Feed Balancers – A Versatile Approach to Feeding Horses

Feed Balancers – A Versatile Approach to Feeding Horses

What are Feed Balancers? Feed balancers, or ration balancers as they are sometimes referred to, are a versatile approach to feeding horses.  Yet despite their usefulness, there is still so much misunderstanding of this type of horse feed. Whilst they might look like just another pelleted feed, they will provide that extra ‘punch’ to any feeding programme. We all want our horses to look and feel their very best with a happy outlook on life.  Keeping their diets as close to nature as possible ie mostly forage, is the best way to achieve this.

So What Are Fibregenix Feed Balancers?

A Fibregenix balancer may seem like any other vitamin/mineral supplement for your horse. However, it provides every daily essential nutrient in a low-intake, low energy, highly concentrated source. And not just vitamins and minerals.  Added extras such as specific digestive aids to promote a healthy gut and improve feed utilisation are also included. This makes a Fibregenix Feed Balancer the ultimate ‘all in one’ feed product.

These balancers are designed for when additional calories are not required.  And they’re fed in much smaller amounts than standard hard feeds. Usually 100g per 100kg bodyweight (500 grams for a 500kg horse). Your standard 50-100g of a vitamin and mineral supplement just won’t match the functionality provided by a proper balancer.

So when, why and how would I feed a Feed Balancer?

Fibregenix pellets

Fibregenix Feed Balancers can be used in the following ways:

Fed alone as a low-calorie source of protein, vitamins, and minerals to balance forage.

Depending on forage quality, your horse should be able to get all his daily essential nutrients from pasture or hay.  However, it’s widely recognised that modern forage and pasture is frequently deficient in minerals and other nutrients. Forage analysis can help you pinpoint exactly what is lacking.  This is when a balancer is a great way to counteract these deficiencies.  Furthermore, feeding the recommended daily amount of a balancer means no additional vitamin or mineral supplement should be required.

Fed alongside ‘Straights’.

Some owners prefer to incorporate ‘straights’ such as lupins, oats, barley etc with beet pulp, chaff, oil etc. Whilst great ingredients, they can leave a diet unbalanced in some specific areas such as macro minerals. So, a balancer is ideal for this type of feeding programme. The main components of the feed provide the calories. And the balancer is added to ‘fill in the nutritional gaps’ of these ingredients, supplying amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Feeding less than recommended?

Concentrated balancers really come into their own if you need to feed less than the recommended quantities of a hard feed. For example, a performance muesli or pellet.  Maybe you’re cutting back your horse’s feed to keep weight down or to avoid hot behaviour.  In this way, balancers are ideal, providing essential nutrients for health and performance without additional energy (calories) or starch.  They also give you the option of feeding smaller amounts of a lower energy hard feed.  Then you can top up the nutrient, (but not energy) levels, to meet the increased demands of work or competition.

Many modern horse breeds maintain weight on limited calories, even when asked to perform hard work.  Because of the concentrated nature and low feeding rate, a feed balancer can meet all the protein, vitamin, and mineral needs.  And it does this without adding excessive calories or starch to the diet. Even those on stable rest/convalescing benefit from a source of essential nutrients without the calories, provided by a balancer.

Added Extras in Balancers: 

Whilst feed balancers are a modern and cost-effective approach to feeding horses, you need to do your research.  Not all balancers are created equal, and the best balancers should be:

  • Ideally free from whole cereal and molasses.
  • A specialist tailored range catering for different types of horses and ponies rather than a ‘one balancer suits all’ approach.
  • High in functionality with specific digestive enhancers eg nucleotides and approved probiotics and prebiotics. These are key to ensuring digestive health and maximising nutrient yield from forage. 

Take Home Message: Ultimately, the beauty of a feed balancer is the flexibility provided in customizing the nutritional management of individual horses.  Keep your horse’s diet as simple as possible. This means more emphasis on fibre feeding as the healthiest approach for your horse. Keeping it simple with a Fibregenix feed balancer is an ideal means to satisfying nutritional demands even for working horses. 

Performance horse

Tango Charlie fed on Fibregenix Platinum Pro

Effective, Simple Feeding with Fibregenix Balancers

Effective, Simple Feeding with Fibregenix Balancers

Bucks tucking into his Fibregenix

Here’s our ultimate guide to effective, simple feeding with balancers. So, you’ve taken the plunge and got your first bag of Fibregenix.  A good decision made!  Fibregenix feed balancers will be you and your horse’s best friends.  Bucks certainly thinks so!

The 3 big questions we are most often asked.

1. How do I keep an effective, simple feeding regime with Fibregenix feed balancers?

Well, as you know, we are big promoters of fibre feeding in the first instance. It’s what is naturally best for your horse or pony, and what he/she has evolved to eat.  So, it’s a no-brainer to keep your horse or pony’s diet mostly forage based. However, we do appreciate that there are times when your horse may require more calories (energy). Furthermore, not all horses are good doers.  More on that later…

2. What other feeds do I feed with it? 

Here are some suggestions to accompany your balancer (which is fed at 100g per 100kg of bodyweight).  (Remember, to avoid dietary imbalances and potential nutrient conflicts, you generally shouldn’t need to feed additional supplements).

Fibregenix Prime Original for horses up to novice level, show horses & ponies, broodmares & foals:

Suggested Fibre feeds:  Hay (cereal, meadow, legume), haylage, hay cubes, Lucerne chaff/pellets, cereal chaffs, shandy chaffs, beet pulp products. There are plenty to choose from but avoid heavily molassed products.

Fibregenix Platinum Pro for performance horses in hard work, veterans or those with compromised digestive systems.

Feed any of the fibre feeds as above and if feeding for slow-release energy eg endurance – oils/fats NB:  Cold pressed linseed oil has the best balance of OM3:OM6)

Feeding for fast-release energy eg, eventing, racing, polo etc

Straight Grains:  oats, (whole, crushed or naked); barley, (boiled or micronized); maize – (flaked/ micronized). Legumes eg lupins. Oil can also replace part of your grain ration. We suggest linseed oil or simple veggie oil. Standard hard feeds can also be partially replaced with any of the balancers.  Be aware of the starch content of grains or standard hard feeds. Always feed in several small meals to avoid compromising the digestive system.

Healthy Horse Tip:  A horse’s stomach can only hold approx. 0.5% of its bodyweight in feed at one time.  Eg a 500kg horse’s stomach can only hold 2.5kg of feed.  This includes not just hard feed, but chaff and any other additional feedstuffs eg beet pulp.  So always keep within this parameter and split feeds into smaller meals. Yes, tedious I know but it’s all for the greater good! …

Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal – for laminitis prone horses and ponies and other metabolic issues, good doers, stable confinement.

Soaked hay, low NSC hay (preferably below 10%), low sugar chaff, unmolassed beet pulp. Restrict grazing or yard with appropriate amounts of soaked hay fed in a slow feeder net. (Never starve an overweight or laminitic horse or pony)

3. Do I still need to feed hard feed?

This totally depends on the type of work your horse/pony is doing.  You also need to consider his breed type/temperament, or if he has any health issues.   Always feed for the work being done, not what you think your horse is going to do.  This means if you aren’t working your horse, back off the hard feeds! Generally, horses and ponies can be split into 3 types – good doers, normal doers and poor doers.

Good doers eg native ponies, cobs or horses with a naturally laid-back temperament.  Fibre feeds alongside Lami Low-Cal balancer will suit these types best. Even in light to moderate work. And if in hard work, low energy feeds such as beet pulp or small amounts of legumes such as lupins or good quality forage will provide extra energy.

Normal doers are just that.  They are easy to keep weight on but don’t get overly heavy or drop weight when the wind changes direction.   Keep the diet high in fibre and monitor weight as you go along. Add legumes such as lupins and oil for grain free energy sources.

Poor Doers.  This category of horse or pony often has a history of digestive issue – predominantly ulcers. (Stomach or Hindgut).  They could also have a history of a heavy worm burden which can affect gut motility and create a horse which will be a poor doer all its life.  They may be super sensitive types and have a hot temperament which can be genetic or due to the aforementioned gut issues eg TBs or Warmbloods.  So, what do you feed a poor doer when high energy feeds are needed for work but must be limited or are totally off limits?  Grain free energy sources eg lupins, beet pulp and oil/fat. We have customers with starred TB event horses that cannot tolerate grains. These horses do very well on a basic diet fed in appropriate amounts of course.

Meeting his daily feed requirements.

Bear in mind that your horse needs at least 2% of his bodyweight in total dry matter feed intake every day. If he drops off, firstly check the quality of your forage and how much you’re actually feeding.

Secondly, remember the Horse Health Tip of small regular feeds, rather than overburdening the digestive system.  If you’re feeding heaps of feed and he isn’t gaining or is still dropping weight, consult with your vet. He may need scoping for ulcers, and they must be treated to heal and clear. Alternatively, there could be other digestive or health issues, so get him checked out.

Take Home message: Maintain a simple feed regime to keep your horse’s digestive system happy.  Contact us if you need help with your horse’s diet. We’re always happy to advise and have a wealth of experience of feeding all types of horses and ponies whatever their workload/circumstances.

What is a Low-Starch Diet for Horses?

What is a Low-Starch Diet for Horses?

horse feeding

If you’ve ever wondered what is a low-starch diet for horses, and more importantly, should my horse be on one, then you’re not alone.  However, it isn’t ideal for all horses. Ultimately, it will depend on their caloric requirements, the work they’re in and existing health conditions..

Forages should of course be the basis of any diet and are 75-90% carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and some fibre. These carbohydrates found in pasture and hay fall into two broad categories: nonstructural and structural.  So horses actually rely on carbohydrates as the largest portion of their diet.  Especially soluble and insoluble fibres that make up forage.

Carbs, sugars and starches in forage.

Non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) in forages are simple sugars and fructans and can be readily digested or fermented by horses. They are produced in plants during warmer weather, and are higher in more immature forages. Pasture is usually lowest in NSCs in the early morning unless overnight temperatures are cold.  However, these carbohydrates can affect some disease processes, so you need to monitor how much your horse eats.

Carbs, sugars, and starches in your horse’s hard feed

Grain based hard feeds contain carbohydrates, including simple sugars and starch. Grains such as barley, maize and oats are high in NSCs, mostly starches. Starches are long chains of attached sugar molecules. These sugars get broken apart during the digestive process and the simple sugars (glucose) readily absorbed. Most horses can digest and absorb sugars and starches in the small intestine through a process called hydrolysis. From there, glucose in the bloodstream triggers the pancreas to release insulin.  Then the glucose molecules move into cells for storage as glycogen.  This is the fuel for the working muscles.

If there’s more starch in a single meal than the horse can digest, starch will enter the caecum, (the first part of the hindgut after the small intestine). Any undigested starch here is rapidly fermented creating lactic acid.  This lowers hindgut pH, killing the good bacteria that live there. The endotoxins released from microbial death can then contribute to both colic and laminitis.   

So, just how much starch is in a low-starch diet for horses?

 A “low-starch” feed usually contains less than 15% starch, but some feed companies might classify low-starch as any feed below 20%.  Compare this to a traditional hard feed with grains such as barley, maize and oats as its base.  These types of feed might be as much as 40-60% starch.  A “mid-level” starch content is usually between 20 and 25%. Whilst many horses are fed high starch feeds seemingly without problems, the key consideration that still remains for any horse is how much starch is fed in any one meal.

Ultimately, there is no single definition of a “low- starch” diet as both sugar and starch concentrations are important. Therefore, it’s better that feeds are referred to as ‘low-sugar and starch’ or ‘low nonstructural-carbohydrates (NSC).  NSC is a laboratory measure containing starch plus all water-soluble carbs (sugars and fructans). The recommendation for horses with metabolic issues therefore is not actually low-starch but low-Non-Structural Carbohydrates.  So, if f low starch/low NSC is a primary concern for your horse and it’s not quoted on your bag of feed, then contact the feed manufacturer directly to find out.

Starch Content of Common Feed Ingredients

Feed Ingredient  Starch %
Legume hay (besides lucerne) 1.56
Grass Hay 1.65
Lucerne Cubes 1.51
Oaten Hay 4.03
Mixed, Mostly Grass, Pasture 2.00
Grass Pasture 2.08
Beet Pulp, Dried, No Molasses 0.99
Maize, Whole Grain 69.44
Oats, Dried 43.96
Oat Hulls 14.90
Rice Bran 22.85
Wheat Bran 23.59
Soybeans, Dried 2.27
Soybean Hulls 1.20
Soybean Meal 1.65
Carrots, Wet 2.18
Lucerne Hay 2.50
Lucerne Pellets 2.08
Mill Run/Mix 26.20

Data collected from Equi-Analytical Laboratories

When should your horse have a low-starch diet?

For some horses with certain health conditions, vets and nutritionists might recommend a low-starch diet to help maintain blood glucose at a steady level. These are conditions that cause horses to become more sensitive to sugars and starches. This then means that owners will need to reduce these levels in both forages and concentrates. Individual horses have variable responses related to a variety of factors, including age, body condition, fitness, metabolic status, and disease status.

Obesity and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)

These metabolic conditions are of major concern and there needs to be an overall reduction in calories consumed, not just from starches. Some breeds, especially pony breeds are “metabolically thrifty”, so they’re able to readily convert glucose into fat for storage. They will benefit from a lower-quality forage and no hard feed.  This is where a quality feed balancer supplement such as one from the Fibregenix range, is ideal.  It will  provide vitamins, minerals, protein, fatty acids and other essential nutrients to bridge nutritional gaps in forage.

Insulin dysregulation (ID)

Insulin dysregulation is considered a component of EMS.  In affected horses or ponies, insulin is not effective at transporting glucose from the bloodstream into cells, so both remain elevated. This can increase susceptibility to laminitis. Horses with this condition are extremely sensitive to starches. Ideally, they should be on as low a starch and, specifically, soluble-carbohydrate diet as possible.

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, formerly Equine Cushing’s)

This  endocrine disease mostly affects horses or ponies over the age of 15. Some, but not all, PPID horses will require a lower-starch diet. PPID horses that are also insulin-dysregulated are the ones which will benefit.  However, some PPID horses are thin, non-insulin-dysregulated, and they need calories.  In such cases a more traditional NSC level is fine.

Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM)

Horses with this muscle disorder often have a normal glucose/ insulin metabolic process. They’re unable to use the form of glucose stored in their cells as energy and are also susceptible to tying-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis).  This is the breakdown or destruction of skeletal muscle cells associated with exercise.

Laminitis

Laminitis prone horses and ponies  should also have diets low in soluble carbohydrates and starch. Elevated levels of starch reaching the hindgut can lead to hindgut acidosis, killing off the good microbes. This releases endotoxins, which can negatively affect enzymes involved in maintaining the integrity of the laminae in the hoof leading to laminitis. Susceptible horses should not be allowed to graze immature or lush, rapidly growing pasture routinely found in spring and early autumn.

Gastric ulcers (EGUS)

Signs of this condition include poor performance, poor attitude, and mild colic. Horses prone to ulcers and hindgut acidosis benefit from a low-starch/high fibre diet. This is because chewing and consuming fibrous carbohydrates produces more saliva which in turn helps reduce acidity in the stomach.

Reactivity

Anxious or hyperactive horses may also benefit from less starch in their diets. Multiple studies (Bulmer et al., 2019; Destrez et al., 2015) have focussed on the diet’s effect on behaviour. But more recently, they’ve focussed on the “why” behind this. The latest studies have revealed that glucose is a sugar that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Elevated glucose levels are associated with increased dopamine production.  And this can lead to elevated awareness or hyperexcitability.

Should you change your horse to a low-starch diet?

If your horse doesn’t have any of the aforementioned conditions, then he probably doesn’t need a low-starch diet. In fact, performance horses benefit from a diet with readily available carbohydrates needed to replace the stored glycogen in skeletal muscle.  Especially those that do anaerobic exercise (short bursts of high-intensity training) during work.   When muscle glycogen is low, the muscle adapts by slowing contraction rate and power to conserve fuel (glycogen). This is obviously not desirable in a competition horse. Traditional hard feeds with grains such as barley, maize and oats as its base might be as much as 40-60% starch. A “mid-level” starch content is usually between 20 and 25%. Whilst many horses are fed high starch feeds seemingly without problems, the key consideration that still remains for any horse is how much starch is fed in any one meal.

Similarly, hard keepers might not be good candidates for low-starch feeds either, unless you increase the fat content in the diet. These horses need more readily available calories than the fibrous ingredients often used in low- starch feeds.

The table below shows ideal targets to follow when considering how much starch your horse should have.

% starch in your hard feed IDEAL TARGET
To avoid starch overload,rapid fermention in the h/gut 50-65% for sweet feeds, 45-75% for straight grains <2g/kg BW/meal
To avoid risk of gastric ulcer syndrome

 

<1g/kgBW/meal
For metabolic disorders such as IR, Cushings, laminitis etc

 

<0.3g/kgBW/meal

Making Changes To a Horse’s Diet Safely

Any changes MUST be slow and gradual so as not to upset the hindgut microflora. Gut microbes must have time to adjust to a new diet, so it’s generally accepted to make the complete transition over about two weeks.

For horses needing a low-starch concentrate, transition them the same way you would to any new diet. Start with a meal that is ¼ of the new feed and ¾ old feed and stay at this level for four days. Move up to ½ and ½ for another four days. Then switch to ¾ new feed and ¼ old feed for another four days. By the end of this period, you should be able to feed a full meal of the new feed. If you are concerned about NSC levels in forage, then limit pasture access when they’re elevated (e.g. during spring grass growth).  Soak hay before feeding. Just remember to discard the soak water, so the horse doesn’t drink it.​

What if a sudden change can’t be avoided?

Sometimes, the transition to a low-starch diet has to happen suddenly. For instance, after a metabolic event (e.g., laminitis) where the horse is moved from lush pasture to being yarded. Or begins to wear a grazing muzzle. In these cases, you don’t have days or weeks to make the change. So watch your horse carefully for signs of digestive disturbance such as diaorrhea. If signs develop (and if possible), back off the transition rate and make the conversion more slowly.

What if you have more than one horse and only one requires a low-starch diet? You might be tempted to think you could feed all the horses the same feed.  However, whilst it may make feeding more convenient, you still have to consider each individual horse’s needs and feed accordingly.

Feeding for individual needs

What if you have more than one horse and only one requires a low-starch diet? Tempted to feed all the horses the same feed? Whilst it may make feeding more convenient, you still have to consider each individual horse’s needs.

5 Take-home messages

  • A low-starch diet might be a suitable option for your horse, but it depends on his health status.
  • Horses in good body condition, fit for their discipline, with high caloric demands can cope on a more traditional feed containing higher starch levels. Even so, care must still be taken with how much starch is fed in any one meal.
  • Before making any changes, talk to your vet or an equine nutritionist.
  • Find out how much starch is in your horse’s feed when the term “low starch” is used. This will ensure you are making decisions based on the best information available.
  • Always make any changes to the diet gradually so as not to upset the digestive microbes.

Reviewed and amended April 2021

Reduce Feeding Costs

Reduce Feeding Costs

Home » General feeding practices

Reduce Feeding Costs

Feeding horses can get really expensive. Are you worried about the cost of your horse’s supplements and hard feeds?  Are you looking to reduce feeding costs?  How will you do this without it impacting on your horse’s condition, topline or coat and hooves?

Maybe you’ve had to make cutbacks in your horse’s diet due to a reduced workload or to simply save dollars.  If you’ve had to opt for a simpler fibre-based diet, what should you feed alongside it?  A vitamin/mineral supplement?  An additional gut supplement?  Extra protein plus something for hooves and coat? All or some of these things?

If you’re currently feeding any of the above supplements, why not consolidate EVERYTHING into just one product?  But which product should you choose for the most effectiveness, ease of use, dollar saving, peace of mind and the best results?

To help you choose, we explain the most common types of feed products and what they do for your horse.

Complete feeds, Hard Feeds, Fibregenix balancer supplements – What’s the difference?

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Complete feed – What is it?

A feed that contains everything your horse needs in his diet including the forage.

Benefits:

It can be fed as the sole ration—no need for hay or pasture –  just provide water and the complete feed.

High fibre and is ideal for senior horses that can’t chew or fully utilise hay or pasture

Downsides:

Tends to have very large serving sizes, often around 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight so a bag won’t last very long.

People often provide additional forage/grazing, so your horse can be getting too much for his daily needs.

Adding additional forage or supplementation defies the purpose of a complete feed making it cost-ineffective.

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Hard feed – What is it?

A processed feed that’s generally cereal-based and is fortified with a vitamin and mineral premix. It may or may not also contain some lower quality or least cost digestive aids. It needs to be fed alongside an appropriate amount of forage, (usually recommended as no less than 1% of bodyweight)

Benefits:

It provides energy and calories, plus essential nutrients in one feed.  Just add forage and you’re good to go.

Downsides:

Because the concentration of vitamins and minerals per kilogram is quite low, your horse must be fed the recommended daily feed rate. This is to ensure he gets adequate levels of nutrients. It also inevitably means feeding multiple kilos.

The high levels of starch/sugar and energy that the horse will be getting to satisfy his essential nutrient requirements, can often mean horses put on weight. They may become hyperactive/excitable. Worst case scenario can cause digestive issues eg stomach ulcers or ‘acid guts’ from over-consumption of starch in any one meal.

Not ideal for grain sensitive or metabolically challenged horses or ponies.

High starch meals will need to be broken down into several smaller meals per day which isn’t time effective for anyone who can only feed twice a day.

A bag won’t last very long if fed at the recommended daily feed rate, so it can be expensive. Eg a feeding rate of 3kg per day for an average 500kg horse means a bag will last just over 6 days.

Reduce Feeding Costs with a Fibregenix Feed Balancer – What is it?

Think of it as an all in one multi-supplement. In essence, a heavily fortified feed product containing fibre, protein and fatty acids, superior digestive aids and essential nutrients. It’s designed to be fed alongside forage and complements common forages’ nutrient profiles. A Fibregenix feed balancer may seem more expensive than other feed products, but being concentrated, only a small amount is fed.  This makes it versatile and far more cost-effective long term.

Benefits:

  • Gives your horse a healthier digestive system with specific digestive supplements.  These can help process his fibre more efficiently extracting the most nutrients out of it, and help reduce the risk of digestive upsets
  • Keeps your horse in great condition
  • Maintains that precious topline you’ve worked so hard to build
  • Promotes the shiniest and glossiest coat
  • Promotes healthy hooves
  • Provides all the essential nutrients needed on a daily basis in the most absorbable form.  We’ve made no compromise in the selection of the ingredients for Fibregenix feed balancers. Only the best has been selected irrespective of the premium price some of them carry.
  • Low feeding rate, palatable and can be fed by hand at the paddock gate or those on spell that doesn’t need an additional bucket feed.
  • Save dollars too as NO OTHER SUPPLEMENTS needed and can reduce or eliminate the need for additional hard feed.
  • Whole cereal and molasses free so Non-heating
  • Very low in starch and sugar
  • Low feeding rate and cost-effective – just 100g per 100kg of bodyweight meaning a bag will last an average 500kg horse 30 days.
  • A range of balancers are available, so there’s a solution for every horse and pony whatever the dietary dilemma.

Downsides:

Not calorie providers. However, the specialised digestive aids in a Fibregenix balancer supplement have been proven to double fibre digestibility and enable an improved nutrient absorption.   This improves calorie intake and is the reason why Prime Original and Platinum Pro can be fed alongside fibre to provide the sole source of energy and calories. Especially in the case of good-doers and even those in light to moderate work.

To summarise:

The simplest solutions are often the best. Fibregenix is the balancer product range that will revolutionise your horse’s diet and keep him healthy for his lifetime.

Reviewed and amended April 2021

Helpful guide to cut cost | not care

Helpful guide to cut cost | not care

Home » General feeding practices

Owning horses – How to Cut Cost not Care

Prolonged drought conditions around Australia compounded with the recent horrific bushfires has meant that horse feed prices have soared. Owning horses is at an all-time high, leading to some tough choices. But with a little planning and tweaking, there are some ways to help reduce those spiralling costs.  The key, of course, is to ensure you’re not compromising your horse’s health and welfare. So, here is a guide to help cut cost, not care when owning horses.

  1. Agistment / location

If your horse is on agistment it’s one of your biggest expenses.  Here are a couple of ways to consider saving on your bill.

  • Review the facilities you’re paying for and check you need them all. If you’re paying for someone else to provide all or part of your horse’s day-to-day care, you could reduce costs if you did more yourself, even on a temporary basis.
  • Look for suitable grass agistment or rent a paddock, which can be even cheaper if it’s shared. Just remember you’ll need to consider if this offers suitable facilities e.g. water supply, electricity, shelter, secure fencing, storage, the amount of grazing and the quality of the grass.  Try and put in place a paddock maintenance programme which could help ensure you have adequate grazing all year round.
  1. Feeding to cut cost, not care

Are you unnecessarily over-feeding your horse? Could he do better on less feed?Two important points to note here are:

  • The vast majority of horses manage very well on a forage-based diet and a Fibregenix horse supplement balancer if necessary. (Check out our Fibregenix range) Your vet or nutritionist can advise whether your horse really needs additional feed depending on their nutritional requirements.
  • Fortnightly weigh taping and body condition scoring (fat scoring) will help you monitor your horse’s weight fluctuations and prevent obesity. Horse weigh tapes aren’t completely accurate, but they do give an indication of the weight and are useful for monitoring.  NOTE: Weigh tapes aren’t effective for donkeys so use a heart-girth measurement instead.
  1. Bedding

We have a lot more choice these days when it comes to bedding. So do your research to find the best and most affordable options for you and your horse.

  • Despite the initial outlay, rubber matting can help you get the most out of your bedding and reduce costs.
  • Muck out wet and droppings regularly to maximise your bedding and protect against ill health.
  1. Horse share

Sharing your horse with someone else can reduce costs in all areas.  However, there are two vital things to remember when considering horse share:

  • Signing an agreement and setting expectations with a sharer is vital to ensure you’re both happy.
  • Don’t agree to anything you aren’t comfortable or happy with –best to get your agreement checked by a qualified legal advisor.
  1. Working together to cut cost, not care

If you share a yard with other people, why not club together to save money and time?  Consider these cost-cutting ideas:

  • Many feed, forage and bedding suppliers offer reduced rates if they can deliver in bulk.
  • Ask your vets, farriers and other professionals if they can reduce rates for group visits
  • Save fuel by sharing transport wherever you can, or consider if it’s safe and possible to walk or cycle to the yard.
  • Share daily duties, e.g. one of you doing the morning duties and another doing the evenings. This will save time, money and fuel.

 Owning Horses and Routine preventative health care 

Prevention is always better than cure so there are some simple protocols to follow if you really want to cut cost, not care.

  • Have the fundamentals in place and it should save costs associated with preventable disease later on.
  • Discuss worming, dental checks and feeding routines with your vet to ensure you’re applying the most effective and economical regimes for your horse.  Eg Getting faecal egg counts done can save on expensive worming strategies.
  1. Farriery

  • Don’t delay trimming and keep to a regular foot hygiene regime, even if your horse is unshod.
  • Discuss shoeing options with your farrier. Depending on workload or health status, your horse may not need to have a full set of shoes. If there isn’t much wear on your horse’s shoes, your farrier can usually refit them.
  1. Resist marketing and over supplementing to cut cost, not care

Think carefully about what your horse really needs to keep him happy and healthy. Does he really need all those supplements? Is there some way you could consolidate these into one product? Take a look at a Fibregenix horse supplement balancer to see how it can save dollars in the long-term.

  • Don’t overload on unnecessary supplements, rugs or equipment. Does your horse really need 20 plus rugs or the latest ‘matchy-matchy’ set? There’s plenty of good quality second-hand equipment out there.
  • Look after your existing equipment so it lasts longer. Making sure you spend money on necessary equipment at the right time can save you money in the long term.
  1. False economies

There are some things you just shouldn’t compromise on when owning horses. Short-term savings that may affect the quality of your horse’s care and welfare will just cause you more problems in the long term.

  • Proper veterinary care: DO NOT be tempted to diagnose and treat conditions yourself, ALWAYS seek veterinary guidance if there’s a problem. Most vets can give you basic advice over the phone.  Discuss disease prevention with your vet and yard owner to ensure suitable procedures are in place.
  • Vaccinations: Lapsed vaccinations leave your horse vulnerable to disease.
  • Regular hoof care: Taking shoes off to save money without consulting your farrier or vet could lead to lameness and additional expense.
  • Worming and dental checks: These essentials can be reviewed, as outlined above – but not avoided. Getting faecal egg counts done can be an easy way to save on the cost of expensive wormers.
  • Professional services: Don’t use a cheaper, unqualified person to do a professional’s job.
  • Keep up with repairs to damaged property and equipment.  These are vital to safeguard your horse’s safety and security and avoid unnecessary vet bills.
  • Insurance: If you’re not insured against veterinary fees, you must be confident that you have enough money for an unexpected bill.  Third-party liability cover is highly advisable for all horse owners, as claims for accident or injury to people have been known to run into millions of dollars.
  1. Be realistic

Look ahead and budget effectively to meet your horse’s needs.  Remember, horse care costs can increase in the dry months when there’s no grazing and you have to start paying for hay. So be prepared for this if taking a horse on in the winter when there’s usually more green pick available. Ideally, put a little money away every month or when you can, so you’re prepared if an unforeseen circumstance arises.  Not having a contingency plan can greatly reduce the options available to you once the problem has become too overwhelming to ignore.

Reviewed and amended April 2021

Feeding Horses in Drought

Home » General feeding practices

Feeding Horses in Drought 

BY FIBREGENIX PARTNER JANE COCKERTON 

Jane is based in Rockhampton, Queensland. She has a wealth of experience in feeding horses in drought conditions and feeding horses correctly.

Firstly, it’s best to explain how much a horse should eat every day.  An average horse needs 2.0-2.5% of its body weight to maintain good condition and proper gut function.  This means a 14.2hh horse will need around 8kg of food daily, and an average 16hh horse will need 10kg daily.  Usually, this comprises of forage in the form of grass. During drought however, it’s very important to feed conserved forage (hay) to replace some or all of the horse’s diet.

Hay Suitability When Feeding Horses in drought conditions

Hay comes in many different forms, and depending on local differences and availability, it varies in energy content and palatability. Generally, hays are grouped into grass hays, legume and cereal hays.

All hays have an energy value, or as it’s commonly known –  DE (Digestible Energy). This indicates how much energy an average horse can extract from a kilogram. As a rule, the older the hay, the less energy and nutrient content it has.

There’s another big consideration to take into account – the NSC level. Simply put, this is non-structural carbohydrates (starch and sugars).  Most cereal hays are high in NSC as they’re made from partially developed seed heads and unripened stems of grain-producing plants.

The following list of hays provides useful details to help you choose what will best suit your horse or pony.

1.       Rhodes Grass – the most common type of cut grass hay

Energy value approx  9MJ/kg. NSC content (starch 0.34% plus WSC 7.5% = NSC value 8.14%)

Considerations: Easy to feed to most horses. However, if coarse or musty smelling, then it’s unpalatable. It’s safe and cost-effective to be fed ad lib to all horses.

2.       Lucerne/ Grassy Lucerne – Pure legume or a mix of legume and grass

Energy value approx 8-9.3MJ/KG. NSC content oflLucerne Hay or chaff mean average of 11%. Grassy Lucerne NSC% mean average of 13.6%

Considerations: This type of hay is highly palatable so can lead to gorging. Scouring may occur in horses when feeding prime (green) lucerne. Contains a higher digestible protein content which is often incorrectly perceived as increasing energy levels. It’s best fed in addition with other grass hays, not as the sole forage replacement to pasture.  I’ve found if mixed with other hays, it increases palatability and encourages consumption of less desirable fodder products.  In some horses, lucerne has been known to cause skin photosensitivity.

3. Cereal Hays (Barley/Oat/Wheat)

Energy value of oaten approx 7MJ/kg – barley and wheat higher. NSC content is 22% on average but can be up to 33%. NSC content for barley is 12.1 to 26.3%,.  Wheat 10.5-24.8%

Considerations: Palatable with a very high NSC level which can increase energy levels in some horses.   Long-term feeding has been cited as causing dental issues and metabolic issues due to its high sugar content. It’s not suitable for laminitis prone or insulin resistant horses. Issues can occur if the product is baled too early and when it’s too green.  For example, mouldy product in storage and the possibility of mycotoxin development.

Crucially with barley hay, check that it’s been baled young and is a beardless variety. Barley barbs can get stuck in the horse’s gums and teeth causing big issues.

4.       Lab Lab/Diolichos Lab Lab

Energy value unknown but is suggested to be similar to lucerne. NSC content unknown

Considerations: Palatable. Can be a good substitute for Lucerne but is prone to being coarse and not well preserved. Stems are thick and leaf matter is lost in the drying process. It’s fed overseas as a cattle and silage crop. No negative side effects reported with use in horses, however, the coarseness of the hay could cause digestive issues.

5.       Sorghum Hay/ Forage Hay (another cereal hay)

The energy value is variable according to the species. It’s thought to be around the same as oaten ie 7MJ/Kg. NSC content unknown but it’s considered high, similar to cereal hays.

Considerations: Sorghum is palatable with a high NSC level which in some horses can increase energy levels. Its high sugar levels mean long term feeding can lead to dental issues and metabolic issues. Sorghum is not suitable for laminitis prone or insulin resistant horses. Again, manufacturing issues can be prevalent with the product being baled too early and too green.   This can lead to mould forming in storage and the possibility of mycotoxin contamination. I’ve also noted that horses’ manure can become smelly when fed Sorghum.

Sorghum – buyer beware! 

Another issue is the manufacturing process.  When cut too early, stressed in dry conditions or isn’t the correct variety, it can be high in Prussic Acid (Cyanide). This is really bad for horses – an indication of high levels of Prussic Acid is redness on the leaves and stems. Grain hays comprised of sorghum grass and Johnson grass hay should NOT be fed to horses due to the toxicity levels of these plants. Sorghum grasses include Sudan grass, Johnson grass, hybrid forage sorghums, and grain sorghums. All classes of Sudan grasses and associated hybrids have toxicity levels that make them unfit for horse feed.

Further Issues have been reported with long term use including urine infections and abortion and deformities in foals.

6.       Millet Hay (another cereal hay)

Energy value unknown. NSC content unknown

Considerations: Some varieties are not palatable so it’ll often take time to adjust to a new type of hay. The greener it is, the sweeter it is. Excessive selenium levels found in some varieties can become an issue long term. There are reports of mouth ulcers from certain varieties as well as mineral imbalances. If foxtail millet hay is fed to horses, additional calcium supplementation will be required as it is high in oxalates. These are substances that make it difficult for the horse to absorb dietary calcium.

Planning Ahead when Feeding Horses in Drought Conditions

Given the current drought conditions, some owners may be forced to use less desirable hay type to feed their horses. With soaring costs and diminished availability, good hay is far more difficult to source. Hence, the importance of planning ahead is paramount. If a change to hay type needs to be made, then this should happen over at least 2 weeks to avoid colic or gut disruption.

Other Useful Horse Feeds for Drought Conditions 

Other fibre products are useful when feeding horses in drought conditions. For example, soaked feeds can be used as part replacement for chaff and hay. These include speedibeet, micrbeet, fibrebeet, and maxisoy. Providing a source of  quality digestible fibre, they can help increase digestible energy of inferior hay products. It’s possible to feed them at quite high levels – up to 1kg dry weight a day (check the individual product for details).

Balancer supplements

Essential Nutrient Supply

When feeding horses in drought conditions, you must ensure your horse is getting the correct levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Hay can be deficient in several major nutrients the longer it’s stored for, so a balancer is the ideal accompaniment.  A Fibregenix balancer supplement also assists with fibre digestion helping to improve calorie intake. Ensuring your horse gets his correct daily quota of nutrients will mean a healthy, happy horse for when the rains come.

Reviewed and amended April 2021

{"cart_token":"","hash":"","cart_data":""}