Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Five Horse Nutrition New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! One again, it is time to make those New Year’s resolutions that inspire us with new hope for the New Year. Sure, most resolutions get broken before the month of January is even through, but I still think that making resolutions is a good exercise that encourages us to set concrete goals and work towards improving some area of our lives. Thanks to this inspiring tradition, I have come up with a list of New Year’s resolutions that relate to feeding horses. Perhaps you already do many of the things on this list; if not, hopefully there is one resolution that you may consider implementing in 2012.

1) Weigh (in pounds or kilograms) all feed (concentrates and hay) offered to the horse.

If you really want to know that your horse is getting all the nutrition he requires, the first and most important step is to know exactly how much he is eating. Get an inexpensive fish scale that can easily be used in the feed room. To weigh a “scoop” of concentrate, get a plastic grocery bag and put one full scoop of feed in it. Hang the bag of feed on the scale, and you will know exactly what one scoop weighs. Be sure to do this with all of your feeds, because all feeds have a different density and will weigh slightly different. Pellets, for example, typically weigh more per quart than textured mixes (i.e. sweet feeds). For hay, you can determine the weight of an average flake using the same method with a larger trash bag. Make a note of these weights for easy reference.

2) Monitor bodyweight on a monthly basis.

This is so easy to do and can be a crucial part of your horse’s health maintenance program. Not only will it help you determine the right amount of feed to feed your horse, but it will also help with determining the correct medication dosages (i.e. dewormer) and potentially alert you to certain medical conditions (sudden weight gain or loss can be a sign of a problem). You can do this with either a specially designed weight tape for horses or with long (non-stretchy) rope or string to measure both the heartgirth and body length in inches. Use the equation "Weight (lbs.) = Girth2 (in.) x length (in.) / 330", or go here for a handy online calculator from The Horse to determine the weight from these measurements. Keep in mind that daily weight fluctuations up to 50 lbs. are normal in the average-size horse, but anything more than that should be addressed. Personally, I do this at the first of every month and make a note of it on my barn calendar. I have a senior horse that is a hard keeper, and keeping track of his weight is especially important so that I can make necessary adjustments to his diet based on the season, his workload, and his current bodyweight.

3) Get your hay analyzed.

This is so easy to do, but many people feel like it must be too complicated or they won’t know how to interpret the analysis. However, if you buy hay in bulk, it is very important to have a general idea of the nutritional value of your hay. This way, you can determine if your hay quality is truly appropriate for your horse and how to choose a concentrate feed that best complements your hay. I use and recommend the services of Equi-Analytical Laboratories for forage testing, but there are many others. Equi-Analytical has clear instructions on their website on how to take and submit a representative forage sample. If you need assistance with interpretation, there is some information on their website that can help. In addition, you can contact your local equine extension agent, a private nutrition consultant, or your local Purina Equine Specialist with any questions you may have.

4) Eliminate unnecessary supplements.

Does your feed room shelf look like this?

If so, you are spending way too much money on supplements that are probably not doing what you think they are doing. The equine supplement industry in the U.S. is not regulated, meaning that manufacturers can basically make any claim they want about their products without having any data or proof to back it up. Unfortunately, this makes it extremely difficult for the average owner to determine what it true and what is simply marketing hype. Many horses will not need any supplements at all, as long as they are fed a balanced ration that meets their nutrient requirements and provided free-choice access to salt. But there are some horses that will benefit from some type of supplement, such as electrolytes, a forage balancer vitamin/mineral mix, and/or a joint supplement. The key is to find a reputable manufacture that consistently produces a quality product that is backed by research. Unfortunately, these quality supplements are few and far between. It is definitely a “buyers beware” market, and the best plan is to put your money into good quality feed products that will minimize or even eliminate the need for supplements in the first place!

5) Evaluate your overall feeding program and switch your horse to a more appropriate feed product if necessary.

Do you feed the same “10% pellet” that your grandpa used to feed? Have you been feeding the same product for the past 5 years or more? Do you feed the same feed to all horses on your property? If you have not evaluated your feeding program recently, there is no time like the present. With all of the new research and feeding technologies we have been coming out with at Purina over the past few years, it is likely that there is a new product out there that may fit your horse’s needs better that what you are currently feeding. Take a good look at the products available at your local Purina dealer and check out Purina’s website to familiarize yourself with what is currently available. Read the feeding instructions on the bag to be sure you are feeding the product correctly. Talk to your dealer or contact us if you have any questions about your feeding program. We’re here to help you make the right choices for your specific situation.

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