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.
Proper nutrition for the broodmare during lactation is essential to make certain that she produces adequate milk for the foal and also maintains her body condition so that she will re-breed successfully and safely carry the next year’s foal.
The broodmare has substantial increases in requirements for digestible energy, protein, lysine, methionine, threonine and minerals as she goes from the last month of gestation to the first month of lactation.
For a 500 kg (1100 lb) mare, her DE requirement goes from 21.4 Mcal per day to 31.7 Mcal per day, her protein requirement goes from 630 grams to 1535 grams per day, her lysine requirement goes from 27.1 grams to 84.8 grams per day and her calcium requirement goes from 20 grams per day to 59.1 grams per day, with similar increases in other amino acids and minerals. (Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Edition, pages 298-299).
If her feed/nutrient intake is not increased to provide these nutrients, she will attempt to maintain milk production by depleting her body stores for energy, amino acids(primarily from muscle mass) and minerals, causing loss of weight, loss of body condition, loss of muscle mass and some bone mineral losses.
To meet her increased DE requirement, an additional 3.43 kg or 7.5 pounds of grain containing 3.0 Mcal/kg (1364 Calories/lb) will need to be added to her diet gradually post foaling.
This need to be adjusted to maintain her body condition as mares vary widely in milk production!
Fortunately, she also can consume more dry matter during lactation, so she is actually able to eat more forage and more feed.
If she is fed a product that is labeled as suitable for lactating mares, the additional feed will provide the additional energy as well as the other important nutrients.
She will also require unlimited access to water and access to salt free choice along with good quality forage.
If she does lose weight during lactation (reflected by loss of both body condition score and topline score, she is much less likely to cycle normally during lactation and less likely to become pregnant and carry the next foal. This may explain why some mares are “every other year” mares in producing foals.
They are frequently mares that produce large foals and milk very heavy during lactation. As a result, they do NOT maintain body condition and do not re-breed and carry a foal the next year. When they are not in foal and not lactating, they gain weight and come back into the next breeding season in good flesh and breed successfully.
This is even more likely if they are not in a suitable body condition (BCS 6+) prior to foaling. The nutrient requirements will start to decrease at the 3rd month of lactation and will gradually decrease until the foal is weaned, when she can then be fed at maintenance levels adjusted as needed.
Monitoring body condition and topline score of the mare and the body condition score and growth rate of the foal are the best ways to determine if the feeding program for both is producing the desired results!
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.
Feed storage areas should have the following characteristics:
- 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.
- 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.
- Clean – It is important to keep the feed room/storage area free of spilled feed, dust and potential sources of contamination.
- 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.
- 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.
I was recently asked by a fellow horse owner if I felt diet could play a role in the disposition of her horse. My answer was “Yes, equine diet can have some influence on equine disposition.” But the answer is multifaceted.
Horses by nature are grazing animals. Their stomach is small in relation to their body size, as they are flight animals. Their stomach continuously secretes acid which is buffered when they are chewing and creating saliva. A horse should consume approximately 2% of their body weight per day in forage.
Unfortunately, domestication has made horses more of a meal eater while in confinement, increasing the incidence of ulcers and other issues. Many of the farms I visit have feeding schedules which provide the bulk of a horse’s caloric intake within an 8 hour time frame, such as two feeding per day at 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
I realize that feeding large barns can be labor intensive and more frequent feeding per day is not always an option. However, spacing the meals further apart and using tools, such as slow feed hay nets or hay racks, can slow the consumption rate to replicate grazing. For owners that board their horses, I often suggest providing treats of chopped forage or hay extenders to provide additional chew time and alleviate boredom.
The dietary balance may also play a role in horse’s disposition. Many horse owners still believe that too much protein in the horse’s diet will cause behavioral problems. The reality is that concentrates high in NSC (Non-structural carbohydrates, or starch and sugar) may cause behavior challenges in some horses. Many feed companies now list the NSC on their feed tags, but keep in mind you must add both the starch and sugar percentages together to get the total picture.
The dietary needs of a horse depend greatly on his daily workload.
- A race horse or high-performance eventer will have both higher total caloric demands, and higher NSC demands, to support glycogen repletion. I often tell my students you would not condition and plan to run the Boston Marathon on a low non-structural carbohydrate diet. We also know that added fat (oil) in an equine diet may have glycogen sparing effects, and may have a calming effect on some horses.
- On the other hand, a maintenance or pleasure horse will have lower total caloric demands and lower NSC demands and may require a different balance of energy sources.
Bottom Line: High energy intake, particularly from non-structural carbohydrates, coupled with limited work and limited turn out is rarely a good combination!
Body condition and weight management can also influence a horse’s disposition. A horse with leg or joint issues carrying too much weight may be less than accommodating when asked to work. Keeping the horse at a moderate body condition is a key concern.
The reverse can also hold true, keeping a horse at a low body condition score so that the rider can easily handle the animal is not good management or training. Vitamin and mineral supplements are not a replacement for caloric requirements and a balanced diet.
The Bottom Line
Often times, we really need to examine if the owner has the right horse for the job at hand, and is the behavior of the horse a matter of diet, training, or physical ability?
- Examine your horse’s diet to see that you are providing adequate forage intake and chew time.
- Review the overall composition of your horse’s diet and balance the dietary needs with fiber (structural carbohydrates), fats, non-structural carbohydrates and protein.
- Is your horse at an ideal body condition score?
In summary, diet can be an influencer in equine disposition, but it is not an alternative for the wrong career choice for your equine partner.
I was visiting with some friends at a recent horse owners meeting. I saw a trainer I had visited several times in the past few years, answering nutrition questions and making recommendations. I asked how his horses were doing and if he had made any changes to his feed program. He replied that he had switched to a competitor’s product a few months ago and the results were terrible. His horses had lost weight, their coats were dull and he went back to feeding his old mill mix.
I asked which product he was feeding in particular and if he was feeding it to all of his horses? He had chosen a product that was designed for maintenance level horses, not show horses or breeding stock. For horses working harder an added supplementation and proper feed rates would be imperative.
Although I was disappointed he hadn’t tried Nutrena products, I went on to ask if he followed the directions on the tag? He responded that he can never figure out all that garbage on the tag and fed his horses as he always does. There was part of the problem!
A feed tag will give you a statement of purpose, what type of horse and life style it is formulated to be fed. Next it will list the recommended feed rate. This can vary from 1/4 pound to 2 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, depending on the fortification and quality of nutrients.
I was familiar with the product he had tried and their feed rate for horses working at a performance level would be 1.5 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, or 15 pounds per day for a 1000 horse. This would have to be broken down into 3 feedings to be fed at a safe consumption rate, and could also mean added labor for his farm, not a bargain.
When I mentioned what I believed was the recommended feed rate for the product he was surprised. He said he would never feed that much of a concentrate to any horse. Again, he reiterated he doesn’t have time to read tags and do the math. I told him it is like making a box cake. You need to follow the directions, if you don’t use the entire box of cake mix, you won’t get the desired results. He did laugh at my remark, but I also think he understood the concept.
Sunflower seeds come in 2 basic classifications with some specialized varieties in each. Black oil sunflower seeds are primarily produced for sunflower oil production, and striped sunflower seeds are primarily produced for confectionary/human consumption.
- Black oil sunflower seeds will be about 17% protein, 44% fat and 24% neutral detergent fiber (NDF).
- Striped sunflower seeds will be about 16% protein, 24% fat and 40% NDF.
The hull of the sunflower is fairly tough and is not very digestible and the horse may not break all of the hulls when eating the seeds, so some may pass thru undigested. (The birds in your pasture will appreciate this!).
The black oil sunflower seeds are most readily available for purchase in bagged form as they are also popular for feeding birds and are the most widely used by horse owners. The oil content of black oil sunflower seeds is about 29% Omega 6 fatty acids and about .09% Omega 3 fatty acids. The oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is why it is popular for human use.
The key element to consider in deciding if there is a good reason to use black oil sunflower seeds is to consider what you are actually adding to the diet and at what cost.
- Current bagged retail price may be about $16.00-$20.00 per 20 pound bag.
- This translates to $1600-$2000 per ton, which is fairly spendy for a horse feed!
If you feed a pound of black oil sunflower seeds, you are adding about 7 ounces of oil (less than a cup) and 2.72 ounces of protein with minimal digestible NDF or other nutrients. If you buy bulk soy oil, you should be able to add more oil at lower cost by adding straight oil and you will have a better Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio.
Black oil sunflower seed use for horses needs to be assessed basis what the ingredient actually adds to the diet and what the cost is compared to other ingredients or feeds.
Is anyone taking a road trip this summer? Chances are, if you are heading somewhere in your car you will probably consult a road map or at least plug the destination into your GPS or smart phone. We do this so we can get where we want to go and do what we have planned. The same can be said for directions on horse feeding. They help us get our horse in the condition we want him to be so that we can do the events or activities that made us get a horse in the first place.
We have a pretty good road map attached to every bag of horse feed that is purchased. Feed tags not only list ingredients & guaranteed analysis, they also give detailed directions for feeding. The normal result of shortcuts during a road trip is usually being somewhere you don’t want to be. With your horse, taking shortcuts when it comes to feeding rates can mean a horse who is underweight or overweight, getting too much or being fed insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, among other issues.
My challenge to you is this – look at your feed tag and consider the following:
- Do I know an accurate weight of my horse?
- Do I know how much my feed scoop weighs so I can accurately weigh the feed?
After you establish the above items…
- Is the amount I am giving my horse within the tagged recommendations according to weight and activity level?
- Am I feeding to accomplish something with my horse? (ie: weight gain or weight loss, lactation, etc.)
If you are in the parameters set by your feed tag on what you are giving your horse, good for you! If you are not, you need to ask some follow up questions:
- Am I willing/able to change my feeding to match what the tag recommends? If the answer is no, then the question becomes:
- Am I willing to change my horse’s feed to match how I am feeding him?
Many times we continue to do something just because it is what we’ve always done. By answering the questions above, it may become clear to you that your best feeding option may be changing feeds. Sometimes, this may mean switching to a feed with a lower feeding rate and higher fortification in order to accurately meet your horse’s needs (for example if you are currently underfeeding a senior horse). Other times, you may find that you don’t really have an easy keeper – you are just feeding him a bit too much. Don’t neglect the feeding directions on your feed tag – they are the road map for a long, healthy life for your horse.