Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HK 101: Nutrition

Equine nutrition is a science, but it's also a little bit art. Balancing what feeds are available to you, with the caloric needs of your horse and costs. Nutrition isn't really my strong suite so I'm happy to defer to the experts, and there are many excellent articles on the 'net.

I can, however, provide a basic over-view of what we do with our animals. If you're new to horse-keeping you should really consult your veterinarian, or local feed store owner.

Let's start with Hay

The first thing when it comes to feeding hay is that not all that is green is golden. The only way to know the nutritional content of your grass or hay is to have it tested. Your local country extension offices should be able to help you, or try at the feed store.

Adult horses need between 1-3% of their body weight in hay per day (more for pregnant mares) depending on season/grass availability and quality.

Meg is about 560kgs, I'm not kidding she's way too fat right now. Closer to 500kgs would be a better weight for her, which means it is time for a diet. 3% of her ideal body weight for winter feeding is around 33lbs a day or 3/4 of a 50 lb bale of hay/day.

We also supply the horses with round-bale hay outside. This is a great way to save on feed costs (as round-bales are much less expensive then square because of the labour involved) and keep the horses warm. A horse eating is a warm horse.

A 4x4 round bale is around 500 lbs of hay. Since we've got 2 horses let's assume they are going to split it evenly, each getting 250lbs, and none is wasted (neither of which is likely to happen). If Meg needs 33lbs of hay a day, half a round bale should last her 7 days and completely fulfill her hay needs.

I could extend the life of that round bale by bringing them in at night and feeding square bales. However, I don't like the cold and don't have an indoor arena so I doubt Meg and I are going to be riding much this winter, so I'd like her to be outside as much as possible. You can also extend the life of the round bale by limiting access to it for parts of the day, and blanketing your horses well.

Meg is a easy keeping IBWB who gets fat looking at hay, while Maddie is a skinny-winnie TB. At around 500kgs Maddie need to switch weight categories with Meg! Let's aim to give him an extra 50kgs (probably not going to happen, but we'll try!) he will need 37lbs of hay a day. Since we're keeping him on the same round-bale schedule as Meg, Maddie will also be getting 2 flakes of hay with breakfast and dinner.


Grain depends so much on what feed you are giving, the energy level you want to maintain and what supplements you want/need to feed your horse. The most economical way to feed is a commercially prepared complete feed. Your feed bag  should give you an idea how much feed your horse will need.

Meg gets 1/8th of a coffee can of 14% sweet feed. That is just enough to get her to come in for dinner and stand still for her fly spray. She doesn't need any more then that as she's not in regular work.

Maddie is a TB, a breed well known for being hard keepers. When he arrived he was on a Triple Crown Senior feed, a feed that also acted as a forage substitute. Meaning, the feed makes of up for some of the nutrients an older hose wouldn't get from eating hay because it can be hard to eat when your teeth are wearing out. This feed also works well for horses who just don't eat enough.

Maddie was also out on a 12 hour day turnout with his last owner, and out with a horse he didn't get along with too well. Now he's on a 24 hour turn out with his best-buddy who doesn't get her face off the ground all day/night long. So I've switched him to Fat 'n Fibre. This is a great feed for hard keepers because you can feed lots without making the horse 'hot'.

You must switch your horses feed over very slowly, especially when changing drastically like this (brand, type of feed & country it was sold in); so I did it very slowly over 2 weeks. When he first came off the trailer it took a few days to get him eating well (change in scenery I guess) so I got him up from eating 2 coffee cans of Triple Crown up to the 4 he had been eating before.

Once he was up to 4 cans again we did:
4 coffee cans (cc) of Triple Crown (TC) for 4 feeds (2 days)
3 1/2 cc of TC and 1/2 of Fat 'n Fibre (FnF) for 4 feeds (2 days)
3 cc of TC and 1 of FnF for for 4 feeds
2 1/2 of TC and 1 1/2 of FnF for for feeds


Now he's been on 4 cc of FnF/feed for a week and I'm taking him down to 3 1/2 cc of FnF w 1/2 cup veg oil and we'll see how he does.

I use coffee cans because it's easy to measure and free to replace. You always feed a horse by the weight of the food not quantity, and I know there are 620 grams in a coffee can full of FnF. So Maddie is getting 2.2Kg of FnF each meal.

When Meg was being ridden regularly I'd talk to the BO and have her feed moved up and down depending on her weight and how much pep we needed. When you hop on your pony and after 20 minutes of light work run out of gas, you need to increase the amount of concentrate (grain) she's getting. On the other hand, if you're still sitting on a powder keg after 50 minutes of an hour-long training session, someone needs less!

(Obviously there are a lot more factors to energy level/ridability, I'm just using this has a simplified example).

Every horse has a different metabolism and no matter what the numbers say they should be eating you have keep a close eye on their weight and adjust feed accordingly.

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