Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Weather Update + Choosing Feed

(post by Jason) As I begin to write this blog the mid afternoon temperature at the farm is 18 F. This may or may not be a record…it probably is but I’m too tired of the cold weather to bother checking. The thermometer on my weather station has an unhappy face which appears whenever the temperature goes below freezing. Interestingly it exactly matches the look on Melissa’s face whenever I mention the weather. January has been a very cold month. Even TEMA, normally quick to pounce on any chance to declare a cold weather emergency is strangely silent this time. 

Technically we are still under the same State of Emergency as last week which they never allowed to expire despite being almost 60 F on Sunday. Apparently they could not be bothered to issue a new one this week. Like most of the rest of us maybe they have finally quit caring. People have even stopped stocking up on milk, bread and eggs. There were ample supplies of each in the grocery store this morning and no panic buying that I could see. At this point warming up to seasonal norms in the low 50’s would feel like a tropical heat wave. Now I will move along to a topic other than the weather.

Today’s blog is going to seem like a bit of a cheat on our part because we are going to ask you to do much of our work. I am curious as to what criteria you use when choosing a grain or supplement for your horse. To prompt you I will share what I was thinking about when I designed our current feed.  

1. Most of the nutrients in our horses’ diets comes from pasture or hay. We regularly test both for energy, protein, fiber level, mineral content and vitamin content. When designing a grain the first thing on my mind is that I want the nutrient content of the grain to roughly equal the difference between what the forage provides and what is required. 

2. Many of the older horses here have poor teeth and/or poor gut absorption. Thus I want our grain to be as energy and nutrient dense as possible. The most energy dense ingredient is fat but it is also relatively expensive compared to starches. As a general rule feeds with high fat content (8-10%) are found more often in higher priced premium products. 

3. Bioavailability in minerals is also important. As a general rule mineral chelates/proteinates are the most bioavailable form, followed by mineral sulfates, with mineral oxides being the least bioavailable. Thus mineral chelates and proteinates tend to be found more readily in premium products. 

4. Low sugar/starch – Since so many of our clients are IR or are being treated for Cushings it is important that anything we feed not be exacerbating their condition. Thus we achieve energy density from fat rather than starch. We also like to make sure there is significant fiber in our grain. This helps in two ways. The first is by aiding in saliva production which acts as a buffering agent. The second way is by slowing hindgut digestion. Slowing hindgut digestion gives some of our elderly horses a bit more time to absorb nutrients across the gut wall.  

5. Our hay and pasture is of moderate quality for most of the year. There is no great difference in nutritive value between pasture and hay except perhaps briefly in April when the warm season grasses are at their peak quality. Generally warm season grasses are considerably lower in sugars and starches then their northern cool season counterparts. The further north one goes the more massive this difference becomes. At the Canadian border the difference between energy content, fiber levels, sugars, starches and protein in peak quality cool season grasses and moderate quality grass hay is HUGE. 

So now I’m curious about what you are doing ! Please tell us what you’re feeding for grains and supplements and why you chose the feeds you did.



Gus and Lofty


Ritchie and Leo having fun

Lighning and Noble were also being playful

Clayton, Toledo and Rocky were having fun together

Elfin was napping in the sun


EvenSong said...

I earn my haybybaling for the neighbor. He sells export quality Timothy hay, and I generally get some of the hay that isn't quite up to snuff--usually the "rounds" (edges of fields where some weeds have snuck in) or a patch of muddy ground where the tractor wheels have kicked some clods in, or such. He knows I'm feeding horses, and keeps any bad or rained on hay for his cattle. I probably should have it tested, but haven't--not sure where, though it wouldn't take much to find out.
Because my Paints do TOO well on it, and boarders who say their TBs have never held their weight over winter like they do here, I am pretty sure the quality is good. I do feed Purina's "Enrich Plus" ration balancer, to make sure they're all getting their vitamins and minerals. I also add salt, both in very cold weather, and very hot, to make sure everyone is drinking adequately.
Summer everybody is on irrigated pasture. I forget what's in the seeding...some perennial rye, and other stuff I'd have to look up. I've also got some volunteer clover in several pastures. I try to leave the TBs there; my Paints are very photosensitive from legumes.
My old brood are, Misty, gets Isoxiprine for her navicular symptoms, and one boarder (ex dressage horse) gets Cosequin for his arthritis. Kate has gotten Farriers' Formula since she was three, as her feet were somewhat soft and mealy, but they look good now (shes now 9) and we're weaning her off.
The big exception to this general plan is 34-year-old, toothless RT--he gets his whole ration in Purina Senior, plus salt, and, in winter some beat pulp. He always has some hay that he gums to death, and access to pasture all year, mostly for the chewing exercise and socialization.
Does that answer your question? What was the question again? (I'd love your feedback...)

Laura said...

I should really get my hay tested, but since I buy from 2-3 sources, it seems like a hassle...which is lazy of me.

One hay supplier has had her hay tested and it is consistently low sugar and higher protein. I don't remember the numbers, so I don't want to guess.

I have one QH and board another. Both are easy keepers. I have enough pasture for the 2 of the in the summer, so in the summer they just get the minimum serving of a mineral/vitamin supplement. The soil in Eastern ON is supposedly deficient in magensium and copper. And maybe calcium too? I actually forget which it is... :-S

As a result, most vets here recommend a vitamin/mineral balancer. I've used other brands, but in the last year switched to Buckeye. In the winter, I add a low NSC/higher fat Blue Seal feed to the mix to give them a few extra calories to keep their weight up in the cold.

The boarded horse gets a powdered magnesium supplement as well, as he has a proven defiency. He gets grumpy, sore and unrideable if he is off the supplment for more than 1 week. Not sure if there is another medical issue underlying there or not...he isn't my horse, so I don't ask too many questions! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm at a boarding barn with variable supplies of hay and grazing in the summer - no opportunity to do hay or grass analysis but I know about what our region's hay and grasses are usually like.

I've got three horses with widely differing needs - Dawn has trouble keeping weight on and has had a lot of dental trouble - seems OK now but I keep an eye on it. Pie could gain weight on air, and Red is in between. I don't feed our barn grain - a low-quality, high sugar mix. I feed them all Purina Ultium, which is a concentrated high-calorie feed with a decent nutritional profile in terms of minerals and vitamins, and high fat/lower sugars. Pie gets virtually none, Red gets a little more, and Dawn gets 4x what Pie gets - without metabolic risk or hotness. All three horses get a biotin/zinc/copper supplement (really helps with hoof/coat quality) when they're not on grazing, and all three get varying amounts of a magnesium/chromium/selenium supplement (for metabolic/hoof health). Our area is very low in selenium, but I'm very careful with that and calculate exact amounts, including in feed, to be sure no one gets an overdose - I also blood test for selenium on an annual basis.

foffmom said...

Reading your posts I am embarrassed by my approach to feeding. But here goes. I buy good quality alfalfa/grass hay and straight grass timothy/orchardgrass hay. The two oldies get some alfalfa and some grass hay. They vastly prefer the alfalfa of course. The 3 easy keepers get grass hay. OK, when it is cold like this, some alfalfa. Oldies get Southern States Legends sweet feed 11%. In the past the oldest has been on Senior Purina when we had trouble keeping weight on him in winter. In the past I have supplemented with beet pulp (when the hay supply was more limited). Salt blocks are always out. I do not weight the hay I feed out. I do not have it analyzed. I just watch the horses, and listen to my vet, who actually recommended I find some poor quality hay and just feed that as my easy keepers are, you know, fat. Our pasture is pretty over grazed, but even then when the grass comes in we limit the mini to 20 minutes out twice a day. We do not feed grain when they are on pasture, and we just feed enough hay to get them to come in to be checked out! I think you do need to run your eyes over them twice a day, to check for injuries, condition, and attitude. I know, unscientific. Kind of how I feed myself, you know?

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

My hay often comes from multiple sources, so I can't justify testing it either. I try to cover my bases.

I feed 1 lb Triple Crown Senior in the am, 1 lb Legend Omega Gold ration balancer (split between am and pm), and a beet pulp (shredded no molasses) wheat bran, alfalfa cube mash in the pm. 3 - 1 - 1 to preserve calcium /phosphorus ratio. (we live on pure sand here, so the mashes provide enough fiber to keep the sand moving. Sand Clear is too expensive - I'd rather feed my fiber)

I supplement magnesium citrate, 2 tbsp daily, and 1200 mg vitamin E (mixed tocopherol) after reading a hay nutritional study with 10,000 samples. The magnesium levels were under 50%, and E was also very low, in a sample that large, so I figured it was a safe bet.

It worries me to mess with any other mineral supplements, because of how the absorptions are interrelated. I believe they are covered in the ration balancer. I do wonder about iron - our well water has a lot.

I top dress breakfast with cocosoya oil and biotin, and give salt am and pm (not iodized) - amount is weather dependent.

Val gets free choice hay, which I'm sure is at least 2% of his weight lol. I try to always get orchard grass.

I'm developing a grazing field for him - it's seeded with Pennington pasture rye in the fall, and bermuda in the spring. It's taking a while because there's no irrigation.

Val gets an hour or two of grazing several times a week. It will never be enough to offset the hay I feed, but I think it makes him happy, and lets him eat with his head down a bit.

Any thoughts you have would be appreciated Jason. :D

Anonymous said...




RiderWriter said...

I am chuckling at this post because I'm amazed that I enjoyed it so much. :)

Back in the day, I joined my 4-H club's "Horse Bowl" team. Everyone needed specialties, areas of horsekeeping that you really studied up on so you'd be the team "expert." Instead of being assigned something like Anatomy or Disease, which I would have been good at, my coach gave me Nutrition. Ugh, MATH! This didn't go well. My eyes would glaze over trying to read endless Ca:K comparisons, ration-balancing charts and percentages, etc. I managed to memorize what I absolutely had to know but believe me, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Hah.

Anyway, as I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate the need for preparing proper rations, be it for man or beast. My first dog was fed Purina Dog Chow because that was what I'd heard of and I trusted Purina not to kill her. Then I came across a book about pet food in the library. Horrors! Now my dog eats better than I do.

When I get my own horse I will DEFINITELY be interested in what's going in his mouth. The supplement thing scares me a bit as there are now SO MANY out there to choose from - seems like you're damned if you do or don't. I managed to pick one for my dog, but am always thinking, "Is this right? Is this good enough?"

It always amazes me to think about the lives of the school horses in the barn where I learned to ride, back in the late 60s. They lived in standing stalls, ALWAYS wore shoes (can't remember if just fronts or all four), were fed one-size-fits-all sweet feed and some kind of hay, never had dental work (that I know of), CERTAINLY never had supplements/chiropractic/massage, were turned out into a small, over-grazed paddock and were ridden a LOT. I guess *some* attention was paid to saddle fit but nothing like today's obsession with every millimeter conforming perfectly. Oddly, I don't remember them being lame or sick very often! :)

SmartAlex said...

We base our diet on hay. We used to raise our hay and we try to buy timothy with some alfalfa. We have learned that "yummy hay" can founder horses so if its a bit poor looking but they will still eat it, we're happy. No more second crop in this barn. We test each batch for nutrients and NSC.

Then we add multi-vitamins. WPG is IR so he gets a multi-vit designed for IR horses. We also add a fat supplement, and being in a selenium poor area, we test and supplement selenium. We have three multi-vitamins we have proven useful and we choose between them based on costs and annual needs.

Then comes the fun part. Soaked beet pulp. My mother started feeding this long ago to add water and fiber. She increases the volume until she gets the poop consistency she wants (horse moms **eye roll**) Since our horses spend time dry lotted on sand, the beep helps sweep the gut of sand.

Sticking with our forage based diet, we dress the beet pulp with alfalfa pellets for protein and calories instead of grain.

JenInMN said...

I try to base my horses' diets on hay and pasture. That is the majority of their diet and our pasture is large enough to support that. My horses are all seniors (the youngest at 25 and the oldest at 28) and I only have alfalfa hay with about 30 grass bales per year to dole out as needed. I get my hay free, so I can't complain. If I need more grass, I sell some of the alfalfa or trade it for grass. I don't test my hay, but that is mostly out of laziness on my part. I should really get that done.

I have two mares who are on KER Re-Leve feed with a little BOSS mixed in and magnesium on top. One mare is probably Pre-IR but untested. I will probably have the tests done this year to make sure I am staying on top of it. The other is just overweight and had navicular changes a few years ago that have largely cleared up. They eat together in the pasture so it is easiest to feed them the same feed (in differing amounts) in two feedings per day.

My gelding is a hard keeper and is separated for feeding as he is the low-man on the totem pole and gets chased off of his feed. He is also the slowest eater on the planet. He is 28 years old, thinks he is 2, has all of his teeth in excellent shape and eats any and all food put in front of him. Honestly, I feed him so much he should colic on it. In the summer, weight just melts off of him. In the winter, he does not need as much food, holds his weight well and has buckets of energy to work off. And that is in Minnesota! I played around with different high protein and fat feeds, rice bran, oils, etc, etc, ad nauseum. I am lucky he is not a picky eater. Finally, I realized that whole grains seemed to keep his weight up much more than extruded feeds. So I now feed him a mix of corn (~40%), oats (~50%) and BOSS (~10%). But he still was a little under ideal weight in the summer so I would switch to a high-fat mix of basically the same feed. Last summer a feed dealer near me suggested trying beet pulp. I was skeptical. WOW, has it made a difference! Especially this summer. His weight stayed up even in the hottest spells we got.

I am still confused about my old man. I still worry about the amount of feed he gets. Although he seems fine and has never had a problem, I can't help but feel that the large amounts he eats are just a ticking time bomb. If anyone has had a similar situation, I'd love to hear what has worked and what hasn't. All I've ever heard when I ask at feed stores is "you should have him on a senior feed".

JenInMN said...

I forgot to add: these comments are so interesting to read. And thank you, Jason, for your discussion on diet consideration. I can never learn enough in this area.