Horse Feed: Why Hay, Grain & Horse Supplements Are Only The Beginning
Only The Beginning Posted |
As horse owners, many of us struggle with understanding and perfecting our horse’s diets. Horse feed choices depend not only on our horse’s body types and work routines but weather, age and more. Given the importance of getting your horse’s feed right and the confusing number of horse products on the market, we felt compelled to write this basic, “how your horse absorbs food and gets nutritional sustenance,” article. The better educated you are about equine digestion and overall health, the better equipped you’ll be to select the right equine feed.
Your horse’s large intestine is the primary catalyst behind healthy equine nutrient absorption. Maintaining the health of this, “hindgut,” is critical to proper horse health. Without a healthy hindgut, your horse can easily fall prey to life-threatening problems such as equine colic and laminitis, health issues all horse owners fear. Issues such as hoof, coat & mane quality and proper appetite are also related to the healthy function of the horse’s large intestine. Think of this as “equine digestion 101.”
Never overfeed grain. Excessive grain may not be completely digested in the small intestine. Partially digested grain that’s allowed to pass into the large intestine may, “over-ferment,” creating changes in PH and excessive gas. In turn, these problems can increase the potential for your horse to founder (laminitis) and/or become a victim of horse colic. By restricting the amount of grain in a single feeding to 0.5% of the horse’s weight, you limit the risks created by grain overfeeding.
Always have fresh, clean water available. And, make sure the water is always kept at a reasonable temperature. Horses that drink insufficient amounts of water become prime candidates for colic. This is because the lack of water inhibits fermentation and prevents the processed food materials from smoothly continuing their way through the digestive tract. Bear in mind that your horse’s large intestine not only digests food, but works as a large reservoir, providing electrolytes and moisture that help cool the horse during exercise.
Hay, be it alfalfa hay or timothy hay, tends to be the primary source of fiber for most horses. Poor fiber or hay quality can cause weight loss and hay bellies. Insufficient fiber quantities can create an imbalance between fiber & grain ratios that can lead to laminitis or horse colic. By keeping your horse’s fiber levels at a minimum 50% of your total horse feed ratio, you’ll be doing your horse a world of good.
Do not permit drastic transitions in your horse’s fiber or hay feeds. Just as grain must be swapped out gradually, dietary fiber changes should also be eased into. By introducing new hay cuttings and pasture changes with an eye to this rule, you’ll dramatically decrease the risk of horse health problems. Keep in mind that early spring pastures can have as much soluble carbohydrate as grain. A sudden transition combined with unchanged grain ratios could wreak havoc on your horse’s digestion and lead to colic or laminitis. Also, remember that turnout time is crucial for horses. Lack of adequate turnouts are another leading cause of horse colic.
Here are some additional indications of inadequate hindgut function.
Hay Bellies: Hay bellies are indicative of inferior forage. With quality forages, the horse’s large intestine is constantly fermenting the food matter and pushing it through. With poor quality hay or forage feeds, the horse’s large intestine is working overtime, trying to extract more nutrition before pushing the food mass through. This stretches the large intestine, creating the, “hay belly,” appearance. Higher quality forages should help the hindgut shrink, as it returns to normal functioning.
Cow Flops Vs. Road Apples: Equine manure that resembles cow manure more than road apples is indicative of a large intestine that is not functioning adequately. This can be brought on by excessive grain or overly rapid changes in hay or fiber feeds. It may also simply be due to poor intestinal health brought on by age or illness. Be sure and consult with your vet if your horse’s waste products don’t return to normal, quickly.
Improper horse nutrition can result in poor hoof or coat conditions. This is often indicative of poor nutrient absorption by the large intestine and typically accompanies either of the issues mentioned above.
Horse supplements and horse treats are important to many owners as well. But, don’t just grab the first thing you see at the feed store. When it comes to supplements for horses, given each horse’s unique health profile, we highly recommend you consult with your veterinarian regarding which products are best for your horse’s unique needs. Should your horse be given a special senior horse feed? What about feeding horses with Cushing’s Syndrome? Or, horses being used for breeding? Using the right equine supplements in conjunction with quality hay/ forage feeds and proper grain ratios is in your horse’s best interest. Combining a well designed diet with a daily routine that allows for as much turnout time as possible, can dramatically improve any horse’s health.
Whether your horse is a working quarter horse, mini-horse companion or hard-charging jumper, each should be fed a diet tailored to their unique metabolic and dietary needs. The more you know about the internal workings of your horse’s digestive system, the better care your beloved horse will hopefully, enjoy.