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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently received a call from a horse owner that said she needed to put her horse on a diet. Her 1000 pound mare is a body condition score of 7. Her vet had recommended she put the mare on a ration balancer. When she priced products at the local feed store she thought that the price of a balancer was too high. Since her mare has free access to pasture, she felt that 1 pound a day of an economy feed would be good, with a few supplements. She was wonder what supplements would be best for her mare?
I told her she was on the right track to reduce the horse’s calories, but there was an easier way to put the mare on a healthy diet. I pointed out that the feed tag on the product she was feeding had a feeding rate of 0.5 pounds of feed for every 100 pounds of body weight. So, for her mare to get the proper fortification of vitamins and minerals listed on the tag, she would need 5 pounds per day.
Cutting the ration down to only 20% of the required feed rate and adding supplements could get costly, as well as establishing an imbalance in micro and macro minerals. I suggested she consider a ration balancer. The concentrated nutrient levels allow for low feeding rates. A good quality balancer will contain prebiotics and probiotics to help support nutrient digestion. They will also feature guaranteed levels of biotin to support muscle, hair coat and hoof development. In addition they will also have guaranteed levels of amino acids to support muscle maintenance and development. Not to mention that a quality balancer will also use organic trace mineral complexes to increase bioavailability and protein utilization.
When we compared the balancer to top dressing the economy feed, the balancer was a much better value on a cost per day basis. That’s why it’s always important to do the “cost per day” math, rather than getting fixated on the price tag on the bag, and remember to include the cost of supplements needed if a lower-quality, less expensive feed is being investigated.