Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going Grain Free

Let me just preface this by letting everyone know how appreciative I am of all your comments and suggestion. Some of you even take the time to email me privately to voice concerns, give suggestions, and even share personal stories. Your real world experience is priceless to me, and I thank you very much for sharing!

As you well know, I have been struggling with Lilly's nutritional needs... again. Trying to figure out what those needs are has been my latest obsession and it has taken me to a place I never thought I'd be.

I've decided to go grain free.

Here's why.

1. Going back to August, Lilly was being fed 1.5 lbs of SafeChoice (SC) per day. SC is a pelleted feed made by Nutrena that I had heard really good things about and it was one of the options at our new barn. I hadn't really given feed that much thought at the time, and she seemed to be doing very well on it. Because of nutritional challenges I was facing with AJ, I started looking more into nutrition and after realizing that in order for Lilly to get what she needed out of the SC, she would need to be fed at least 6 lbs per day. Feeding her 6 lbs of grain per day would definitely have caused her to gain weight, so I took the advice of the Purina guy and switched her over to Strategy Healthy Edge (SHE). She was being fed 4 lbs of that per day and she completely lost her mind.

2. She was back on stall rest at this point, and I decided it must be related to the SHE because her behavior was not normal and that was the only major change in her life. I switched her back to the SC. She went back to being her sweet, calm self, but I think it was too late at that point. She had probably already developed an attachment to Baby, and most likely ulcers.

3. She was back to being fed SC when M and I moved our horses to our current barn. Little did I know, she wasn't eating her grain and I'm still suspicious that she was being fed Strategy. We all know how the first show went, and she was again acting like she had when she was on SHE. The second show was even worse.

I've really been thinking about how all these issues and problems she's been having are most likely ALL related. Perhaps the SHE caused the worry, anxiety, and attachment to Baby, which caused the ulcers, which caused her not to eat, which causes all kinds of other issues because she's not getting the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals that may actually help her!

If only I had a PhD is horse nutrition.

So the first thing I've been wanting to do is address the ulcers. There could be a lot of reasons she's not eating, but when you add it all up, ulcers sound like a pretty good diagnosis. My vet will scope her for around $300, and prescribe a month's worth of GastroGard for an additional $1,000. We could skip the scoping and start her on a week's worth of GastroGard which is about the same as the cost of the scoping. We would know if she has ulcers by her response to the medication. OR, she said I could try a more conservative route, take her off the grain for about 2 weeks and feed her alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is high in calcium and helps raise the pH of the stomach making it less acidic.

After giving it all much thought, I decided to take the "no grain" option and run with it. She's on a great pasture and is fed an appropriate amount of hay. Since she's not interested in her grain anyway, I'm swapping it out with alfalfa pellets. The BO doesn't want outside hay on his property, so actual alfalfa hay is out, and I thought the pellets would seem more like "grain" to her when she's eating than the cubes. Plus, they don't need to be soaked.

She tends to be a pretty easy keeper, isn't worked very hard, and is nervous by nature, so we can go from 18% NSC in the SC to about 9% in the alfalfa pellets. I'll be supplementing her with SmartVite from SmartPak so she's able to get all the vitamins and minerals she needs. I'll keep a close eye on her weight and I may end up needing to supplement her with beet pulp or something else for calories.

I'm still researching and figuring out exactly what I want her to have an how much, but since Friday she's been off grain completely. Alfalfa pellets, grass, coastal bermuda hay, and her supplements are the only things going into her tummy. Well, that and cookies.

Anyone else gone grain free, or given it some thought? 


  1. We're pretty much grain free for all of our horses - they all get a vitamin/mineral balancer pellet formulated for our area (we have low selenium soils) and also a bit of cocosoya oil for good fatty acids. The hard keepers either get soaked beet pulp, rice bran or Ultimate Finish, which is a high-fat food. When we're on grass, none of the horses need supplemental grain.

    Sounds like a good plan.

  2. I think that sounds like a wonderful plan. Simple and conservative is often the best way to go and I think you are very wise to save yourself the actual $$ upfront and give the feed change a chance. Is 2 weeks going to be long enough?

    I try to be very conservative with my own feeding program and avoid feeding grain unless a horse really needs the extra uumph. In the fall, I wean the horses off of grain and they go grain-free for 2-3 months. Even when I do start graining again, I start very conservatively and wait to see if they need more as time goes on. T

  3. I took my boys off grain around the first of the year, and suddenly my hard keeper got fat! Well, fat for him anyway. I've also noticed a lack of event lines on their feet. My two get all the hay they can eat, and a flake of alfalfa morning and night (two for the big guy). I'm planning to add SmartVite too to make sure they get everything they need... hopefully they'll eat it!

    Keep us informed of how Lilly does!

  4. And there ya' go! Here's hoping this works :) I think it's a great idea :)

  5. Sounds like a good decision to me :)

  6. Thanks everyone. It's helpful to know that you're doing this with some of your horses and it has been successful!

    Cowgirls, I'm planning on leaving her off the grain indefinitely. From here on out I just want to feed her the alfalfa pellets, vitamins, and hay.

  7. I don't feed my horses grain, just a vitamin/mineral supplement (I always call it grain, but it's not). It is formulated specifically for whats lacking in my area and for the type of hay I feed. Since I don't work my horses much in the winter and when I do start riding again, it isn't a demanding training schedule, so they stay on the supplement.
    Actually a lot of people feed horses grain, when in reality they just don't need it. Unless the horse is being worked extremely hard all the time.
    I think it's great that you are trying the no grain route. I would do the same if I was in your situation too. I'm very interested in hearing how it goes and I really hope it settles Lilly down!

  8. I make a bran and grain mix just to carry Paj's supplements. His only grain is 1/2 cup barley, twice a day. Barley is the grain he's least allergic to. He's very allergic to soy and oats, so that eliminates most of the commercial feeds.

  9. Good for you!!

    My horses are basically grain free, I feed pellets for clicker training and that's the only grain they get. I am going to supplementing them with some California Trace soon, but that's more of a vitamin supplement than a grain.

    Most grains, especially sweet feed, play havoc with our horses.

  10. Another great thing about the alfalfa pellets is that I can give her some before or after I ride and I don't have to be worried about her colicing..!

    I keep thinking of more and more reasons to like this whole "no grain" thing!