Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Understanding Feeds for the Busy Owner

Thehorse.com - Full Article

by: Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc
May 01 2008, Article # 11957

Providing a complete and balanced diet does not need to be complicated or a drain on time, energy, or finances.

Feeding horses can be a daunting and time-consuming task, particularly if owners attempt to optimize and maximize their horse's diet by unnecessarily introducing concentrates, vitamins, or other supplements. But providing a complete diet does not have to be time-consuming or expensive.

Step 1: Stop!

Horses require six nutrients in their diet: water, carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Except for most of the water requirements, almost all of a horse's remaining dietary requirements can be obtained from a single source: forage.

"Adult horses that are not involved in moderate to heavy work do not generally require grain," advises Eleanor Kellon, VMD, proprietor of Equine Nutrition Solutions in Pennsylvania.

In fact, Kellon suggests that many horses will maintain an appropriate body weight and obtain all necessary nutrients on pasture and free-choice hay alone.

The only exception to this rule is sodium. According to Equine Extension Specialist Carey Williams, PhD, from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, all horses require plain white salt, regardless of their feeding regime. The salt can be offered either free-choice as a salt block or as 1-2 tablespoons top-dressed if the horse does not care for the licks.

A mineral block (widely known as the "red block") is not essential, required, or recommended for the majority of horses because the levels of minerals (other than sodium) in the block are not at the level required by horses.

"In addition, some horses may consume a 50-pound block in a matter of days, which could cause problems with the mineral balance of their system," explains Williams.

Step 2: Weigh your Hay

If owners wish to feed hay in a daily ration instead of free-choice, each horse requires approximately 1.5 to 2.5% of their body weight in hay per day. Therefore, an average 1,000-pound horse will eat approximately 20 pounds of hay on a daily basis. Since counting flakes or "eyeballing" hay is an unreliable estimate at best, the only way to know how much hay you are feeding is to weigh it...

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