If the recent cold snap has left your horse looking leaner than he should, you may be considering a change of feed. But how can you ensure that feeding for condition doesn’t lead to unwanted excitability or digestive upset? Here we bring you our top tips for safe weight gain
We all know that forage is essential for gut health but it is also the largest source of calories in the horse’s diet. In fact, a section of hay could provide a similar level of calories to a scoop of conditioning mix!
- Ideally provide ad lib hay/ haylage in the field as well as the stable but keep an eye on herd dynamics – senior horses or those who are less dominant may be not get their fair share
- Hay replacers are essential for horses and ponies unable to chew long fibre. Ideally choose short chopped fibres that still encourage chewing or if necessary, feeds that can be soaked to make a mash.
Calories without fizz
Cereal starch is the most common culprit when it comes to feed related excitability so avoid all mixes (including those that say ‘non-heating’ on the bag) and start by choosing fibre based feeds containing less than 15% starch. Fibre based diets are also the most sympathetic option when it comes to supporting digestive health.
Did you know 300ml of oil (equivalent to a can of fizzy drink) contains almost as many calories as 1kg of oats but is starch free? However there are few things to consider before adding oil to your horse’s current feed:
- If feeding more than 100mls of oil per day you may need to add an additional vitamin E supplement – ask a nutritionist for more advice on this.
- If your horse is currently on a low oil feed (<4%), you can typically add up to 100mls of oil per 100kg bodyweight per day i.e. 500mls for a 500kg horse.
- All oil should be added gradually – around 100mls per week as a guide
Alternatively, consider replacing your current feed with a high oil alternative such as SPILLERS Conditioning Fibre that is already balanced with suitable levels of vitamin E.
Although sugar beet is high in calories (and an excellent source of fibre), it easy to overestimate how much you are feeding. Once soaked, sugar beet contains approximately 80% water and in many cases, is not fed in large enough quantities to be ‘conditioning’. In fact, a scoop of ‘horse and pony cubes’ could be 5 times higher in calories than a scoop of soaked sugar beet!
Keep meals small
Large meals can be difficult to digest which may contribute to weight loss (or prevent weight gain) and increase the risk of colic. Feed no more than 2kg per meal (dry weight) for horses 500kg and over and less for ponies. As a guide, 1 Stubbs scoop holds approximately:
- 1.5kg of mix
- 2kg of cubes
- 400-600g of chopped fibre
Safe weight gain takes time so be prepared to wait at least 4 weeks for any changes in diet to have a visible effect.
For more advice on feeding for weight gain contact the SPILLERS Care-Line