There’s no doubt that a horse’s feeding program needs to be revisited once or twice a year or if you see signs of change that may be feed related. Doing your homework first makes change fairly simple. My biggest gripe as a horse feed consultant is people, in general, just take a stab at what to feed. There is a science to feeding that doesn’t require a doctorate, it simply requires a few tools and a good eye!
Start with knowing what your horse actually weighs (tapes are free at most grain stores) then look at your horse with a sharp eye and determine where he falls in the body conditioning score sheet. If he’s lighter than you want, how much bigger do you want to get him (target weight) Then do some simple math, figure out how much hay he gets (give him all he’ll eat first before adding more grain to the diet.) If that 1000 lb horse is eating 25 pounds of hay a day and you’re still not getting him to weight then first check his teeth, then worm him once more, then think about adding grain. Horses are meant to eat hay and grass and adding a high-grain diet can upset the digestive apple cart! Your feed store can provide a table of how many calories your horse needs and how many he’s currently getting. Take the difference and adjust his hay intake first. Most grass hays tag in at around 600 calories per pound. If your horse needs 5000 more calories a day you would add about 9 more pounds of hay. Extruded fat supplements tag in at around 2000 calories per pound so you would have to add 2 1/2 pounds per day! That gets expensive!
Start with the obvious, more hay. If he’s eating to capacity or wasting it, add a little beet pulp for high-soluable fiber but don’t go crazy with it, beet pulp is good in moderation but too much can leach minerals from the horse creating joint and muscle issues. Speedibeet is by far a superior source of beet pulp. It is ready in 10 minutes (no soaking buckets all over the place all day!) It’s cleaner, greener and the horses never turn their noses up at it. One 40 pound bag equals almost three 50 pound bags of regular beet pulp so it is cost-effective as well.
If the beet pulp doesn’t add enough weight take a look at your horse’s activity level and then choose a grain that is high in fat and low in non-structural carbs, doesn’t have distiller’s grains in it and add at a low rate until the horse reaches his weight goal.
There’s nothing worse than chucking loads of grain into a horse and not knowing what you are giving him. Don’t buy the grain at the cost per bag, find out the feed rate for that particular grain and your target weight and do a cost-per-day analyses instead. You might find that a $25 bag of grain is cheaper to feed than a $15 bag!
Alternately, if your horse is an air fern and requires little grain, look at the bag and see what he’s “supposed” to get. Most feeds are meant to be fed in volume so if the bag calls for your horse to eat 5 pounds a day to get his nutrition and you’re feeding 1 pound, it’s time to move from a volume feed grain to a vitamin supplement like Buckeye’s Gro-N-Win or Purina’s Enrich 12 or 32. Both of these products can be fed at 1 pound a day for 1000 horse and add no additional calories but give them a full day’s nutrition.
If you can’t take the time to weigh, evaluate and adjust your horse’s diet from time to time, perhaps you might want to trade him in for ice skates?
Also bear in mind that if you frequent a feed store and they are keeping a grain in stock for you, use up the balance of what they have before you switch so they don’t get stuck with a feed no one else wants. Changing grains is inevitable with some horses but you don’t need to be “one of those” customers to your feed store!