Equine Feed Basics – The 3 Main Classes of Equine Feed

By: Rachel Mottet, M.S.

Equine Specialist – Purina Animal Nutrition

 

Choosing a feed for a horse can be tricky business, there are so many options! How do you know if you’re making the right selection? How do you know if you are meeting the minimum volume required to meet all your horse’s vitamin, mineral and amino acid requirements? Is the feed in question the right fit for your horse’s needs? Here are some basics to help you answer those questions…

 

Before I dive into the different types of feed, I must describe the horse’s nutrient needs – I refer to this as the equine food pyramid. This food pyramid is determined by the Equine NRC (National Research Council). The Equine NRC publishes equine nutrient requirements based on scientific data gained through published equine research. With the information from the Equine NRC, our equine food pyramid is created.

 

feed Basics 1When considering this food pyramid we must first think about hay. Hay is the #1 component of the equine diet and a good quality hay source is the key compliment to any grain. At the absolute minimum, it is recommended that a horse consume 1% of their bodyweight per day in hay. This percentage will go up based on extra energy demand from climate changes, workload, reproductive status, growth stage, etc. I recommend 1.2 – 1.5%+ of bodyweight per day in hay as a general rule of thumb for nutrition programs that I develop with horse owners.

 

Furthermore on the topic of hay, what we do know is that our hay (especially in the Midwest) does not cover all bases of the equine food pyramid. There are a few gaps that we can fill through feeding some type of concentrate. Here are the 3 main classes of equine feed and how to feed them:

 

Ration Balancers: This type of feed has become increasingly popular for horses who are easy keepers. For those horses that seem to thrive on hay alone, ration balancers are often the best choice. The best way to describe this feed is that it is similar to a daily vitamin/mineral & protein shake. This product covers all bases of the equine food pyramid in a small feeding rate of 1-2 lbs. total per day. This class of feed does not contain extra calories that contribute to weight gain and is designed to complement the forage source. I recommend Purina Enrich Plus as a ration balancer for your easy keeper.

 

The most common question I get from horse owners with easy keepers is: “My horse looks great on hay alone, why would I need to feed a ration balancer?” This is a good question! To answer this, I bring up the missing pieces of the equine food pyramid in feeding hay alone. Another important consideration is that many of the benefits from a balanced diet are not always seem. Vitamins, minerals and amino acids contribute to a healthy immune system, strong bone structure and hoof integrity among various other physiological benefits. For the sake of ease, let’s compare this to the human diet. One could eat fast food every day and appear to thrive or appear healthy on this diet. However, the reality is that we are shortchanging our body from key nutrients. Would you be able to tell from looking at a person that they are vitamin, mineral or amino acid deficient? Maybe, maybe not, but the body knows and functions optimally when all food pyramid bases are covered. This is why I suggest a ration balancer for your easy keepers. It fills the missing holes that hay leaves in the equine food pyramid.

 

Performance Feeds: Our next class of feed is the performance feed. This feed is designed to be fed at a rate of 4-8 lbs per day for a horse to maintain good body condition and perform to their best ability. It should be noted that the rate of feeding will depend on the individual horse and feed recommendation. All grains have a minimum feeding rate to fulfill the equine food pyramid so make sure to read the tag or talk to an equine specialist to determine this minimum for your horse.

 

Horses in a training program, performance horses and hard keepers generally benefit most from a performance feed. This feed provides all the NRC recommendations in addition to calories to support the energy demands of a higher workload or higher calorie demand. I recommend Strategy or Purina Ultium as a performance feed.

 

Feed BasicsComplete / Senior Feed: Ever notice that our horses are living a lot longer these days? A lot of this has to do with nutrition! Even when a horse has no teeth left in their mouth to chew and eat, they can still survive solely on a complete feed. A complete feed contains the hay and grain component in one product. This feed is designed to be the entire diet of the horse and will usually have a minimum recommended feeding rate of 6-8+ lbs. Why the higher minimum? This is because the hay component is present which, for lack of a better term, “dilutes” the grain and ups the minimum amount required to get 100% of the equine food pyramid covered.

 

Complete feeds are not only great for seniors but great if you do not have access to a quality forage source. The forage component is fortified with consistent high quality vitamins, minerals & proteins. These feeds are generally very low in starch and gentle on the gut of the horse. They have many functions and are helping our older horses live well into their 30’s! I recommend Purina Equine Senior, the #1 veterinarian recommended brand for your horse that is a senior or a horse that needs a complete feed.

While we have only scratched the surface here on equine feed classes, hopefully this helps answer a few basic questions. Feel free to contact me for an equine nutrition consult in the greater Twin Cities, I am always happy to help answer your equine nutrition questions! RSMottet@landolakes.com.

Purina Rachel

Rachel Mottet holds a B.S. & M.S. degree in Animal Science with an equine emphasis. She is an Equine Specialist with Purina and does 3-day eventing with her horse Titan.

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Hay Soaking: All Washed Up or Good Management?

This article is courtesy of Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota.
Posted on Nutrena’s Blog

Soaking hay in water is a common strategy used to manage the nutrition of some diseased horses.  Current hay soaking recommendations include soaking hay for 30 minutes in warm or 60 minutes in cold water for removal of carbohydrates (Watts, 2003).  Soaking hay is commonly done to manage horse diagnosed with laminitis, Polysaccaride Storage Myopathy (PSSM), hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • Researchers have suggested that diets contain less than 12 and 10% nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) for horses affected with laminitis (Frank, 2009) and PSSM (Borgia et al., 2009), respectively.
  • Reynolds et al. (1997) determined that a diet less than 1% K is necessary for horses diagnosed with HYPP.
  • Moore-Colyer (1996) determined that soaking hay for 30 minutes reduced respiratory problems for horses diagnosed with COPD or heaves.

However, how efficient is hay soaking, and are additional essential nutrients lost during the soaking process?  Researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to determine the impact of water temperature and soaking duration on removal of NSC, crude protein (CP), minerals, and dry matter (DM) from alfalfa and orchardgrass hays.

Four hay types were soaked, including bud and flowering alfalfa, and vegetative and flowering orchardgrass.  Individual flakes were submerged for 15, 30 and 60 minutes in 25 liters of cold (72°F) and warm (102°F) water, and for 12 hours in cold water.  A control (non-soaked) sample was also evaluated.  Water temperatures were determined by using the cold or warm only faucets, similar to practices implemented by horse owners and managers.  Subsamples of entire flakes were submitted for nutrient analysis at a commercial laboratory.

  • Prior to soaking, both alfalfa hays were below the 10 and 12% NSC threshold for horses diagnosed with PSSM and laminitis, respectively, and would not have required soaking. The orchardgrass hays were above these thresholds, however, after soaking for 15 to 30 minutes were at or below 10 to 12% NSC.
    • Although soaking hay for longer durations did further reduce NSC content, it is not recommended.  All horses, even diseased ones, require carbohydrates in their diet.
    • The severely limited NSC content in hay soaked for greater than 1 hour, combined with increased fiber amounts (fiber components are not water soluble, thus they are concentrated in soaked hay), brings into question the palatability and availability of nutrients in hay soaked for longer periods of time.
  • Crude protein leaching was variable in soaked hays, something other researchers have also observed (Moore-Colyer, 1996).  More importantly, previous research looked at the nutrient availability and quality of rained-on hay fed to steers and suggested the nitrogen remaining in rained-on hay is more stable, water-insoluble (Rotz and Muck, 1994), and possibly less digestible by ruminants (Licitra et al, 1996).  Additional research is needed to evaluate this concept when feeding soaked hay to horses.
  • Calcium (Ca) is not as prone to leaching during soaking compared to other minerals, and appears to be dependent on hay maturity.  As soaking duration increased, leaching of Ca increased in alfalfa bud and vegetative orchardgrass hays (immature hays).  However, soaking had no effect on Ca leaching in the more mature hays.
    • Conversely, magnesium (Mg) Mg and phosphorus (P) levels were reduced in all hay types as a result of soaking, with longer soaking durations leading to greater reductions.  Because Ca is not as water soluble as P, high Ca:P ratios were observed in hays soaked for  longer durations, specifically after 12 hours.
    • Ideally, Ca:P ratios should range from 1:1 to 3:1 (up to 6:1) in horse diets (NRC, 2007).  The high Ca:P ratios observed after longer soaking durations were exaggerated in alfalfa hays which had higher Ca:P ratios prior to soaking.
    • After 12 hours of soaking, a deficiency in P was observed and ranged from a shortage of 1 to 8 grams for a 500 kg horse in light work (NRC, 2007), and Krook and Maylin [32] suggested that osteochondrosis may be associated with excess dietary Ca.
  • Soaking both alfalfa and orchardgrass hay for 12 hours was necessary to sufficiently reduce K concentration to recommend levels prior to feeding horses diagnosed with HYPP (Reynolds et al, 1997).  Although K levels can be reduced by soaking, neither alfalfa nor orchardgrass hay is an appropriate option for horses diagnosed with HYPP due to the naturally high levels of K.

Owners should rely on forage analysis as the primary method of determining the appropriate hay for horses, especially when feeding horses diagnosed with laminitis, PSSM, HYPP or COPD.   Hay soaking for short durations (15 to 30 minutes in duration) is an acceptable management method, but should only be used if ideal hay is not available.  Hay should not soak hay for greater than 1 hour.  Soaking hay for long durations resulted in severely reduced NSC content, high Ca:P ratios, shortage of P in the diet and significant losses in DM.

Round Bale Savings| Management Tips

Pinch pennies and limit allergen exposure with these round bale management tips!

With hay prices on the rise, you may be looking for ways to limit hay wastage this winter. If feeding round bales utilizing a hay net can help. Recent research from Dr. Krishona Martinson and the University of Minnesota Extension indicates that using a hay net such as the Cinch Net had a 6hay net image% wastage versus up to 57% wastage with no feeder at all. Furthermore, the study indicated that the Cinch Net paid for itself in less than one month. Other types of feeders also had significantly less wastage, such as the Waste Less feeder; however the payback on that would take approximately 8 months due to its higher purchase price. It is recommended that the Cinch Net should be used with another type of feeder to prevent horses from stepping on it once the bale begins to collapse down. However, no injuries occurred during the 20 day study period.

From a health standpoint, utilizing a hay net helps reduce the amount horses are able to burrow their heads into the hay bale. Having their heads stuck in a hay bale all day can expose horses to an increased amount of environmental allergens such as dust and mold which can contribute to certain allergic conditions like heaves or Recurrent Airway Obstruction. Horses with heaves may display symptoms such as coughing, increased respiratory effort or increased abdominal exertion, along with flaring nostrils. Please call your veterinarian if you notice these clinical signs.

The Cinch Net can be purchased from http://www.cinchchix.com/.

Read Dr. Martinson’s paper at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/selecting-a-round-bale-feeder/.

Dr. Megan Slamka, DVM
Anoka Equine Intern Veterinarian