With so many feed, supplement and hay choices available, many equine owners may find themselves wondering exactly what their horse needs for good health and nutrition. When feeding horses, there are six basic nutrient categories that must be met: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.
If using a quality complete feed, the first five nutrients are likely balanced for you. But it is critical not to forget about water—the most important nutrient. A horse will need more pounds of water than pounds of feed. Typically a 1,000-pound horse will drink 10 to 12 gallons of water daily.
Horses will need more water when temperature, humidity or activity increases. Thus, it’s important to always provide unlimited access to clean, fresh water. Keeping water between 45 and 65 degrees encourages consumption.
Beyond water, nutritional requirements for horses differ from individual to individual. While body mass, age, physiological condition, activity level and metabolic efficiency all factor in to an equine feeding program, there are some general considerations to keep in mind:
Maximize the amount of forage
Horses are, by nature, consumers of forage. Whether it’s fresh pasture or harvested hay, silage or haylage, forages are the ideal energy source for horses. Most mature horses should consume 1.5% to 2.5% of their body weight as dry matter forage. Monitor the amount of concentrate a horse eats. Owners frequently feed cereal grains when horses need more energy than forages can provide. To reduce the chance of colic and gastric upset, do not feed mature horses more than 0.25% to 0.5% of their body weight in cereal grains per feeding.
Meet mineral and vitamin needs
Horse supplements are great ways to ensure you are meeting nutrient requirements of your equine when they’re not receiving a complete feed. It is important to establish a balanced ration for horses that includes the right ratio of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Some producers will also provide free-choice salt. Horses may get enough vitamins in feedstuffs or microbial production in the gut. However, most horses respond to vitamin supplementation, particularly vitamin A, vitamin E, riboflavin and biotin.
If you’re feeding one of MFA’s Easykeeper products according to label, your horse will be receiving adequate minerals. MFA Horse Mineral is a good option to ensure unsupplemented horses have the minerals and vitamins they need. Owners and managers are strongly encouraged to work with your MFA key account manager or feed specialist to ensure that horse nutrient needs are met.
Monitor body weight and body condition score
When deciding a horse’s nutritional needs, it is necessary to know its body weight and body condition score (BCS). Body weight can be determined by weighing on a scale or estimated using weight tapes or mathematical equations. Body condition scoring determines the amount of fat deposit under the horse’s skin in certain areas. For most horses, a BCS between 4 to 6 is ideal. Body weight and BCS should be tracked monthly.
Routinely care for your horse’s teeth
A horse’s teeth continually erupt and are simultaneously ground down as they chew feedstuffs, especially forages. Sharp points occur on the teeth, which can cut the inside of the mouth or cause gum irritation. Routine filing down or floating of teeth by a veterinarian or equine dentist will alleviate the problem and make an even grinding pattern for the horse’s chewing, which aids in digestion.
Change feeds gradually
When changing hay or grain types, replace only 20% to 25% of a horse’s current feed every other day. This will allow for a complete change over a week or more. A gradual change from one feed to another provides enough time for microbes in the gut to adapt.
Remember, some horses are easier to feed and require fewer nutrients. Other horses are very difficult to feed and require special attention. It is important to know how to feed your horse and to make sure it gets all the nutrients it needs.
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