Fiber in Horse Feeds

In our previous post, we learned what fiber is and how a horse digests it,and we also learned that a horse consuming 1-1.5% of it’s bodyweight in quality roughage will satisfy its daily fiber requirements.

When it comes to any grain sources that may be added to your horse’s diet, fiber plays a much smaller role since the amount of fiber that is added by grains is relatively little, but the effect and digestive process is similar.

When feeding the grain portion of the diet, ensure that your horse is not receiving high quantities of grain meals all at once – typically no more than 5-6 pounds of grain per meal at most. Because grains tend to be higher in starch than roughage, feeding too much at once can overwhelm the small size and quick rate of passage of food through the stomach and small intestine, and allow starches to pass undigested to the hindgut. Digestion of starches in the hindgut releases lactic acids that are toxic to the fiber-digesting microorganisms, which can result in a gas colic episode or laminitis.

Generally speaking, when you look at a the tag from a basic equine ration, the higher the crude fiber level listed, the lower the energy content of the feed.  Of course, there are other factors that must be looked at, such as the fat level, and also possibly the sources of fiber.

Beet pulp, for example, is often referred to as a “super-fiber” due to the high level of fiber it provides while also providing roughly the same energy level as oats.  While soy hulls and dehydrated alfalfa are common ingredients used to increase fiber levels, a performance horse ration with a higher fiber level may make use of beet pulp to achieve both increased energy and increased fiber levels.

Using Nutrition to Manage Horses with Gastric Ulcers

A horse owner recently contacted us about changing her horse’s diet. She stated that they are ¾ of the way through show season and he is just “off his game”. It seems that the horse was showing a lack of appetite and not finishing his grain. In addition, his disposition became rather grumpy and his performance level was suffering. In addition, a few times he had shown signs of mild colic over the past two months.

We suggested the owner contact her veterinarian, as it sounded like the horse may have an ulcer. The percentage of horses with ulcers continues to increase, and higher intensity levels of training are correlated with an increase in ulcer incidence. The ulcers often occur in the upper third of the stomach, which does not have a mucus layer and does not secrete bicarbonate that helps to buffer stomach acid. In general, horses managed with 24-hour access to well-established, high-quality pasture are less likely to have gastric ulcers; however, studies have shown that the prevalence of squamous ulcers in horses exposed to pasture varies by regions of the U.S. and management. This is likely due to the fact that as a horse grazes, it produces large amounts of saliva, which contain the bicarbonate and amylase needed to provide a buffer for the stomach lining.

Within the week she contacted me and said the horse had been diagnosed with a gastric ulcer. He was now on medication, but we needed to make dietary changes as well. I suggested the following “back to basic” steps to help manage her horse’s condition:

  1. Allow the horse to be turned out or hand grazed.
  2. If access to pasture is not possible, good quality hay is a must. Recent studies indicate that legume hay such as alfalfa is an excellent choice due to the high calcium content which may help to serve as a buffer.
  1. Breaking the daily rations into smaller more frequent meals helps keep saliva production constant and protect the stomach lining – more like “grazers” instead of “meal eaters”. If possible, use a slow feed hay net (also called a nibble net) to allow the horse to consume hay more slowly and increase chewing time. Also, it’s a good idea to feed hay prior to grain.
  2. High starch diets also tend to aggravate ulcers due to increased acid production. A high fat, high fiber feed is ideal.
  3. Consider a digestive supplement such as Nutrena Empower Digestive Balance which contains marine sourced calcite. It is a highly porous form of calcium, includes other trace minerals such as magnesium, and has twice the buffering capacity of regular calcium carbonate.

It’s important to remember that all horses are unique and respond differently to stressors. If you can minimize stressors as much as possible, provide your horse with access to pasture and light exercise, offer quality nutrition and forage, you are helping to limit the chance your horse will develop ulcers.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feeding Horses During Reduced Work

If your horse’s work level changes during the year, then his feeding program should change as well, to ensure he stays in peak condition no matter what his activity level. Adjusting caloric intake through adjusting the total amount fed, or through changing which feed product is being given, are both viable options to help maintain ideal body condition and topline score.

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!