So Many Varieties of Horse Feed – How Do I Know Which is the Right Grain Mixture For My Horse?

Decisions, decisions. I can understand how a person just getting started in the horse world could become confused when deciding what to feed and how much. Personally, I came from the old school of oats, corn, barley and molasses. Electrolytes, salt and a good quality hay, preferably more than one kind of hay. Usually if the horses in consideration were riding or show horses, then a good timothy and a good quality of clover hay was sufficient. Racing horses were fed the same but there was a good quality alfalfa added to the diet. Young horses from the time they were weaned, were given vitamins and different supplements with their daily grain. As young horses grow, their nutritional needs are different because of the constant developmental stages they go through, similar to those of growing children. In my experience, young horses seem to get fairly round on the corners and hold their weight well and all of a sudden they sprout up an inch or two at the withers and slim down, then they get a little round and hold their weight again, and then sprout up an inch or two and so on, seemingly until they reach about their third year. The sprouting still occurs until they reach four of five years of age, but not as often, and they become fuller.

There are many high quality mixtures of feeds on the market of which I have used in the past. Many of the companies producing the newest mixtures of feed, have been in business for years, feeding millions of horses and other animals, and they are constantly researching new and better forms of nutrition. My suggestion is to research the larger companies first. They will be happy to show you the different feed mixtures and explain what it is they have to offer. Most feed stores promoting the feed companies will ask you about your animals, what kind of horses you own, whether they have pasture and if they are being ridden, and if so, how often and how hard. There are guidelines on how to feed your horse on each bag of feed, just remember that these are suggested amounts. Time, trial and error will probably be your best teacher, but most feed stores will be able to guide you into the right direction and help you to decide on the correct amount of feed per horse, per day.

On the market are different prices of feed. The lower priced feeds of course have the lower end feed products in them and they do serve their purpose. On the other end, just because a feed is very high priced does not necessarily mean that it is the best feed for your horse. Feeds very high in protein may not be the best for horses that are not being ridden often, these feeds are more for performance horses, growing weanlings or yearlings and perhaps two and three year olds as well as broodmares but that is another episode. And, as we all know, you sometimes pay a higher price because of the brand name. Each company has the right to charge as they please, so if you find a particular mixture of feed that you like becoming a little too expensive, take a little time to compare with other name brands that are up and coming. As time goes on, and you learn more about your horse and his or her nutritional needs, you may at a later date and if you have enough horses to warrant the extra time and energy, go to a mill and design your own mixture of feed. If you run into problems with your horse not wanting to eat the feed you have chosen, you may need to upgrade or have your horses teeth floated (filing down of your horses teeth done by a professional in order to reduce sharp edges in the mouth). Follow your instincts and go with what feels right to you. If you do not get the results you are looking for, never be afraid to ask a fellow horseman. True horsemen are always willing to lend a helping hand. Doesn’t matter if it is just giving out advice or lending a working hand. Horsemen are usually very obliging.

Feeding horses is not something you should take lightly. You can damage your horse in more ways than one by feeding them too much feed or too little. You will always need to monitor the way your horses look weight wise. When feeding large amounts of horses at a time, basically the fatter horses got a little less feed and the thinner horses got a little more feed. With each breed, age of the horses, and their daily activity, comes a basic standard of daily feed. Look at your horses’ weight every single day. Look at the brightness of their coat. Look at their eyes, whether they approach their feed tub in the same manner every day, whether they are stepping as lively today as they were yesterday. If you see any changes in your horse from day to day, ask yourself why and try to figure out what things are different today in comparison to yesterday. A horse that does not go to his or her feed tub is an immediate red flag and you need to investigate and figure out what is the reason for this horse not wanting to eat. Colicing or sick horses will not eat. Remember, horses are creatures of habit. Usually horses will drink fairly soon after consuming their grain. If you keep a sharp eye on your horse or horses, you can then determine if you are giving them either too much feed or not enough. Each horse is an individual, has different metabolisms and different needs. Feeding horses too much can cost them their lives from laminitis or colic. These are very painful deaths. Feeding them too little can cause a barrage of ailments. So don’t be afraid. Be informed, be careful, be observant, and be the horseman you have always wanted to be with a little help from your friends.

Chicken Talks 101 (Feeding Chickens)

The poultry industry is one of the growing industries in many countries today. Since the demand for chicken and other fowl’s meat is getting higher, poultry raisers are also pressured to give the best quality of chicken meat and other poultry products to their valued customers. To make sure that you are giving the best for your beloved chicken, choosing the right feeds will be very essential. As there are many feeds which promise great benefits for your poultry, you have to investigate carefully.

When you think about the quality of the feed you wish to give your chicken, it is very important that you stay away from miser feeds. This type of feed has very little nutritional value that they can give to your animals. It is not wise to invest in this kind of food for your chicken. Just when you think that you are saving money from purchasing one actually mean losing money and your goal of producing good quality chicken will not materialize. Most poultry owners will certainly agree that to get the best result; you have to invest in good quality feeds for your chicken. Nowadays, organic feeds are getting more popular because it has no by-products, and it is very helpful in making your chickens healthy.

Most feeds that you give your chicken just go to waste. This is certainly a really huge problem as this would imply greater expenses on your part. To avoid such absurd problem, one has to efficiently feed the animals with just enough amount so no waste will be generated, thus, future cost will directly affected if one would know how to cut expenses.

To help your chicken to be productive, you should give them with supplements but not just any supplements that you find in the market. As there are many types and kinds of poultry supplements, you need to read the labels of these products for you to make sure that you will buy the one that will give your chicken the nutrition that they need.

If you are in a dilemma on what would you give your chickens, do not complicate things. Give the right kind of feeds to your animals. Say for example, you have chicks, then go out and buy chick starter for them, broiler starter, layer feed and others for other types of chicken that you are raising.

If you do not want your chicken to be fed by commercial feeds, then you make your own chicken feeds. With this, you can make sure that you are giving the quality of feeds to your chickens.

Feeding a Healthy Horse Feed Diet

One of your most important responsibilities as a horse owner is to make sure your horse is always well taken care of and properly fed. If you overfeed your horse with too much grain, you can give him gas colic, which is a horse’s inability to burp, which can be a serious problem. If the horse cannot burp, they will develop gas in their digestive system and they will experience very severe abdominal pain.

In order to avoid the problem of colic, be sure to feed your horse at regular intervals. You will need three smaller meals a day instead of one large one. Each meal needs to include plenty of fiber for the horse’s digestive system, so they will need a lot of good quality hay. You will also need to make sure that your horse’s water is frequently changed. If your horse is extremely active or even pregnant, you will have to put in horse grain or pelleted feed.

Fiber is extremely important for your horse. You will need to make sure that you have the right kind of feed for your horse at all times. You will need horse quality hay delivered to you to avoid getting hay that wasn’t cut or dried properly for your animal. In fact, if you give your horse bad hay, it can kill it. You will need to break a bale of hay open and smell it before you think about feeding it to your horse. If it looks or smells dusty with a musty scent, do not feed it to your horse. Hay that comes from the first or even second cutting is okay and has a lot of nutritional supplements. The third or even fourth cuttings are worthless to a horse.

Your horse will need to consume around three flakes of hay every day. If your horse is getting fat from lack of exercise, you can cut down to two flakes every day. A flake of hay is a substantial amount of hay that weighs roughly four pounds. Most of the time, you can mix timothy hay with alfalfa hay for your horse. If your horse ignores the timothy hay to get to the alfalfa, feed him his timothy first on the next feeding when he is very hungry. The timothy has more nutrition and is less fattening than the alfalfa hay.

If you don’t have a lot of storage room for hay bales, you can think about giving your horse horse fiber. The hay cube is one of the most popular versions of horse fiber. You can get tightly compacted cubes of hay that will take up a lot less room. The most popular version is the cubes made from alfalfa. You can also find cubes in pet stores, but generally, these cubes are for bunnies and other small animals, not horses. You need to ask for at least 50 pounds in hay cubes to get the best deal. You can also get pelleted hay, but experienced horse owners don’t typically prefer this option.

If you compete in horse shows frequently or prefer long trail rides, you will need to give your horse supplemental pieces to his diet, including more grain or pelleted feed. Most of the time, pleasure horses will just need a cup of grain a few times a week. You can talk to your vet about what is appropriate for your horse, but you shouldn’t give your horse grain every day or else you will end up with an overweight animal. Definitely ask your vet if your horse qualifies for vitamin or mineral supplements as well to make sure that all of his requirements are being met!

Feeding Horses – Modern Day Issues That Affect Your Horse’s Health

The vast array of feeds available in-store these days can make choices confusing, but working out a horse’s nutritional requirements does not have to be complicated. Horses have nutrient needs that can be calculated from bodyweight and activity levels. What does make horse nutrition complicated is the process of selecting feeds to balance the nutrient intake with each individual’s nutrient requirement, and providing the feeds in a form that suits the digestive system of the horse. It is often a lack of understanding about the relationship between the digestive system of the horse and the form of the feed, and how this affects the horse, that causes confusion.

It is well established in humans that they are what they eat. Obesity is now one of the major disorders in the western world – in both humans and horses. Can correlations and similarities be found between the two species, that can help improve health and well-being?

In order to know where to start it is helpful to look at some known facts. Firstly, pasture alone often does not provide enough nutrients for horses. Consequently, they are fed supplements in the form of concentrates and hay but some concentrates can be considered ‘fast foods’ – full of energy in the forms of sugars and fats. Many horses are overfed on fast foods, yet under-worked, which can lead to obesity, health and behavioural problems.

MEASURING ENERGY

The non structural carbohydrates (NSC) index in horse feeds equates to the glycemic index (GI) in human foods, and is a way of measuring the energy in foods by ranking carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance – now identified as a serious and life-threatening condition in horses, equates to Type 11 diabetes in humans. Many metabolic disorders in horses are associated with high NSC feeds.

Digestion in horses

Digestion in horses is not the same as in cattle and sheep, which have large fore-stomachs. These animals are called ruminants, because they can ruminate, i.e store food in their fore-stomach, or rumen, and regurgitate and re-chew their food to gain more nutrients. By comparison, horses have a small stomach, and have to graze little and often to maintain nutrient intake. Horses graze at least 18 hours per day, i.e. they are ‘slow feeders’, meaning they eat slowly and the nutrients are absorbed continuously throughout the day.

Slow feeding

The relatively ‘new’ idea of devising ways to ‘slow feed’ horses makes a lot of sense. It provides a semi-continuous supply of nutrients to a digestive system designed to digest nutrients on a natural, continuous basis. This can be achieved with roughages and pastures, but is difficult to achieve when feeding high-energy concentrates. Human lifestyles add to the difficulty because many people don’t have time or aren’t available to feed concentrates little and often throughout the day.

Pulse or shock feeding

Unfortunately, with modern day horses, they often graze pastures designed for cattle, and are held in small paddocks or yards, which means than pasture intake may not be sufficient to deliver the required nutrient intake – especially for active horses in work. To meet the total nutrient demand, the horse often must be supplemented with other feeds, including hay, and processed feeds usually containing grain. Living conditions for horses and the lifestyle and work hours of their owners often determines that most horses are only fed twice or even once per day.

This style of feeding can deliver large loads of nutrients into a digestive system that is designed for a continuous supply. Termed pulse, or shock feeding, it is exacerbated when the feeds contain levels of some digestible nutrients (particularly sugar and starch) that exceed the digestive capacity of the horse’s intestines and cause spikes in the concentrations of blood glucose. These concentrated feeds can be considered as ‘fast foods’. ‘Pulse’ feeding ‘fast foods’ is one of the major factors contributing to the range of metabolic disorders found in horses today.

Feeding concentrates

Horse nutrition is based on mathematics. The nutrient requirement of horses can be calculated, and the nutrient composition of feeds can be measure and described in feed tables. The amount of feed required is a simple calculation; the difficulty is in knowing the effects of feeding concentrated feeds as ‘pulse’ feeds, rather than ‘slow feeds’, and knowing when one is over-feeding concentrate feeds.

What is a fast food?

Studies over recent years have identified the sugar and starch content of feeds as being one indicator of the ‘fast food’ status of a feed. All feeds contain sugar and starch, which are the major energy supplies to the horse. As said previously, the sugar and starch content is called NSC (non structural carbohydrate) and is equal to the glycaemic index (GI) in human nutrition.

The NSC content in a range of Australian horse feeds is shown below (Richards, N. Proc. Aust. Equine Sc. Symp., Vol 2, 2008)

This figure shows that commercially available horse feeds contain a range of NSC concentrations.

Grains also contain varying amounts of NSC, oats 46%, barley 57%, corn 65%, whereas hay contains as low as 7% NSC.

Feeds with higher NSC content are suited to horses in active work with higher energy demand, ie as work load increases, energy supply must increase.

For metabolically sensitive horses, e.g. older, overweight and/or laminitic horses and ponies, and some breeds, the suggested ‘safe’ NSC requirement is 10-12% in dry matter. It is proposed that feeding more than 12% NSC, and not increasing the horse’s work load is a possible reason for the metabolic disorders associated with over-feeding and under-working, because the horse is unable to burn off the additional energy from the glucose derived from the NSC.

NSC Digestion

Carbohydrates are composed of monosaccharides, which can only be absorbed from the intestines as glucose or fructose. Therefore all carbohydrates must be broken down to monosaccharides by various enzymes including amylase, maltase, sucrose and lactase. Amylase is the most important enzyme for digestion of starch. Unlike humans, amylase is not present in saliva in horses, and the horse only produces small amounts of amylase from the pancreas. The horse therefore has limited capacity to digest starch in the intestines.

Metabolic Disorders

The possible effects of overfeeding NSC feeds, in combination with pulse/shock load feeding rather than slow feeding, can be outlined as follows.

The Stomach

The horse’s stomach is divided into two sections. The second half has a thick cell wall lining, and the front half has a thin cell wall lining. With slow feeding, the feed enters the first part of the stomach and the horse releases acids into the stomach continuously, to help digest the food. With ‘shock’ feeding (feeding only twice per day) and feeding high NSC feeds, the horse releases higher levels of acid into the first stomach. The pH level declines, and can cause damage to the thin cell wall lining, causing ulcers. It is preferable to select low NSC feeds to reduce acid release into the first stomach, and feed little and often to avoid pulse/shock loading.

Small Intestines

The small intestine is designed to digest and absorb proteins, carbohydrates, oils, minerals and vitamins. The intestines have a maximum digestive capacity, and this capacity can be overloaded by feeding too much at any one time. They contain a large population of benign micro-oganisms, which live in symbiosis with the horse, i.e. they live together, where the horse provides the ‘home’ and the food supply, and the microbes digest the feed and provide nutrients to the horse. Dysbiosis occurs when the relationship between the host and the microbes is disturbed, usually when the feed supply to the microbes increases and there is rapid growth of the benign organisms, which can colonise the cell wall lining in the intestines. This may cause Leaky Gut Syndrome, which allows leakage of molecules such as glucose into the blood stream together with microbial toxins and other compounds. Leaky Gut Syndrome is known to occur in humans, and is implicated in Candida albicans. It is possible that Leaky Gut occurs in horses fed high NSC feeds, and causes increased blood glucose. What happens to the increased circulating level of glucose? If the horse does not use the glucose for energy (i.e. for exercise) the glucose has to go somewhere.

The horse releases insulin to enable the passage of glucose into the muscle cells. If there is too much glucose, the horse continues to produce insulin, but the cells lose insulin sensitivy and cease transporting glucose into the muscle cells. The cells become insulin resistant, which is the same as Type II diabetes in humans. Blood sugar levels rise, and insulin levels rise too. The blood sugar must go somewhere, and some can be stored in the fat cells, causing obesity. Increased insulin causes increased cortisol production, which in turn is implicated in laminitis, Cushing’s Syndrome and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). In some breeds, the glucose can be converted into an unusual polysaccharide and stored in the muscles, causing tying-up. It is well known that low NSC feeds should be fed to those horses susceptible to tying-up. Some glucose can also combine with proteins, forming a proteoglycan, which is deposited in connective tissue in the legs, possibly causing swelling and stocking up, lameness and DSLD. It is suggested that selecting low NSC feeds that don’t overload the intestines, causing abnormal growth of benign microbes (Dysbiosis), may be a possible means of reducing the effects of some of the feed-related metabolic disorders.

Large Intestines

The small intestine has a maximum capacity to digest sugars and starch. Feeding too much starch can cause starch overload, i.e. the sugars and starch flow on into the hindgut. The hindgut contains a population of microorganisms similar to that in the rumen of cattle. If cattle are overfed on grain, this causes acidosis (grain poisoning); the same effect occurs in horses. The additional sugar/starch is fermented by the microbes, and converted into acids, which are normally absorbed across the wall of the hindgut gut to provide energy. If the rate of fermentation is too high, the microbes produce high levels of acids, which are both absorbed, and also cause a decline in pH (acidity). These acids can cause cell wall damage and leakage of nutrients and microbial toxins into the blood stream. The effect of hindgut acidosis causing laminitis is well described by Dr Chris Pollitt in ‘Equine laminitis’ for Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Pub.No.01/129.

Hind gut acidosis is also implicated in causing hot and fizzy behaviour in horses.

Feeding low NSC feeds will reduce the flow of fermentable carbohydrates into the hindgut, and therefore reduce the production of acids.

Pulse Feeding

A pasture trail was conducted in which feeds with various levels of NSC were fed to grazing horses (Richards 2010). These included a sweetfeed (33% NSC), a pelleted feed (25% NSC), and CoolStance copra meal (11% NSC). The supplements were fed in two equal feeds, morning and night, in nose-bags to ensure all the food was eaten.

Circulating glucose was measured for six hours after pulse feeding.

Although the sweetfeed had a higher NSC, the digestible NSC was much lower, suggesting that some of the starch in the sweetfeed was passed undigested through the horse.

The results indicated that there was an immediate glucose spike after ‘pulse’ feeding the sweetfeed and pelleted feed with NSC>20%.

The CoolStance copra meal (NSC 11%) did not increase blood glucose levels above that in the pasture fed horses.

Is low NSC enough?

The pasture trial suggests that some energy feeds such as copra meal can be pulse fed, and yet be digested as a ‘slow feed’, ie they don’t cause a glucose spike. These feeds are low NSC and high DE (digestible energy) because they contain a combination of oil and digestible fibre. Some low NSC feeds are created by diluting the high NSC concentrate with poorly digestible, low NSC fillers, so they are low NSC and low DE, however, these feeds are usually unsuitable for performance horses.

High NSC Feeds and Horse Behavior

There is an age old expression that a horse is ‘feeling his oats’. This usually reflects a horse that is grain fed, and underworked, causing it to become ‘hot’, ‘excitable’, or ‘fizzy’. It is suggested that the glucose spike, and changes in insulin sensitivity arising from feeding high NSC feeds causes some horses to become hyperactive and difficult to manage. Reducing the NSC intake by feeding ‘cool feeds’ containing oils instead of grain, or increasing roughage is often recommended.

Whilst ‘slow feeding’ is the natural state for the horse, supplementary feeding is necessary for the modern horse, but shock/pulse feeding is, unfortunately, a function of human lifestyle and work hours.

Some concentrate feeds are ‘fast foods’ yet there are no labelling requirement for NSC levels in a feed, which is regrettable as feeding above 12% NSC and not increasing the work level may contribute to many metabolic disorders of performance horses. Careful consideration must be given to match the feed to the horse’s activity level, so as not to overfeed a high NSC feed and under work the horse. Horse owners can gain much by surfing the web, typing in keywords and following the links to reveal an amazing amount of information, and traditional thought is being challenged all the time.