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Click to download… Balancers. The truth behind the hype
We all have our own way of doing things and with feeding horses, it’s no different. But have you ever considered why you do what you do and whether it’s actually for the right reasons?
I always add chaff or lucerne to my horse’s feed
If your horse is getting ad-lib forage (grass, hay), does he really need extra fibre in his bucket? Half a scoop or so is not providing a significant amount of additional fibre anyway and is merely adding to the overall size of the meal. Since a horse has limited stomach capacity, the overall compound ration should be divided into as many small meals as possible.
However, many of us can only feed twice a day so, if your 500kg horse in light to moderate work needs 3.7kg of commercial compound hard feed (the recommended amount) per day, that’s 1.8kg per feed and will provide potentially too much starch in one feed.
Personally, I would always add in some chaff/fibre if a concentrate (grain or compound feed) is being given because….
it slows down the rate of consumption of the hard feed and promotes more thorough chewing which is better for saliva production. A horse produces far less saliva chowing down a kilo or more of hard feed on its own, as it’s easier for them to eat. This means the gastric acid is not being buffered and too much acidity in the stomach will overwhelm it and can create problems such as ulcers.
Meal Size Guide
Do not exceed a total of 1.6 – 1.8kg per feed for a horse and 1.4 – 1.6kg for a pony (including additional chaff or sugar beet, if fed)
Adding more to it, even fibre, is risking overloading the stomach and feed flowing on into the intestine before it has been properly digested in the stomach. At best this is a waste of feed, at worst it can cause problems when it reaches the hindgut.
Alternative fibre sources can be useful if a horse is a poor forage eater but need to be fed in significant quantities, perhaps in a separate bucket, to replace the fibre the horse is missing out on by not eating forage.
I always add soaked sugar beet pulp to my horse’s feed
Sugar beet pulp is rich in “super fibres”, like hemicellulose and pectin; different from the structural fibre, cellulose, which is abundant in forage. Super fibres are more easily digested than cellulose and yield more energy, so sugar beet pulp is ideal where additional slow-release calories are required but care must be taken with the overall meal size when adding it to other hard feeds (see above).
As far as adding sugar beet as a way of making the meal wet, this can be useful at times, when there’s a risk of the horse dehydrating or not drinking, such as when travelling or at competitions. Normally though, feed shouldn’t need damping if the horse always has access to fresh, clean water. Chewing triggers the horse’s saliva production and the more he chews, the more saliva is produced.
I always feed less than it says on the bag
Feeds are carefully formulated to ensure they deliver all the nutrients and calories a horse requires, alongside forage, within a manageable daily amount. This is calculated according to bodyweight and workload so feeding less could mean a horse misses out on essential nutrients.
If feeding the recommended amount of a compound feed means your horse gets fat or has too much energy, you need to switch to a feed with a lower Digestible Energy (DE) which supplies the required nutrients with fewer calories per scoop. If you still can’t feed what it says on the bag, choose a Fibregenix balancer instead or top up the reduced levels of compound feed with a Fibregenix balancer to ensure your horse receives a fully balanced diet. Balancers, such as Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal, provide essential nutrients, including protein, vitamins and minerals, but minimal calories.
I always feed a hoof supplement
One of the most visible signs that a horse is missing out on essential nutrients, and not receiving a balanced diet, is poor hoof quality. A range of nutrients are necessary for healthy hooves and they include B vitamins, like Biotin, minerals, like zinc and calcium, and amino acids, like methionine. All these should be supplied in the required quantities by the recommended amount of a good quality compound feed or balancer so, if that’s what your horse is getting, you shouldn’t need to add a supplement. It takes 9 to 12 months for new horn to grow from the coronary band to the ground so expecting any improvement in under this time is wishful thinking. Supplementing an already balanced diet is a waste of money and choosing a product that supplies only Biotin is also not particularly useful since a range of nutrients are necessary.
I feed a chaff with added vitamins and minerals to my laminitis-prone pony but don’t actually feed the amount it says on the bag
Just like any complementary compound feed, “chaff-based all-in-one” products are formulated to be fed at certain levels to ensure the horse or pony receives all the nutrients he needs for health and well-being. A scoop here and there may seem like an excellent low-calorie snack, with vitamins and minerals to boot, but will not be providing the recommended daily amount of these essential nutrients so you might as well feed an ordinary low sugar chaff and cut your costs!
A balancer, like Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal, is great for good-doers and those prone to laminitis as it contains essential nutrients, like quality protein, vitamins and minerals, but minimal calories, the bulk of which can be supplied by forage. Fed in small quantities, Lami Low-Cal can give you peace of mind that your horse or pony is receiving the nutritional support he needs whilst you control his calorie/forage intake as necessary. Fibre remains very important to the good-doer, but lower-calorie sources are important, such as coarse, stalky hay as opposed to soft, leafy hay, and controlled access to grazing.
I like to feed a bran mash once a week
Whilst this was once common, it is now considered “bad practice” as it constitutes a sudden change of diet when changes should ideally be made gradually to avoid disrupting the sensitive bacterial population of the horse’s hindgut. Even a “regular” change, ie. a bran mash once a week, is enough to upset the bacterial balance and means the horse’s digestive efficiency is compromised.
Rather than feed a mash when a horse has a day off, reduce the horse’s normal feed by up to half and, if the horse is off work for a while, top the reduced feed up with a Fibregenix balancer, to maintain nutrient levels without the calories, or change to a lower energy feed which can be fed at recommended levels. Modern wheat bran is now devoid of much of the fibre and wheat germ for which it was once valued. Its addition to an already balanced compound ration will unbalance that ration and can upset the calcium: phosphorus ratio which, in turn, can compromise bone tissue formation and integrity, something which is particularly risky in growing youngstock.
I/my horse prefers a muesli mix to a pellet
It’s pretty rare for a horse to have a preference and the vast majority will find pellets equally as palatable as muesli mixes. The ingredients used to make pellets are of the same high quality as those used in muesli mixes but, whilst nutritionally they may be equal, aesthetically to us as humans, muesli will look more palatable. Pellets do have advantages over muesli mixes, particularly for horses with excitable temperaments, since they tend to be lower in starch than their mix equivalent. And, whilst ingredients are of the highest quality, the production process is less costly, so pellets tend to be cheaper! Give it some thought the next time you choose a feed; who are you aiming to please? After all, horses never tire of eating grass!
I need to avoid protein because my horse is fizzy
Riders often worry about protein levels in feed and usually for the wrong reasons, since this nutrient is rarely used by the horse’s body as a source of energy so is unlikely to “heat him up”. Protein is important however, as it supplies essential amino acids which are the building blocks of body tissues, including muscle fibres, so particularly vital for working horses. Since the body’s requirement for protein increases with workload, performance feeds contain more protein and coincidentally more calories, and it is the calories which may affect temperament.
I need to avoid cereals because my horse is fizzy
Having eliminated, or at least identified, any obvious causes of fizzy or fractious behaviour, then consider your horse’s diet. The amount of energy/calories that goes in should equal the amount that he needs for maintenance and work, as any excess will either be laid down as body fat or expressed as excitability or both. For excitable horses who need help maintaining condition, a balancer on its own or alongside a reduced amount of concentrate, plus plenty of good quality, digestible forage is the most effective solution. The important thing with the cereal content is that it must be cooked thoroughly to be as digestible as possible for the horse. Cooking methods like micronising and extruding have now superseded steam flaking as they gelatinise (cook) more of the cereals’ starch content. This reduces the risk of undigested starch reaching the hindgut and causing problems which can include crabby behaviour. Meal sizes must also be kept small for the same reason, whilst forage intake should be a minimum of 1% of body weight to avoid compromising gut function which could lead to colic or gastric ulcers.
Feed manufacturers never suggest that cereals are a replacement for fibre, rather that they are a useful and effective addition to a forage-based diet when fed correctly. Harder working horses, need the readily available glucose cereals supply as fuel for the brain and other organs, thus helping to maintain concentration and stamina. There are now feeds available which contain a blend of energy sources, alongside cooked cereals, with an emphasis on slower release energy, if required. Pellets also tend to be lower in starch than their muesli equivalent so are ideal for the fizzy type.
Whilst your horse may calm down on reduced quantities of a cheap, low energy mix, or on no complementary feed at all, consider his overall condition, health and well-being and whether this is likely to be sustainable as work-load or the demands of performance increase. Many horses “perk up” when their overall plane of nutrition is improved, and they start to feel well in themselves; many will settle again when they become accustomed to the feeling of well-being.
Food for Thought
Hopefully, if any of these situations apply to you, you will give a little thought to your reasoning and consider whether you are feeding entirely for your horse’s benefit. There is nothing wrong with keeping feeding simple; plenty of forage and the manufacturer’s recommended quantity of a compound feed or balancer should be all your horse needs. The key is in choosing the right feed for the job and not adding extras to it just for the sake of it. After all, by streamlining your feed room and making things as cost effective as possible you could free up cash to spend on other things!
There’s an increasing awareness of the possibility of allergies or intolerances to feeds or feed ingredients, among horses, but how prevalent are they?
We’re all aware of the dramatic and potentially drastic reaction that the human body can have to certain foods but true feed allergies in horses are relatively rare. Allergies involve the stimulation of the immune system to react excessively against a certain protein or protein-like molecule (allergen) which would not normally happen in the non-allergic horse. This reaction results in the release of histamines which, when produced to excess, cause symptoms which may vary from sneezing and wheezing to itching, swelling, hives (lumps on the skin) or diarrhoea.
The symptoms of feed allergies can include swelling of the lips and mouth but are more commonly seen as diarrhoea and/or hives, although symptoms alone are not necessarily indicative of an allergic reaction to something the horse ate. Allergies can be hard to diagnose and, in severe cases, a vet may carry out blood and skin tests with varying degrees of success.
A more common occurrence are hypersensitive reactions to substances which do not involve the immune system, and these tend to be referred to as intolerances. They can result in many and varied symptoms which may not necessarily in the first instance, be attributable to a feed-related issue and, as such, can be equally hard to diagnose. Indeed, it’s only in recent years that intolerances to feeds or feed ingredients have become recognised so, although there’s a perception that they are becoming increasingly prevalent among equines, it’s more likely that we are simply more aware of their existence.
Symptoms of a feed intolerance can include, “crabby” or “jumpy” behaviour, hives, dry itchy skin, loose droppings or a tendency to colic, all of which can also be the result of environmental and management issues. Any horse which is uncomfortable in its gut, for example, is likely to be crabby, unsettled and prone to colic so eliminating all which could be causing this can help settle the situation. Stress is a primary factor in gut discomfort and this can have innumerable causes from insufficient turn-out or bullying in the field to travelling, competing over-zealous training; the list goes on.
One common consequence of a “stressed-out” equine is EGUS (Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome) as a result of acid attacking the lining of the horse’s stomach. Any horse prone to ulcers or any digestive discomfort MUST have constant access to forage and the starch content of any supplementary feed should preferably be kept to a minimum. The simple provision of ad-lib forage can help reduce stress levels by satisfying a horse’s physiological need to chew and ensures there is always some food in the stomach to stop the digestive acid reaching areas it shouldn’t.
A constant flow of fibre through the digestive system also ensures that any gases which are produced during digestion are carried through thus avoiding a build-up which could cause colic. Fibre from forage is also essential to maintain a healthy population of gut bacteria, which are also instrumental in its digestion and any imbalance can not only affect digestive efficiency but gut pH (acidity) and symptoms of an imbalance can include, loose droppings, diarrhoea or colic.
Any horses with loose droppings, whether continuously or during times of stress, would benefit from a digestive enhancer such as the pro and prebiotics found in the range of Fibregenix balancers. Live yeast Probiotics can be fed to replenish gut bacteria populations which may have been depleted, whilst prebiotics support the existing populations of beneficial bacteria and help them flourish.
They can either act as a food source which only good bacteria can utilise or by disabling pathogenic bacteria and facilitating their removal. These actions help maintain a healthy bacterial balance, supporting gut efficiency and helping alleviate loose droppings and discomfort.
Scurfy or itchy skin can be a sign of a dietary imbalance and a look at the overall balance of the diet should always be taken before turning to supplements or special feeds in an attempt to alleviate specific symptoms. A fully balanced diet, supplying correct levels of essential vitamins and minerals and quality protein, helps support health and well-being, of which visual signs will include, strong healthy hooves and a shiny coat. Omega 3 oils are also essential for soft supple skin and may be found in a good quality feed balancer such as Fibregenix or can be added to a fully balanced diet in the form of a high oil supplement or straight vegetable oil.
Feeding the recommended amount of a hard feed or Fibregenix balancer alongside forage will ensure the diet is supplying all the nutrients a horse needs for well-being and to support its work. Should problems persist and remain unexplained, then a feed intolerance is possible but the only way to find out what is causing the reaction is to put the horse on an elimination diet. Whilst this can be difficult for the hard-working horse or poorer-doer, it may be the only option and involves cutting out all supplementary feeds and giving just ad-lib forage for a minimum of four weeks.
By this time, unless the cause is within the pasture or forage, symptoms should have subsided and other feed ingredients can be reintroduced one by one until a problem recurs that can be attributable to what has been added to diet. Your vet or feed company nutritionists can help you plan the process and discuss feeds or feed ingredients which you can add separately to aid in the identification of the culprit. It’s entirely possible that the problem is contained within the horse’s grass, hay or haylage but this should become apparent if problems persist despite the elimination of the usual suspects in compound feed.
Since elimination diets can be both time consuming and complicated to exercise, there’s an increasing tendency to assume, not only that an intolerance exists but also that it is due to one or more of a number of commonly implicated ingredients. Feeds are available which avoid these ingredients so offer a potential “quick fix” meaning that neither the specific cause nor any environmental implications are ever addressed. Should an elimination diet result in the recognition of a reaction to a specific ingredient, then such feeds can prove useful in re-establishing a fully balanced diet whilst avoiding intolerance reactions.
Feed ingredients which have been identified as causing hypersensitive reactions include certain cereals, lucerne and molasses. If a horse is truly allergic to any of these, it is a protein which they contain that will be the actual allergen; oils, starch, cellulose or sugars are not allergens and cannot cause an allergic response.
Indeed sugar often receives bad press which is unwarranted since it is both an essential nutrient and a natural component of the horse’s diet because grass has a high sugar content. Feeds which contain molasses are often perceived to be “high sugar” but not only is molasses not 100% sugar (it’s what’s left after the sugar has been extracted, after all!) but it is used in feeds at an inclusion rate of less than 5% so the actual amount of sugar it contributes to a horse’s diet is minimal.
So, while there’s no doubt that horses can be allergic or intolerant to something in their diets, there are other factors to consider when presented with potential symptoms. Ensure your chosen feed products come from a reputable manufacturer as these will contain carefully prepared natural ingredients and are backed by meticulous research to ensure that they provide the very best and safest nutrition for the horse.
- It’s as much about quality as it is about quantity, and we go to great lengths to ensure that only the best quality protein sources are used.
- Protein is composed of individual amino acids, some of which the horse can manufacture from dietary components and others which must be supplied in the diet, known as “essential” amino acids. These include lysine and methionine, which are so important. We add extra to our performance balancer for horses whose requirements are high, like breeding and performance horses.
- The higher the proportion of essential amino acids supplied by a protein source, the better is deemed its quality.
- Protein provides the building blocks of all body tissues, including muscle, tendons, ligaments and hooves. When fed at recommended levels, the protein supplied by our feeds will promote the rounded top line and musculature that makes a Fibregenix supplemented horse stand out.
- Seed meals such as linseed and sunflower found in Fibregenix balancers supply the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6, which the horse cannot manufacture for himself, and therefore need to be added to the diet.
- A horse’s natural diet of grass is where he would normally get these fatty acids and grass contains a higher proportion of Omega 3 to 6.
- Due to the way they are digested and metabolised, the calories supplied by seed meals are slow-release and non-heating.
- Fibre is fermented by bacteria in the horse’s hindgut to produce volatile fatty acids which are then used by the body as an energy source. It should be the basis of every horse’s diet and the most cost-effective way to feed it is as preserved forage or fresh pasture.
- Additional digestible fibre from oat hulls, wheat husks and Lucerne, is found in all the Fibregenix balancer supplement range.
Vitamins and Minerals
- The balance of vitamins and minerals in Fibregenix balancers is carefully formulated to ensure that a horse receives all he needs to bridge nutritional gaps in the diet when fed at recommended levels.
- Certain chelated minerals are included in all our balancers at tailored levels to support horses’ varying nutritional demands. “Chelating” is a process whereby minerals are attached to other molecules, eg proteins or simple sugars, and helps the body absorb and utilise them more easily.
- The specific chelate forms found in Fibregenix are unrivalled in their bioavailability and are utilised by the horse in a completely different way to other types of chelates.
- Many vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants, protecting body cells from free radicals produced through metabolism and natural body processes. Fibregenix balancers contain these antioxidant vitamins and minerals at levels to support health and well-being as well as performance.
- Selenium is an important antioxidant and Alkosel organic selenium yeast is more readily available than other forms of this trace mineral.
- This collective term refers to ingredients like Actisaf Live Probiotic yeast, purified nucleotides and MOS & FOS prebiotics which are included to help promote gut efficiency.
- Actisaf live probiotic yeast is included for its unrivalled ability in stimulating fibre digesting bacteria in the horse’s hindgut. Maximum benefit is gained when it is included in the diet daily.
- Safmannan MOS acts as a food source for beneficial gut bacteria so that they can flourish at the expense of pathogenic species.
- Profeed FOS is a unique short chain fructo-oligosaccharide which can positively modify the gut microflora, enhance digestive health and help reduce the risk of digestive upsets as well as helping to strengthen the immune system and help to improve insulin sensitivity in the obese horse or pony.
- Ascogen purified nucleotides have many far-reaching effects in the body, helping to increase nutrient absorption and red blood cell production to assist in stamina and performance as well as having a positive influence on immunity.
- A non-heating feed is one that is less likely to produce excitable behaviour in some horses and ponies when fed at the recommended rate.