A Balanced Equine Diet – At All Costs

by Dr.  Stephen Duren, Ph.D. in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and owner of Performance Horse Nutrition, LLC

For those people who own horses, properly feeding them is an important responsibility. A nutritionally balanced diet will allow horses to perform, reproduce, grow and maintain their health. However, with the current economy how do horse owners balance their horses’ diets under a barrage of economic pressure?

balanced equine dietWith the exception of fresh, clean water, forage in the form of hay or pasture is the most important dietary ingredient we provide to horses. During the winter season, temperatures typically fall below that necessary for pasture grass to grow. Pastures that are depleted of natural forage become exercise areas and force the horse to replace pasture grass in their diet with stored forage in the form of hay. A horse requires a minimum of 1.5% of the body weight in dry forage per day. This means a 1,000 lb. horse would require a minimum of 15 lb. of hay per day. Horses can consume up to 3% of their body weight in hay (30lbs for a 1, 000 lb. horse) if the hay is of good quality.

Horses require good quality hay because their digestive tract is “one-way” in direction. Horses normally are not capable of vomiting, and they become sick if fed moldy or dusty hay. Hay quality can be determined in many ways. Stage of maturity, leafiness, color, foreign material, odor and condition are physical parameters that can be judged to determine quality.

Physical quality can be determined by observation and comparison of hay samples.

Physical Characteristics of High-Quality Hay

high quality hayStage of Maturity – Early cut hay is more palatable and digestible. Look for short plants with few or no seed heads.

Leafiness – High quality hays have a high percentage of leaves (blades) to stems. Look for abundant leaves or blades, small, thin stems.

Color – Bright green color indicates proper curing, high vitamin content and good palatability. Loss of color indicates weather damage. Look for bright green color.

Foreign Material – Hay should not contain weeds or foreign material such as dirt, wire, sticks. Look for grass or Alfalfa bales with no weeds.

Odor/Condition/Mold – Odors such as musty or rotten odors indicate low quality hay that was not properly cured or stored. Look for: Clean, fresh smelling hay free of visible mold or excessive dust.

When high quality hay is in short supply, horse owners often must settle for marginal hay. Marginal hay is hay that was cut late, meaning it is very mature resulting in poor digestibility. Marginal hay may also have lost leaves and its green color indicating weather damage. These hays will have a lower nutrient content and lower calorie content, meaning more hay is necessary to meet the nutrient requirements of the horse. If more hay is not fed, or if horses will not eat enough hay, horses will become thin and have poor coat condition. Hay that is moldy, musty or contaminated with weeds, sticks, wire, paper or other foreign material is considered poor hay and it should never be fed to horses.

performance horse nutrition If marginal hay must be fed, the remainder of the diet must be adjusted to account for the lesser quality hay. There are several methods to account for marginal hay. The first is to replace a portion of the hay with a pelleted and/or cubed hay product or a forage extender product. These products typically contain high quality fiber that horses can readily digest. Feeding 1/3 of the total hay requirement as a forage pellet, cube or forage extender product will drastically improve the nutrients provided by the forage portion of the diet. If you account for the increased digestibility and less waste when feeding these products, their cost is often justified. A common concern with these products is if they provide horses with enough fiber. Since we are only replacing 1/3 of the hay portion of the diet with these products, fiber and length of fiber are not a concern. It is important to remember that hay pellets and/or cubes and forage extender products are not heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals. Therefore, they help account for marginal forage but they do not replace the grain concentrate or the supplement portion of the diet.

Another method to account for marginal hay is to feed “complete” products. A complete product is one that contains the forage, grain, vitamin and mineral portions of the diet. The word “complete” indicates they can be the only ingredient fed to the horse with the exceptions of water and salt. As you would expect, properly feeding a “complete” would entail a large feed intake. These intakes typically range from 10 to 20lb of “complete” per 1000lb horse per day.   If plenty of marginal hay is available, a third method for making up the nutrients not in adequate supply in the forage would be to feed a low intake vitamin and mineral supplement pellet/  Commercial grain concentrates can never replace the forage component of the diet, but they can provide nutrients that are not in adequate supply in marginal forage. If your horse needs more calories than are being provided by the hay then feeding a grain concentrate with higher calories would be necessary.

In conclusion, always make sure the horse first has an adequate amount of forage available. If that forage is in limited supply, feeding a forage pellet and/or cube, forage extender product or complete feed would be appropriate to provide additional fiber. If the forage is of marginal quality but in adequate supply, the nutrient deficits of the marginal hay can be made up by feeding grain concentrates. This is a better option than adding unfortified grains and bucket supplements which can be expensive.

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About Author:

dr stephen e durien

Dr. Stephen Duren, a native of Soda Springs, Idaho, completed his Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences at the University of Idaho. Dr. Duren earned a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Duren, a former consulting equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research, Versailles, Kentucky, has formed his own company, Performance Horse Nutrition, LLC., and consults with feed manufacturers and horse owners throughout the world.

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How Can I Raise My Own Chickens?

backyard chicken coop
Photo Credit: The Easy Chicken

What the cluck!? When it comes to raising your own chickens, there’s a lot to consider. You probably already know the benefits of backyard chickens, like the ability to produce your own food, or the chance to teach children how to care for animals. Before you get started with a backyard coop, though, here are some other important things to think about – and some pretty awesome services to help you out along the way! Continue reading “How Can I Raise My Own Chickens?”

Grandma the Chicken: Recollections of a Farm Girl

by Homestead Deb of RentTheChicken.com

When I grew up… lets just say “a few years down the road” I never heard of chicken factory farms or antibiotics given to chickens. All I remember is running to the grainery after school to see if the baby chicks arrived!! They came in cardboard boxes with little round holes and made a lot of cheeping noises! We had a big metal looking
“roof” that had big lights in it and it hung from a rafter in the ceiling down to about 15 inches above the floor and that kept them warm.

I always stood there mesmerized watching them scurry around looking for food and when they were getting too cold they huddled under the lighted roof. Of course being the farm girl that I was, I always had to try to make friends with them. As a matter of fact, I did have one particular dark Brahma that just decided to follow me around the farm. I didn’t even bribe her with food! It didn’t take this girl long to begin carrying her around under my arm and enjoying time together in the summer sun. Everyone would chuckle when they came over and witnessed the little blonde girl with glasses and her hen running around the farm behind her. This hen wasn’t your standard Leghorn which it seems we usually had to raise for eggs and meat. That breed of chicken is so flighty and will run away if you look at them crossways! No, this hen was different! She was gray and had feathers on her legs. My Grandmother informed me that “those feathers were her stockings and she looked like an old Grandma”. That is how my sweet little hen lovingly received her name “Grandma”. Yes it was her “stockings” that had me convinced to name her that but also I loved my Grandma very much so the name was given in her honor as well.

My Grandmother and I would always feed, water and yes… butcher the chickens for our dinner table. We also collected the eggs together until I was old enough to do it on my own. I still have the same metal little oblong pail to this day. I use it to collect my eggs now. My hope is that when I have grandchildren we can carry that same pail to collect the eggs together.

I believe because of that wonderful woman and our special bond for 37 years, is a huge reason why I am partial to a lot of the old fashioned days and ways and especially my love of chickens.

I feel very lucky to have been born in an age where maybe some things were tougher like working outside, but things were also much simpler. I was very adamant about handing down some of the lessons I learned back then to my kids and yes that included chicken keeping. It also included collecting the eggs in the same metal pail.

Now days unfortunately there are less and less farms and kids that are able to learn about and care for farm animals. People are really missing out.

Oh I know that some people think there is a lot to chicken keeping but there really isn’t much at all. Maybe they feel that they can’t keep them over winter or that you need a rooster for eggs and they don’t want to listen to a noisy rooster. To get eggs from a hen you do not need to have a rooster hanging around waking you and the neighbors up at 5:00 in the morning! Those sweet hens don’t need the aggravation of a big loudmouth rooster to lay eggs.

When you think about the pros versus the cons you may think differently about taking up chicken keeping.

I work at a high school and my chickens can not produce enough eggs for all the people that want to buy them at $2.00 a dozen. I was always thinking in my head, “good grief your kids won’t like these once they find out they didn’t come from a store.” Was I ever wrong!! Now the kids are asking their parents who work with me to buy fresh eggs! They absolutely love the taste…and some of these “kids” are teenage girls!! So a very big resounding PRO is the taste! I don’t tell them how good the eggs are for them, but if they knew that there are more Omega fatty acids that are essential to our body to prevent diseases in a farm fresh egg because the chickens eat bugs, worms, grass, corn and the list goes on, maybe they wouldn’t eat them…or maybe they would eat more?

Fresh eggs are also a valuable source of vitamin D. Yes all eggs do have cholesterol. I can not say for sure if fresh eggs have more of the good cholesterol, but I can tell you that they certainly are not injected with any growth hormones which is another huge PRO!

I for one am absolutely sickened when I read how “commercial” chickens are treated. The chickens are in a tiny cage that they can barely turn around in. Their bodies must be in pain being cramped up in there as they are not allowed to do what chickens are put on this earth to do and that is to run around eating grass, bugs, scratching in the dirt and laying eggs.

The public needs to be careful of the “cage free” label as well. Yes these birds are cage free…. living in a huge pole building with hundreds of other birds with them. Picture it….not enough room, little if any natural light, while some are sick and dying and others already dead laying there for who knows how long being walked over and around.

USDA Certified Organic I believe to be legit. I believe the chickens see the light of day and are treated humanely. Chickens need to be chickens to get the correct egg production. My chickens run around outside trying to spot the elusive bug or eating grass and then lounging around in the sun taking a well deserved dust bath….hence the reason I have a few “pot holes” in the chicken yard. That is a small price to pay for healthy happy chickens. Dust baths are also a must for chickens. It keeps mites away which in turn keeps them healthy. In the end all we really need are happy healthy chickens for healthy tasty eggs we can serve to our families.

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Homestead Deb and family are serving the Greater Wausau Area. Deb with her husband Wayne, son Duston, and daughter Nikki help with the chicken business. Currently they have 22 chickens, two Welsh Harlequin ducks, an outside cat that sleeps with the chickens and ducks, and 3 dogs. Deb is an avid flower and vegetable gardener. Deb’s other hobbies include canning, crafts, crocheting, playing a little banjo, and racing in the mud bogs with her family and friends. www.RentTheChicken.com

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Rent The Chicken on Petmasters