Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nutrition Nightmare

When the co-op idea first presented itself, I didn't really think too much about the specifics.  I figured I'd just start feeding my own hay and grain to my horses to make sure they're getting what they need, at least until my barn decides to supplement the pastures with hay.

The main reason for this, of course, is because I think AJ looks to be about 75 lbs underweight (according to the tape), and I don't see him gaining any weight despite the increase in feed (be it ever so small), and the Weight Builder supplement. The missing ingredient, we've all determined, is hay.

I've been quite lucky throughout my horsey life to have low maintenance, easy keepers and we just 'fed' them. They ate some random amount of sweet feed from the mill, whatever hay we could find that was inexpensive, and they thrived. Who cares what the fiber, fat, protein content is? They look great!

Once I started boarding, I paid even less attention. Someone else fed them and as long as they looked good, it didn't matter too much to me what they ate, or how much. They didn't get anything above and beyond, except for when AJ was put on his joint supplement. If anything, they were a little overweight.

Up until now, AJ has been in that easy keeper category. He used to survive on air. Now I'm faced with a horse I think is about 75 lbs underweight and I'm having to take matters into my own hands. I thought this might be a good opportunity to take the time to learn a bit more about equine nutrition and what's available to horses. That was until I started reading the plethora of online articles about equine nutrition. It's enough to make my head spin!

You can supplement with any of the 16 weight gain supplements currently offered by SmartPak, you can add corn oil, black oil sunflower seeds, rice bran, or flax seed. Feel free to add a little beet pulp or soaked alfalfa cubes, and even some hay stretcher if needed. Purina suggests Equine Senior, Omolene 200, Athlete, Equine Junior, and Strategy as good feed for an underweight horse, while Nutrena suggests SafeChoice, Life Design Senior, Life Design Complete, and then you can supplement those feeds with Legacy or Empower. Then there's hay! Alfalfa, orchard grass, coastal bermuda, timothy?

Currently, AJ is eating 1 lb of SafeChoice and 1lb of Equine Senior morning and night (I pay extra for that), and he's getting his MSM and 2 scoops of Weight Builder. Until this past summer, he was eating only 1lb of grain morning and night, so he survived on 2 lbs of Blue Seal pelleted sweet feed and hay for nearly 3 years without issue.

Lilly, being my more traditional easy keeper, gets 3/4 lb of SafeChoice morning and night.

Neither of them are getting any hay. Well, they weren't getting any hay until about a week ago when I started feeding them hay from my personal stash. I take hay down to them when I go out in the afternoon and sometimes M will throw them some for me too if she's around. Lilly RUNS wide open across the field to meet me and then nickers continuously until she's able to grab a giant mouthful of hay. I think she's hungry...

Lilly was on stall rest for pretty much August, September, and October so she was actually being fed hay. AJ was out in the pasture eating grass until about the middle of October when it seemed there wasn't any left, and nothing new was growing.

So then the question arises: are they getting enough nutrition? AJ obviously is not, but even though Lilly is in good weight, is she getting enough? Nutrena says a horse her weight, in light work, should eat ~5 lbs of SafeChoice per day. Honestly, if she ate 5 lbs of grain per day, she'd be the size of a blimp. But does she need a vitamin/mineral supplement, or will the hay cover that? Perhaps her mineral and salt block are enough to cover that?

And to think I used to feed "half a coffee can of sweet feed and 2 flakes of hay" per feeding. Ah, those were the days!

So, do I keep feeding him his current ration of grain, but supply him with hay and wait for the hay that he should have been getting to kick in and help him put the weight back on? OR, do I supply hay, increase his feed, perhaps even change his feed to something with more calories, and wait? OR, do I shovel him hay, increase his grain, add corn oil, and beet pulp/rice bran? He can't have alfalfa or I'd have to add soaked alfalfa cubes to the list...

Should I be proactive and go crazy, or simply add hay and take the wait and see approach? Perhaps I'll just go crazy MYSELF.

Edited to add:
As a side note, does anyone actually feed the recommended amount of feed noted on the bag? I have a brochure for Equine Senior and it says to feed 13 lbs for a 1,000 lb horse. THIRTEEN POUNDS? Yikes... I wouldn't feel safe feeding that much unless it was over 3 or 4 meals per day. That 13 lbs is if you're not feeding any hay, of course, but still.

It also says to reduce the amount of Senior by 1 lb for every 2.0 lbs of hay. So if AJ got 20 lbs of hay per day, that would drop him to 3 lbs of Senior per day. But then it also says that no less than 6 lbs of Senior per day should be fed, otherwise they aren't getting enough nutrients. They go on to say that if your horse gets fat on 6 lbs of Senior and hay per day, you're feeding the wrong food and you should look at one of the other Purina products.


  1. No hay!! Forage comes first and then grain and supplements - good quality hay is essential. Hope you get it figured out - check the Equine Nutrition sidebar on my blog - good info from Paradigm Farms.

  2. Sad, isn't it? No hay and no real pasture to speak of. I'll go check it out now! Thanks!

  3. I would continue adding the hay like you have started doing and maybe increase the feed by a little bit too if you have found it to be good quality feed. Don't do anything super drastic at once, you dont want to shock his system. When Ella dropped weight and I could see all her ribs I got my own feed because the sweet feed provided proved to have no nutritional value- it was basically like her eating candy for each meal lol. I put her on Triple Crown Complete and added a Max-E-Glo rice bran (which is stabilized so you dont have to add alfalfa to balance it). It was an easy fix for us. The rice bran was awesome...she put the weight on reasonably fast. I think I only bought 1 or 2 bags of the Max-E-Glo. I would recommend it to anyone! She has maintained her weight and been off of it since April.

    There is soooo many different things you can do and everyone will give you advice on different things. I don't think there is one right answer. I have heard the corn oil works wonders too...the feed room at my barn is lined with bottles of it because everyone uses it. Plus is makes for a really shiny coat :). I have heard to start a 1/3 cup and increase it gradually until 1cup per feeding. But watch him eat it cuz some picky eaters dont like it.

    Hope you can get the weight on and keep it through the winter! Let me know if I can help ya with everything...so many choices and decisions!!! :)

  4. Thanks Ashley... like you said, there a hundred different answers from a hundred different people. And aside from the different brands of feed, there's senior feed, complete feed, pelleted feed, sweet feed, and ration balancers. ARGH!

    AJ has been such an easy keeper that I don't really think he needs a "senior" feed because his teeth are great and he seems to be absorbing what he's fed. I just think he isn't getting enough to eat in the forage department. Plus, he was supposed to be getting 2 scoops of the Weight Builder and I found out he was only getting 1. (That's coming in SmartPaks now...) Hopefully once he's actually getting hay and getting the proper amount of his supplement to add calories, I'll start seeing a difference.

    If that doesn't work, I see that TSC sells the Max-E-Glo, so I may look into getting a bag of that. It's good to know you've used it and liked the results.

    I appreciate the comments!! I want my boy back up to a good weight. I can't stand seeing his ribs!

  5. It's absolutely crazy isn't it?

    The choices out there and trying to learn from 'what has worked' for everyone else can just drive a person crazy.

    I have never fed as much pre-fab grain as what is recommended. My horses would be absolutely stupid if I fed them that much.

    I'm a hay first, as much as they need to feel full and maintain a good weight and then add grain/supplements later to bring them into peak condition.

    Good luck, keep it simple at first and build into a more complex program if necessary.

  6. I know that hay or forage is one of the most important aspects of horse nutrition out there. J's horses get hay twice a day and during most of the year, they have round bales outside to eat freely. In my opinion, the round bales are unnecesarry, but hey...

    Anyway, horses are designed to eat small amounts all through the day (thinking grazing horses in the wild).

    There is a horse at J's barn, Snippy, who is about 33 years old. He has no teeth in the back of his mouth, so he cannot have actual hay. J is constantly battling keeping weight on him, but she manages it by feeding him:

    1 large coffee can and a 1/2 of equine senior and one large coffee can and a half of pellets. Then she puts about a cup of Purina Amplify in there. She also gives him a large coffee can of hay cubes with a bit of water to soften them up...whew!!! Sorry about the "coffee can" measurement system, but it seems to be a great amt. for Snippy. She does this twice daily, but Snippy is a big boy with a lot of weight to maintain (I think he's about 16hh).

    Anyway, I hope you're able to find a good solution for AJ. I find equine nutrition to be frusturating and at times, overwhelming, but luckily (or not) I haven't had to deal with such issues in a long time.

  7. Thanks, Cowgirl... I agree that he definitely needs more hay. There hasn't been a whole lot of that in his diet recently. The pastures just aren't sustaining the horses.

    I'm thankful that AJ still has all his teeth, JJ. Feeding horses with teeth issues gets messy. AJ can't have alfalfa, so it would be hard getting forage into him if (when) he starts losing those teeth.

    AJ is a big boy like Snippy, so he needs more chow!!

  8. working in the equine nutrition field I can tell you that forage absolutely comes first. Horses need a minimum of 1.5% of their body weight in fiber. This means that they need at the very least about 15lbs of hay/pasture. I would prefer to see more like 20-25 lbs, but in some cases this is not possible (i.e. boarding) After those minimums are met, then you can look at the feed portion of the program. If your horse can maintain body condition on the hay, then all you need is a lite feed or supplement type feed. This will get you all your vitamins and minerals. If your horse needs more calories when being fed the correct amount of hay, then go with a higher fat feed and feed more of it. Most commercial feeds are meant to be fed at about 5-6 lbs per day for a 1000 lb horse, where a lite feed is meant to be fed at about 2 lbs per day. This is how you choose which one you need. Personally i like southern states and triple crown feeds, but most companies will have something that is suitable. Good luck!

  9. Perfect! Thanks, Wendy! I know he's not getting anywhere near even 15 lbs of forage per day. He's on pasture 24/7, but there isn't enough for him to get the amount needed to equal 15lbs.

    I think Lilly should probably go on a lite feed/ration balancer, and AJ needs something with higher fat.

    I'm learning so much from all of you! I really appreciate it!

  10. Hey, jen j is doing a series on equine nutrition right now. She's also wrestling with a hard keeper and trying to figure out how to put weight on him.