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.
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.
The nutrition industry is beginning to understand what role fermentation, gut bacteria and gut microbiome play in human and animal health.
Science has just scratched the surface and is beginning to understand the activity of the microorganisms in the digestive tract and the mechanisms of action related to those microorganisms and food choices.
Increasing amounts of research studies are suggesting fermented foods have powerful health benefits ranging from promoting gut health, controlling inflammation, and providing other healthful experiences. “Fermented foods” are being emphasized by registered dietitians as something to not ignore in food selections.
So, how do we share these benefits with our horses without inviting them to eat Kombucha, yogurt, avocados, sauerkraut, and pickles?
A balance of good quality forage as the base of the horse’s diet and a feed concentrate that includes fermentation metabolites is key to maintaining healthy gut flora and a strong immune system. You might be asking, how do I know what is an effective and beneficial fermentation product? And how do I know my feed or balancer concentrate contains this?
I have invited a guest writer Christine W. of Diamond V to share more information and some supporting science regarding fermentation metabolites.
“Fermentation metabolites produced by Diamond V are unique, bioactive compounds that work naturally with the biology of the horse to strengthen and empower the immune system, support digestive tissue integrity, and promote a healthy microbial community. Hundreds of these compounds are produced from a proprietary anaerobic fermentation process of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and work synergistically inside the animal to help them perform to their full genetic potential.
These compounds help the horse’s immune and digestive system function normally in face of the many stressors and challenges, specifically hauling, training, breeding, herd dynamics, and environmental factors.
In other words, this specific species of yeast, produce several products or compounds that are beneficial to the microbiome in the horse’s hind-gut. When the horse’s gut is working optimally, everything from digestive to immune function is set up to be resilient in the face of stressors and challenges that might otherwise compromise animal health and performance.”
Fermentation metabolites benefit your horse’s digestive tract by supporting a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome. The millions of little bacteria that live in the digestive tract all have names and each one ferments complex carbohydrates resulting in volatile fatty acid production. These acids impact digestion, absorption and the overall gut health. On a feed label you might see yeast culture listed (or S. cerevisiae extract). When fermented by the horse’s microbiome, these specific S. cerevisiae yeast culture metabolites have been shown by to support tissue strength and integrity, contribute to a stable hind-gut pH and support a healthy gut microbial community as well as a balanced immune response when challenged by stressors.
So why is improved tissue strength, integrity, and digestive health important to horses?
Horses with a strong digestive tract are better able to absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. Research has shown that harmful substances are less likely to permeate the gastrointestinal cellular wall. Think of it as closing your screens on your windows to keep bugs out of your house, but to allow fresh air and good things to flow in. Horses need to have a strong gut to absorb amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and prevent unhealthy bacteria or harmful substances from getting into circulation and causing problems. By absorbing the good nutrients and getting rid of the potentially harmful substances horses are more likely to perform to their full potential. Their immune and digestive systems are supported to handle the challenges that come with hauling, training, and just being a horse in changing environments.
This article was written with collaborative authors Heidi A., Emily L., and Christine W.
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?
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!
We are a far cry from a fancy operation with four horses on my property to manage. The horses in our herd live outside in one of two paddocks with fulltime access to a run-in shed which is divided in half. They get rotational turn out onto the pasture whenever possible.
With the variety of horses we have, our little operation is anything but simple. And oh how they vary! One is a 32-year-old hard keeping Arabian mare with a princess complex who has progressively lost dentition efficacy in the last few years. Next is her 14-year-old gelding son who is an air fern, aka quite possibly the world’s easiest keeper. Finally the two Warmblood geldings, half-brothers both in light work. One is a 16 hand, 10-year old fair doer while his brother (12 years) just under 16 hands, tends to be higher strung and a notch or two closer to being a hard keeper than his half-brother.
We feed good quality grass hay in small squares as we don’t have the storage space, equipment or desire to feed rounds. With these parameters, in combination with our variety of personalities, feeding time can be quite….interesting. Over time, we’ve developed some strategies for making this living arrangement work. Here’s a few you might consider if you have a similar herd situation:
- Divide your herd by feeding needs and behaviors
- Separate the bully of the herd.
- If possible, put harder keepers with harder keepers, easy keepers with other easy keepers.
- Keep an eye over time as the herd dynamics shift, the bullies can easily become bullied and go from ideal weight to underweight if you’re not checking regularly.
- Check body condition score on a regular basis and be prepared to move horses around if dietary needs change.
- Provide at least as many feeders as there are horses. More if you can. Divide the ration of hay evenly among them. This allows those who are bullied by others the chance to get what they need.
- While on pasture, use a grazing muzzle on the easy keepers so that the harder keepers can have sufficient time with the forage.
- When it comes to feeding concentrate, use paddock, pasture, round pens, arena etc. to separate the herd. This way, those who need a different feed type (example: ration balancer versus a senior feed) can get what they need and have time to eat it.
- If you don’t have facilities to separate during the time to feed concentrate, consider guarding the slower eater so they can get sufficient time to eat their full ration. This may add time to the chore schedule, but it will help to ensure all horses are meeting their unique nutritional needs.
Keeping multiple horses with a variety of nutritional needs in a smaller space can be a challenge. But with a little creativity and the right tools, you can be assured everyone gets what they need. What ideas do you have to manage the variety of horses in your herd?
A friend recently asked me what was the correct feeding order, hay first or grain? This is a great question, and despite the controversy, I cannot find any hard data that suggests feeding hay first will have an effect on the horse’s health, unless over 50% of the diet is concentrate per feeding.
First, you need to look at the big picture. Horses by nature are grazing animals, not meal eaters. A horse should be provided with 1.5 to 2% of his total body weight per day in forage, i.e. a 1000 pound horse would receive 15-20 pounds of hay per day, depending on caloric needs and type of forage. To minimize waste I like to see the forage placed in a slow feed net, this also helps to replicate grazing.
The dietary needs are then balanced with a concentrate that may vary in weight from 1 pound to no more than 5 pounds per feeding. This where you really need to pay close attention to the feed rate and directions on the product you select. Due to the small size of the horse’s stomach, it is never recommended to feed more than 5 pounds of concentrate at any one feeding.
Horses are continuous grazers, and will graze 18 hours in a 24 hour day. To maintain normal gut function, saliva is produced up to 30 gallons in a 24 hour day, during this gazing period. This helps the horse maintain normal gut function, stabilizing the intestinal pH and keeping ulcers in check. Not to mention the periodontal impact.
Having forage first can be a benefit for those horses that tend to bolt their feed or concentrate. Again we need to look at the big picture and time between feedings. I also realize that for large farms and commercial operations it may be more labor intensive to make the feeding process a two-step program. If you board your horse a great treat is providing a serving of an additional forage source, such as a hay extender.
So hay or grain first is really not the issue, rather a balanced feeding program and feeding schedule is key.