the right kind and ratio of amino acids in each formula.

Another key point is that some amino acids are known as “limiting” amino acids. This means that if a horse runs out of this type of amino acid, it can’t utilize any of the remaining amino acids present in the feed. If the horse has enough of the first most-limiting amino acid, but then runs out of the second most-limiting amino acid, it can’t use the remaining amount of the third most limiting, and so on.

In horses, the first three most-limiting amino acids, in order, are lysine, methionine and threonine. Generally speaking, if these three amino acids are present in sufficient quantities, the ingredients used also provide the remaining amino acids in sufficient quantities.

It is increasingly common to see these three amino acids listed on the guaranteed analysis of horse feed tags, as it is an indication of the quality of the protein sources and the balanced nature of the feed.

If you are looking for a feed that may help impact topline, be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed tag. In specific Nutrena feeds – SafeChoice products, ProForce products, and Empower Topline Balance – the amino acid levels are called out and guaranteed on the tag. The amino acids included in Nutrena’s Topline Balance products are included in specific amounts and ratios. Research has shown that this specific combination and type of amino acids help to support a healthy topline when fed correctly.

Guaranteed amino acids on the tag is a good starting point. You then need to let the horse tell you if the feed is working by regularly evaluating and noting changes in topline condition.

Horse Feeding Problems? The Root Cause of (Most) Feeding Problems

Horse Feeding ProblemsA couple of months ago, a friend asked me about feed for her 20-something retired Jumper that was losing weight coming out of winter.

It’s not uncommon for a horse to shed a few pounds during the transition from winter to spring, but she was concerned that he wasn’t putting them back on with pasture turnout.

When I asked what he was being fed, she said he was getting a senior feed mixed with a performance feed.  Puzzled, I asked why the mix and how much of each?

She shared that he was getting 5-6 pounds of senior feed a day and about 2 pounds of the performance feed for extra calories.  When I looked up the feeding directions for the senior feed, the manufacturer recommended 10-12 pounds per day for his weight.

When I shared this information with my friend, we decided to try increasing the senior to the recommended amount and dropping the performance feed.  About 2 weeks after our conversation, she shared with me that the change was working and he was looking better already!

This conversation got me thinking…. why do we, as horse owners, run into issues with feed?  After all, the design and variety of feeds available today incorporate some of the latest and greatest nutritional research of our time. So why do we continue to struggle? What are the root causes when it comes to problems with our horse’s feed?

Reflecting back on years of questions and troubleshooting, I think I’ve been able to boil it down most cases to one of the two following* –

  • Feeding the incorrect product
    or
  • Feeding the right product incorrectly

When I took a step back, I came to realize that feed can be really complicated.  When you are in the industry and steeped in the subject, it seems so clear.  But when you’re trying to juggle many other elements of the care, training, management, health, etc., the feed part of the puzzle can seem overwhelmingly complicated.

It may seem oversimplified, but here’s my best advice to make sure you’re feeding the right product at the right amount:

  • Find a brand you like, trust and can afford. Not sure?  Ask a friend or pro who have horses in similar age range or activity level as yours. Ask at your farm store.  Ask your vet.  Ask your farrier.  Do some research on your own and find a brand you like.
  • Find a product in that brand that is designed for your horse’s life stage or activity level.  Each product is required by regulation to state on the tag or bag what the product is designed to do for the horse.
  • Weigh your horse using a weight tape or scale if you have access to one. Here is another handy tool for measuring your horse without a scale from a previous blog post.
  • Buy a hanging scale – a decent one can be purchased from a farm supply store for around $30. A person can pay much more but you really just need a scale that ‘tares’ (aka zero’s out) and has a hook to hang a bucket from.
  • Using the feeding directions, calculate how many POUNDS of feed per day your horse should be fed. (Tip – Nutrena offers an easy online calculator tool on each product page at www.NutrenaWorld.com)
  • Place an empty bucket on the scale.  Tare it so the scale is set to 0 with the bucket. Weigh the feed to be sure you’re giving your horse the proper amount according to the directions.
  • Over the next few weeks, check your horse’s body condition score and adjust within the feeding direction range until you’ve reached an ideal weight/condition.

There were many things my friend was doing correctly, such as feeding the correct feed and weighing it to ensure a consistent amount, but one missed detail was all it took to negate her efforts.

As soon as she bumped her horse to the recommended feeding rate, it all came together.

What do you find most confusing about feed?

*Assuming dentition issues, parasite load, hay quality/quantity and disease were ruled out.

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.

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!