Following on from my blog last week, this week I am covering the types of feed available. Obviously, as mentioned grass is the natural diet of the horse and if you have the right type of pasture available at the right time of year then your horse may already receive all the nutrients he needs to maintain his condition (although this is less likely if he is in medium to hard work).
As I talked about last week you first need to establish the amount of food a horse needs, following on from this you work out the percentage of roughage to concentrates.
Roughage provides the bulk and is the type of food that horses' bodies have evolved to digest. Grass and hay come into this category! In addition, other types of roughage can be fed in conjunction with concentrates to slow down the rate that they pass though the digestive system. This will allow time for the nutrients to be absorbed.
This is the type of feed we give to a horse to provide energy and maintain his condition. Domesticated horses need extra feed because we have limited their grazing and we expect them to work.
This includes 'traditional' feeds; cereals such as oats, barley and maize but also other foods that are added to provide extra nutrients or to make the food more tasty eg: molasses (sometimes called 'mixers' or 'openers').
Also in the 'concentrate' category are the mixes and nuts made by feed companies.
- Is the closest nutritionally to the horse's needs
- It is high in energy but does not make horses fat
- Good quality oats are hard, clean, heavy, golden and sweet smelling
- They are best fed bruised, rolled, crushed or crimped (picture above shows whole oats)
- They lack some minerals so should be fed with other foods
- They can lead to 'hot' and uncontrollable horses
- Bad quality oats are thin, dark, smell sour and should NOT be fed
- Once the husk is broken they begin to lose their value and should be used within 3 weeks
- Whole oats are often difficult to digest
- Has almost the same nutritional value as oats
- Is slightly less heating but is more fattening
- Barley can be fed flaked, rolled, crushed, boiled or micronised
- Must be fed with other food as it is lacking in some minerals
- Low in fibre
- Grains are small, hard and difficult to chew and so must not be fed whole unless cooked
- High starch content helps a horse put on weight
- Normally fed flaked or micronised, it is yellow and looks like cornflakes!
- Low quality protein
- Very low in fibre
- Is very heating and should be fed in small amounts (25%) of total grains fed
Is made from chopped up hay and sometimes chopped oat straw too. Some chaff contains molasses which reduces the dust and makes it more palatable.
- Useful when added to concentrates to prevent a horse eating too fast.
- Good for horses that are overweight if they need a feed when others are eating! However, this should be an un-molassed version.
- Good to 'bulk' up a feed
- Molassed chaff will add sugar to the diet
- Some molassed chaffs are so sticky they become hard blocks
- It can become musty so ensure you only feed fresh smelling chaff
Made from the husks of wheat grain separated from the flour.
- Adds bulk to the diet
- Bran mash can be fed to a horse that is off work and on box rest as it is a laxative. Also useful for a tired horse after long, hard work or as a feed the night before a rest day.
- Bran can help alleviate minor bowel conditions. Dry bran will help a horse with diarrhoea but wet bran will act as a laxative.
- Useful for disguising medincines
- Nutritionally bran is a poor feedstuff. Unfortunately there is a high level of phosphorus in bran and a low level of calcium. The calcium to phosphorus ratio of a horse's diet needs to be 2 parts calcium and 1 part phosphorus. As calcium is vital to bone development a deficiency can cause bone deformities or weakness especially in youngsters! Many people will add limestone flour to bran to counteract this deficiency.
This is the seed of the flax plant, uncooked seeds are small, shiny and brown.
- It is high in protein, fats and oils
- Traditionally fed to horses in winter to improve poor condition
- Improves the condition of horse's coats making them shine
- It can improve hoof condition
- It can be fed as a jelly or as a tea or bought in bottles as with vegetable oil.
- It is very POISONOUS if not prepared properly
- Rich in protein
- Can be fed split or crushed
- They provide energy and help maintain weight
- Can be heating and fattening so no more than 1lb should be added to any one feed
This is a by product from sugar production, it is a dark and sticky syrup like substance. It is found in most compound feeds.
- It supplies energy and improves coat condition
- Only small quantities are needed
- It is very sweet and so highly palatable
- It can be heating in some horses
Sugar beet can be purchased in pellets/cubes or shreds. Ensure the pellets/cubes are clearly labelled as they are difficult to distinguish from pony nuts!
Good Points: -
- An excellent source of energy and roughage
- Good for horses doing longer slower work
- It is relatively slow to digest so the bulk in the intestines makes it unsuitable for horses doing fast work
- Sugarbeet MUST be soaked (both pellets/cubes and shreds). If eaten dry the sugar beet will swell when combined with the liquid in the horse's stomach and cause severe colic or death.
- Cold water should be used for soaking
- It should be fed in small amounts, no more than 3lb soaked weight a day.
- It has a laxative effect on some horses
Good Points: -
- Extremely high in protein
- Good for horses in hard work
- Excess can cause digestive problems
- Should only feed 1lb a day
Can be in the form of granules added to the feed or a salt lick. Salt licks are available flavoured too.
· Salt is an essential part of the horse's diet because many of the chemical reactions that take place in the horse's body occur in a salt solution. Good addition in summer when essential body salts can be lost through sweating
These are complete and balanced mixes of all the nutrients necessary for a horse's concentrate feed. This makes them simple to use as there are compound feeds available to suit any type of horse in any type of work. It is therefore not necessary to mix different cereals and mixers as mentioned earlier. These feeds should be fed according to the manufacturer's instructions and as they are carefully nutritionally balanced should not have other feeds added (with the exception of chaff or sugar beet).
There are 2 forms of compound feed;
- The course mix which looks a little like muesli and means you can often identify the component feeds.
- The nuts/cubes which are when the ingredients are ground, steamed and formed into pellets.
Which you choose will be personal preference.
Advantages of compound feeds:-
- Provide a uniform and balanced diet
- Simple to use and easy to feed
- Easy to store, with less space and storage which would be needed for multiple cereals
- Easy to transport and labour and time saving (as above)
- Clean and dust free
- Palatable as most will contain mollasses
- Consistently good quality
Disadvantages of compound feeds:-
- Nuts/cubes can be dry and cause choking so are often better softened
- Ratios cannot easily be adjusted
These are a more recent addition to the types of horse food available. Looking a little like chaff they are made from chopped up Alfalfa which is a legume related to the pea and bean family. As with compound feeds above there are lots of different types available to suit most horses and situations.
- Contains high levels of protein
- Contains valuable nutrients
- Should provide enough energy for horses in light to medium work
- No cereal means less 'heating' so less excitable horses
- Good for horses and ponies with a tendency for laminitis or colic
- More closely matches the horses natural diet of grass
- Fed by itself it will not provide the energy needed for a horse in hard work
- Some have added molasses which can still be 'heating'
- Not all are suitable for horses and ponies with a tendency for laminitis
In the last few years I have changed from feeding mix and chaff as standard. Fidget always just had a bit of chaff to keep him happy and Chesney had an appropriate course mix and chaff for bulk. Both were always good doers anyway and had a tendency to get a bit fat! Once Basil arrived and the course mix (even the 'cool' versions) made him too silly I changed to an alfalfa feed for all. Now I am not sure that I will ever change back as I feel these feeds match the horses natural diet much more closely and they have to chew properly. This means they can't rush their food and bolt it down, they have to savour it!
Obviously, all horses are individuals so armed with the knowledge you can find something to suit! I'm not sure which is the most popular type of feed now but what do you feed your horse?
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Until next time!