Food for Thought

By: Horse Deals

Food for Thought
Many horses perk up when they start to feel well.

Nutritionists from Baileys Horse Feeds examine the reasoning behind some common feeding behavior.

Why do you do that?

1. I always add chaff or alfalfa to my horse’s compound feed.

If your horse gets ad lib forage (grass, hay, haylage), does he really need extra fibre in his bucket? Half a scoop or so won’t provide a significant amount of additional fibre and merely adds to the meal.Since a horse has limited stomach capacity, the overall compound ration should be divided into as many small meals as possible. However, many of us can feed only twice a day, so if your 500kg horse in light to moderate work needs 3.7kg (8lb) of compound feed, that’s 1.8kg (4lb) per feed (including sugarbeet or chaff).Extra food, even fibre, risks overloading the stomach and feed flowing into the intestine before it’s been properly digested. At best, this is a waste and at worst can cause problems when it reaches the hindgut. Any compound feed should be given at recommended levels and not reduced to allow for chaff. Alternative fibre sources can be useful if a horse is a poor forage eater but need to be fed in significant quantities, perhaps in a separate bucket. Occasionally, there’s an argument for adding chaff to compound feed to make the horse chew more, but it’s rare for a horse not to chew his food properly.

2. I always add soaked sugarbeet pulp to my horse’s feed.

Sugarbeet pulp is rich in "super fibres", which are different from the structural fibre, cellulose, abundant in forage. Super fibres are more easily digested and yield more energy, so sugarbeet pulp is ideal where additional slow-release calories are required.Adding sugarbeet to make the meal wet can be useful when there’s a risk of the horse dehydrating or not drinking, such as when traveling or at competitions. Normally, though, feed shouldn't’t need damping as long as the horse always has access to fresh clean water. Chewing triggers the horse’s saliva production — he doesn’t salivate spontaneously at the sight or smell of food — and the more he chews, the more saliva is produced.

3. I always feed less than it says on the bag.

Contrary to popular opinion, recommended feeding levels aren’t inflated to get you to buy more! Feeds are carefully formulated to ensure they deliver everything a horse requires within a manageable daily amount. This is calculated according to bodyweight and workload, so feeding less could mean your horse misses out on essential nutrients.If the recommended amount of a compound feed makes your horse fat or gives him too much energy, switch to one with a lower digestible energy. Alternatively, choose a balancer instead or top up reduced levels of compound feed with a balancer. Balancers provide essential nutrients, including protein, vitamins and minerals, but no calories.
4. I always feed a hoof supplement.

One of the most visible signs that a horse isn’t receiving a balanced diet is poor hoof quality. A range of nutrients is necessary for healthy hooves. These include B vitamins such as biotin, minerals and amino acids. All these should be supplied by the recommended amount of a good-quality compound feed or balancer, so if that’s what your horse is getting, you shouldn't’t need to add a supplement.It takes nine to 12 months for new horn to grow from the coronary band to the ground, so expecting any improvement in less than this time through a supplement is wishful thinking. I use chaff with added vitamins and minerals as a treat for my laminitis-prone pony. Just like any complementary compound feed, "chaff-based all-in-one" products are formulated to be fed at certain levels. A scoop here and there may seem like an excellent low-calorie snack, but you might as well feed low-sugar chaff and cut your costs.A balancer is great for good doers and those prone to laminitis. Fed in small quantities, it gives peace of mind that your horse or pony is receiving the correct nutritional support while you control his calorie/forage intake. Fibre remains very important to the good doer, but lower-calorie sources are important.

6. I like to feed a bran mash once a week.

While this was once common, it’s now considered "bad practice", as it constitutes a sudden diet change, which should ideally be made gradually to avoid disrupting the sensitive bacterial population of the horse’s hindgut.Even a bran mash once a week is sufficient to upset the balance and means the horse’s digestive efficiency is compromised. When your horse has a day off, reduce the normal feed by up to half and, if he’s off work for a while, top the reduced feed up with a balancer or change to a lower-energy feed at recommended levels.Modern wheat bran is now devoid of much of the fibre and wheatgerm for which it was once valued. Its addition to an already balanced compound feed will unbalance that ration and can upset the calcium:phosphorous ratio; something particularly risky in growing youngstock.

7. My horse prefers a mix to a cube.

It’s rare for horses to have a preference and the vast majority will find cubes palatable. The ingredients in cubes are of the same quality as those in mixes, but mixes do look more palatable to humans.Cubes have advantages, particularly for horses with excitable temperaments, since they tend to be lower in starch. The production process is also less costly, so cubes are often cheaper. The next time you choose a feed, remember that horses never tire of grass!

8. I need to avoid protein because my horse is fizzy.

Riders often worry about protein levels in feed, but the horse rarely uses this nutrient as a source of energy, so it’s unlikely to "heat him up".Protein is important. It supplies essential amino acids that are the building blocks of body tissues, including muscle fibres. Since the body’s requirement for protein increases with workload, performance feeds contain more protein and coincidentally more calories. It’s the calories that may affect temperament.

9. I need to avoid cereals because my horse is fizzy.

Having eliminated, or at least identified, any obvious causes of fizzy behavior, consider your horse’s diet. The amount of energy/calories that goes in should equal the amount he needs for maintenance and work. Any excess will be laid down as body fat or expressed as excitability, or both.For excitable horses who need help maintaining condition, a compound feed plus plenty of good-quality digestible forage is the most effective solution.The important thing is that the cereal content must be cooked thoroughly to be as digestible as possible. Cooking methods such as micronising and extruding have now superseded steam flaking, as they gelatinise (cook) more of the cereals’ starch content.This reduces the risk of undigested starch reaching the hindgut and causing problems that can include crabby behaviour. Meal sizes must be kept small for the same reason, while forage intake should be a minimum of 1% of bodyweight to avoid compromising gut function.Feed manufacturers never suggest cereals as a replacement for fibre, rather they are a useful addition to a forage-based diet when fed correctly. Harder-working horses, in particular, need the glucose cereals supply as fuel to help maintain concentration and stamina. There are feeds available containing a blend of energy sources alongside cooked cereals, with an emphasis on slower-release energy, if required. While your horse may calm down on reduced quantities of a cheap, low-energy mix or no complementary feed at all, consider his overall condition, health and well-being and whether this is likely to be sustainable as his workload increases. Many horses perk up when their overall plane of nutrition is improved and they start to feel well.

For advice on feed-related matters, use the Ask the Experts form on website or phone 01371 850247.