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!
4-H is supposed to be open to all and yet in NH we harbor and age-discrimination problem. We don’t allow kids under 12 to attend state contests. This is not acceptable to most of us leaders who know that without catching a youngster at a young age, we will lose them to other activities. That means lower entry-level competitors in the horse arena, which trickles down to less kids in the lesson programs and that trickles down to fewer horses needed. What does this mean to the NH horse community? A steady drop in participation in all of the horse activities that NH has always been abundant in. Camps, lessons, trail rides, equine science programs and more are all suffering because we cannot hook our young grassroots community on horses early enough. It’s time to stand up and be counted. Contact program director at UNH and let her know we would love to see the state contests opened up again so we can replenish the pool of young horse crazies that we love to work with! Update: June 2016, the woman who was responsible for this horrid ruling has now retired and we have rescinded the rule! This should help us recover a great youth program and reunite young kids and horses.
It is the most misunderstood part of buying horse supplies we encounter on a daily basis. Buying shavings in the bag. I always have people ask me what size bag I have, 3.25 or 3.50? So I thought it would be appropriate to help everyone understand how to buy shavings the RIGHT way!
Shavings have two sizes, the physical size of the bag (generally between 2.75 and 3.50 cubic feet) and the size of the chute that the shavings are loaded into just before compressing into the bag (generally 4.9 to 11 cubic feet) You can see that it is not the size of the bag that is important, it is the size of the compressed material. Here’s a perfect example:
Johnny Stableowner goes to the local big-box store where they sell shavings in a 3.25 cf bag for $4.99 a bag. There is no marking on the bag of what the uncompressed size is. This is usually a 4.9 cubic foot bag. Those small bags are rarely marked on the outside how many cubic feet are actually in it. I asked the maker of the bags at said store and they assured me they were 4.9 cubic feet. OK, so that translates into $1.01 per cubic foot of material. Now, Johnny’s smarter wife Jane Stableowner goes to another store and specifically asks how many cubic feet are in the bag and she gets shavings that have 9.75 cubic feet per bag and cost $5.50. Dumb Johnny argues that his wife is a dumbass and just paid 50 cents more per bag than he did. Smart Jane says Johnny’s the dumbass because she just paid 56 cents per cubic foot, ha ha!
Jane’s right. You should know several things about your shavings. Number one is how many cubic feet are in the bag. If it’s not marked you can assume it is less than 5 cubic feet. Two, are they screened for dust? Many dealers sell hog bedding from the Canadian suppliers which is brutally dusty but it doesn’t say that on the bag. You find out later when you horse develops heaves and your barn is coated in dust. Three, are they softwood shavings. This should be a no-brainer but there are several dealers out there who sell chipped spruce and building debris as horse bedding. These shavings are hard, almost like wood chips and can contain old 2×4’s. Yummy.
Buy shavings by the internal cubic foot not the size of the bag they are in. So know your 1,2,3’s of buying shavings and be a smart Jane, not a dumbass Johnny!
Low carb diets in humans have been a busy industry for a few years now and some people have benefitted from the weight loss. It makes you wonder why someone would feed a working horse a low-carb diet (because they thought it was safe) and then complain about the loss of top line and weight in their horse. The lack of energy is another byproduct of feeding a low-carb diet to a working horse. Carbs are an important part of a working horse’s diet. The harder they work, the easier it is to utilize the carbs. To decide if a low-carb diet is one for your horse, ask yourself this question: Do I like the weight where it is and am I feeding the horse at least the minimum amount required by the bag directions?If you are, then you are on the right track with the feed you are on. If you are feeding two pounds of a feed to a horse that according to the manufacturer you should be feeding 7 pounds, then a low-carb diet is in your future. Low carb diets should be left to low-maintenance, easy keepers or horses with certain metabolic disorders. Consult your feed representative for the most accurate recommendations of a diet that will work for both of you.