I had stopped at one of my large training barns to check on their horses diets, as they had just returned from a recent show circuit. The owner said the horses were doing well, but he was going to tweak their diets just a little. He had purchased a bag of selenium from a local milling company and just wanted to top dress a little extra.
Unfortunately for him, the truth is that more is not always better. I explained how vitamins and minerals need to be kept in certain ratios and levels in order to keep horses healthy, and random adding of supplements can endanger their health. For example, copper and zinc must be kept in a 3:1 t 4:1 ratio for proper bone growth, development and maintenance. In young growing horses, having this ratio out of balance could lead to Developmental Orthopedic Diseases. I also noted that not all are horse feed supplements are created equal. In the case of minerals, organic complexed trace minerals (minerals that are tied to an amino acid) have increased bioavailability over the oxide or sulfate forms.
Horses have mineral requirements which are broken down into Micro and Macro. Macro minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. These are required in gram amounts in the diet. Micro, or trace, minerals include copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, iron and selenium. These are required in much smaller quantities in the diet, and are measured in “parts per million”, or ppm. A part per million is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 50 liters (roughly the fuel tank capacity of a compact car). Micro and macro minerals play an important role in bone development, muscle, hair coat , appetite, as well as skin and hoof integrity. The key is that they must be balanced in the horses diet.
While recently reviewing a farm’s feed program, the manager explained that some of her horses only received 1 pound of grain per day. She felt their weight was good, but yet they appeared to be lacking something in their diet. She was wondering what type of supplements she could add.
When we looked at the tag on her feed, the problem was obvious. Her feed was designed for to be fed at a rate of 0.5 – 0.75 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight. This means that to provide proper fortification for a 1000 pound horse, she would need to feed 5 – 7.5 pounds per day. By that standard, her horses that were only getting 1 lb per day were not receiving the nutrient fortification they needed for optimum health, and thus her feeling that “they appeared to be lacking something”. Her farm was feeding good quality hay at a rate of about 2% of each horse’s body weight, and the overall body condition of the horses was good, but we needed to balance the amino acid and vitamin/mineral fortification.
We reviewed the farms hay test results to establish our baseline. I explained that she could easily improve her horse’s diet with the use of a ration balancer. Balancers have a low feeding rate, generally from 0.25 to 1 pound per head per day, but they contain a concentrated mix of the extra vitamins, minerals and protein required to help horses achieve their full potential.
She was a little unsure about feeding something with a 30% protein level, but I explained that if you do the math, feeding 1 lb of a 30% protein feed is actually providing the same to a little less than feeding a standard 12% feed at a higher rate.
Key features to look for in a ration balancer include:
Probiotics and prebiotics to enhance fiber and protein digestion, as well as mineral absorption.
Organic complexed trace minerals to increase the bioavailability – an example of this on the tag would be “zinc methionine complex” in the ingredient list.
Added biotin and methionine, which are important for hoof and hair coat.
Guaranteed amino acids (lysine, methionine, etc), mineral, and vitamin levels.
A good quality ration balancer will provide your horse with dietary essentials, and often no additional supplementation is needed!