How to choose the right feed for my horse
How to Give Your Horse the Right Supplements
Determining what vitamins and minerals you should give horse can be tricky, mainly because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what kind of supplements a horse needs. However, by analyzing your feed and your horse’s individual health, you can create a customized supplement solution to help your horse be healthy and strong.
Analyzing Your Horse’s Feed
Collect a sample of the hay you feed your horse.Most horses eat a combination of roughage, or hay, and concentrates, or grain products. Usually, nutritional content will be listed on the grain feed label, so you’ll only need to collect a sample of your hay to be tested.
Contact an agricultural research laboratory to have your hay tested.Agricultural research laboratories offer hay testing that will provide you information about the crude protein content, fiber, and vitamins and minerals in your feed. This is usually done for a fee of about - USD.
- For a list of agricultural extension offices operated by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in the United States, visit .
- If there is a local agricultural college near you, contact them and ask if they offer feed testing.
- Some feed companies also provide hay testing for a similar fee.
Pay special attention to the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in your hay.The balance of calcium to phosphorus is even more important than the actual amount of these minerals in your horse’s diet. The calcium to phosphorus ratio should be at least 1.5:1 Cal:Phos.
- Too little calcium in your horse’s diet can cause its teeth, bones, and muscles to become weak.
Add up the nutrients from your hay analysis with your grain feed label.This should give you a complete picture of the nutrients your horse is getting each day. Take into account the proportion of hay to grain that you feed your horse in its daily ration.
Read the National Research Council’s standards for horse nutrition.For the most advanced research on horse nutrition, purchase a copy of the latest edition of Nutrient Requirements of Horses by the National Research Council (NRC). This will break down nutritional needs of your horse by its age and breed, as well as other factors such as whether it is pregnant, lactating, or highly active.
- The 2007 edition is 360 pages and can be purchased online for around 0 USD.
- The NRC has some of this information available online at .
- By using the guidelines in the Nutrient Requirements of Horse with your hay analysis and the label on your grain feed, you should be able to identify whether there are any gaps in your horse’s nutrition.
Supplementing Your Horse’s Diet
Try to keep fresh hay on hand.Vitamins degrade over time, so older hay will offer your horse less nutrition. Feeding your horse fresh hay will help ensure it gets the vitamins and minerals it needs.
- Once hay is about a year old, you should try to replace it if you can, or consider giving your horse a general vitamin supplement until you can get fresh hay.
Talk to your vet before making any changes to your horse's diet.Any decisions about your horse's nutritional needs should be made under the supervision of a veterinarian or horse doctor, since the wrong balance of supplements can have serious health problems for a horse.
- Giving your horse too many supplements for no reason is a waste of money and can lead to unintended health consequences for your horse.
Add a calcium supplement to your horse’s diet if it eats mostly grain.If your horse eats hay made from grass and a lot of grain, especially bran, it will probably need a calcium supplement. You may also need to supplement its diet with calcium if its phosphorous levels are especially high.
- This is not a necessary supplement if your horse has ample access to clean green grass to graze on.
Add oil base, rice bran, or blackstrap molasses if the horse needs calories.All of these are high in fat content, and they are a good addition if you have a highly active horse that isn’t getting enough calories in its diet.
Add flaxseed to your horse’s diet if its coat is dull.Flaxseed is a healthy source of essential fatty acids, and it quickly adds shine (or “bloom”) to your horse’s coat.
- Sunflower seeds may also help add shine to your horse’s coat.
Supplement the feed with vitamin A if it doesn’t get green foliage.If your horse gets to graze in areas with plenty of green grass and shoots, it likely gets enough vitamin A in its diet. However, if it is in an area where it doesn’t have access to much greenery, you should add a vitamin A supplement to its diet.
Feed your horse glucosamine if it has arthritis.Glucosamine is a nutraceutical, or a supplement which helps improve joint health. This supplement can ease the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
- If glucosamine doesn’t help, add chondroitin, hyaluronic acid (HA), or herbal remedies like devil’s claw.
Supplement with biotin if your horse has poor hooves.Biotin, which is a B-vitamin, has been shown strengthen horse’s hooves. A 20 milligrams (0.31 gr) daily dose may help if your horse suffers from weak hooves.
- Biotin is found in egg yolks, liver, and yeast.
- There are also high quality hoof supplements like Platinum Performance and Farrier’s Formula that are great for strengthening hooves.
Give your horse vitamin C during times of stress.Vitamin C is water soluble, meaning it is not stored in your horse’s body. Times of stress, such as illness or travel, may tax your horse’s body, and a vitamin C supplement can help counteract that.
- Vitamin C is rich in antioxidants that are essential for blocking harmful free radicals from the environment.
Add in vitamins D and E if your horse can’t get daily sun.A horse’s body produces vitamin D and E when it is exposed to sunlight. If your horse doesn’t have access to a sunny pasture, it may not be able to produce enough of these vitamins to be healthy, so a supplement may be necessary.
- A lack of vitamin E in your horse’s diet can lead to a variety of muscular and neurological diseases.
Supplement your horse’s diet with zinc if it gets too much iron.Iron can block the absorption of zinc, so if your horse’s diet is too rich in iron, it may need a zinc supplement.
- Zinc and iron travel along the same transporter molecules, which means they compete with each other to be absorbed by the body.
Monitor the selenium levels in your horse's diet carefully.Some areas have soil which is deficient in selenium, which is essential to a horse’s immune function, so a supplement is necessary. However, other areas are so rich in selenium that grazing horses suffer from selenium toxicity. If you give a selenium supplement to a horse that doesn’t need it, the result can be fatal.
- If you’re not sure about the selenium levels in your area, ask your local feed store or agricultural extension office, or have a soil analysis done.
- Horses should have about 0.3 milligrams (0.0046 gr) in their diet, but more than that can cause toxicity.
Feeding Supplements to Your Horse
Purchase supplements online or from an animal supply store.Your local co-op or feed supply store should have the supplements you need, but if they don't, you can order what you need online.
Administer supplements to your horse daily.For best results, you should give your horse its supplements with its daily feed, or just before or after it eats. It's best to administer the supplements at the same time each day.
Feed pellet supplements to your horse by hand.Vitamins and minerals are often bound with some sort of grain and molasses mix, then formed into a pellet. The molasses helps the pellet taste more palatable to your horse, so you may be able to feed the pellet to the horse by hand.
- If your horse won't eat the pellet, try hiding it in a treat like cooked carrots or after-dinner mints.
Mix powdered supplements into feed or a treat like applesauce.The easiest way to administer supplements to your horse is by sprinkling a powder over its daily rations. The powder should sift through the grain and hay, and the horse may eat it without ever being aware it was there.
- If your horse is a picky eater, you may notice the powder is left at the bottom of the trough. If this happens, mix the powdered supplement with a sticky, sweet substance like molasses or applesauce, then mix that in with the horse's food.
Give liquid supplements to your horse with a syringe.Mix the supplement with molasses or corn syrup to improve the taste and ensure it won't easily drip out of the horse's mouth. Gradually move the syringe to the horse, giving it sugar cubes as needed to keep it calm. Slide your thumb into the area of the horse's mouth where the bit would go, then follow it with the syringe and squirt the supplement into the back of his mouth.
- Never use a sharp syringe, as you could injure your horse. If the end of the syringe is too sharp, carefully melt the end, then press it down on a flat surface to round the edges.
- Fruits and vegetables should not make up a significant portion of your horse’s diet, as they are high in sugar. Instead, they should be given to your horse only as an occasional treat.
Video: How to determine how much hay and grain to feed your horse
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