Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Feeding your horse.

Feeding your horse. It turns out you can't literally feed them dollar bills. 


Ideal- Horses need to chew for 16 -20 hours a day, this is both a behavioral need and a nutritional need. In an ideal situation a horse will take in steady, small amounts of low quality plant matter for most of the day. Horses will never fast for more than 4 hours by choice. This allows the horses body to maintain correct pH levels throughout the digestive tract, in-turn creating optimal utilization of the nutrients in the feed, and protection from ulcers and colic.  Horses that are not given the opportunity to chew for an adequate amount of time per day will often find ways to fulfill that need on their own. This is one common way that stall vices and destructive chewing habits come into existence.

The problem:
For many of todays horse owners this ideal feeding system is mostly unattainable. Chances are that even if your horse has a couple of acres on which to be turned out and graze the pasture is of too high a quality to allow 20 hours of grazing. Horses will self regulate, given free choice roughage, at about 2% to 3% of their body weight. The real difficulty lies in finding a roughage source that is of low enough quality to allow that, without risking obesity, founder or laminitis.

Working with what we have:
Ok, so, what resources do we have and how can we use them in our horses best interest. Perhaps you have been told that if you can't provide low quality continuous grazing/feeding for your horse you are hopeless and why do you even have a horse. Let's get some things straight, you are not a bad horse 'parent' because you are taking the time to read this, which means you care;  many horse owners don't.

 Your horse is in a stall and fed 2 meals of high quality alfalfa or grass hay per day. What can you do?

Slow them down. Do what ever you can to slow down their eating. There are many resources for this from grazing muzzles and slow feeder nets, to complete slow feeder systems, which you can buy or DIY. If you can slow a 30 min meal down to 1 hour great, of you can slow it to 2 or 3 hours, that's even better.

Your barn manager doesn't have the time to stuff and tie a hay-net/slow feeder for you.

One way to talk a barn manager into feeding your horse in a slow feeder net is to have 2 or 3. If you fill them when you visit your horse in the evening after work, your Barn Manager need only toss the already filled net or bag into your horses stall. Note: Your horse probably isn't going to be initially happy that you are making food harder to get. Some common reactions involve stomping the feeder, kicking it, burying it in shavings, and generally tossing it about. You will have to let your horse throw their fit, keeping in mind that you are doing this for their health.

You board in a shared paddock.

Talk to your paddock mate. You can safely assume that they have their horses best interest at heart too. Be wary that you don't attack their horse-keeping skills, be sensitive to their feelings and opinions. If all else fails you may have to buckle down and buy their horse a slow feeder net or two as well. Generally if you offer to pay and do the extra work people are open to suggestion. Note: Horse keeping isn't easy, if it was, everyone would do it. 

Your horse has a hard time gaining weight and keeping it on. You've called the vet in, you've tested for chronic system failure, in it's various forms. And the final result is just that you have a hard keeper.  Now What?

You need to help this horse optimize nutrient absorption. How? Slow down their intake of food. "Wait? What? But they need more food." You must do your best to simulate a natural feeding environment. Perhaps you will have to provide 2 slow feeders per meal so that you can trickle-feed your horse 24 hours a day. Have your hay analyzed, find out what your horse may be lacking. Here in Utah you can send it in to USU, check out their website for more information. It will cost you less than $50.00 and may save your horses life. Through analysis you can find out what vitamins and minerals your horse may be lacking. With the help of someone who is knowledgable about horse nutrition, you can custom tailor a supplement regimen to suit your horse.

A note about Grain- Assuming that your horse doesn't have any extreme negative reactions to sugar, feeding a small amount of grain or similar concentrate feeds is usually harmless (Less than 3lbs per day). You can use it as a carrier for supplements and as a feel good food for you to give your horse.  Just remember that it is a dessert food for horses and should be treated as such.

Final notes: Keep in mind that any major change to a horses diet must be done gradually (usually over a period of 7-10 days) so as to maintain healthy gut microbes. Also, any advise offered here is not intended as a substitute for veterinary recommendations and only stands to serve as a general guide.

If you have any more situations you want help brain storming solutions to or if you have any solutions to offer please comment! 

Slow feeders
Hay analysis:

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