A Horse Feeding Question
By Eleanor Blazer
Please help me.
I have a 22-year old gelding and a yearling mare. They are not getting extensive exercise. They are turned out together in a large area which is mostly woods and weeds. They are never in stalls.
Both horses get a little less than 1/2 scoop (square plastic scoop) of sweet feed twice a day. The yearling is thin, but the gelding is obese. I give them four flakes of hay twice a day.
How can I take weight off the gelding and put weight on the yearling? I can't afford to feed more hay or feed.
I found your web site (www.thewayofhorses.com) while searching for help on the internet.
A Horse Owner in New York
I wish I had a dollar for every letter I get similar to this plea for help.
Over the years I've become more direct in my answers and have quit worrying about hurting someone's feelings, so my initial answer to HO in NY is, "Sell the horses if you can't afford to feed or care for them properly."
Then I address all the problems - maybe H.O. just needs guidance.
Dear Horse Owner in New York,
Thank you for visiting my web site and taking the time to write on behalf of your horses. I will try to help.
Caring for horses properly takes money, time and physical labor.
I recommend you review your income and expenses. See if you can make some cuts so you can purchase the needed feeds. I can give you advice on what and how to feed. But if you can't afford it, the best thing to do is to sell the horses.
You have two horses with very different nutritional needs.
The gelding is mature, not being worked - basically a couch potato. I doubt if he gets much exercise on his own. I am willing to bet most of his exercise comes from protecting the feed from the yearling.
The yearling is growing and needs the required daily nutrients of protein, vitamins and minerals to achieve her genetic potential. In your note you are mostly concerned with calories. If we address her needs for protein, vitamins, minerals and long-stem fiber (forage), calorie requirements should fall into place.
To insure your filly is getting her allotment of feed, you must address the issue of allowing her time to eat. The gelding must not have the opportunity to run her off and steal her feed. This includes the forage.
There are several ways to achieve this goal.
You can divide the turn-out area into two lots. I would reinforce the dividing fence with an electric wire. Electric keeps horses "honest" and off the fence.
Providing two pastures would allow you to feed a commercial product designed for each horse's nutrient requirements and you can monitor the amount of hay each horse receives.
You said they were in a large area. If the area is large enough, divide it into several smaller lots. This allows you to rest several sections and get some grass to grow. Rotate the lots. Rotating helps manage intestinal worms and aids your de-worming program.
If you can't divide the turn-out area, then it becomes labor intensive. In order to insure the filly is getting her share, she needs to be fed by herself and given time to eat. This means it is up to you to remove either the gelding or the filly from the communal pasture and wait for her to eat her ration. This poses a problem because you don't want to be standing around for several hours while she eats her allotted hay.
Another option is to feed plenty of hay and scatter it around the large turn-out area. The drawback is restricting the gelding to eating only his share. The filly will get more to eat, but so will the gelding. The horses will be healthier, as they are designed to eat forage constantly, but your gelding will not loose weight.
Horses should receive at least one and one half to two percent of body weight in forage a day. Because your filly is growing and thin I would keep good quality grass hay in front of her at all times. The gelding needs his amount divided into three meals per day. Of course this means keeping the horses separated.
Regarding the grain or concentrate portion of the meal; find a feed formulated for the age of the horse, activity level and forage type.
Read the feed tag! The product will be labeled for: Performance Horse or Formulated for the Mature Horse at Maintenance Level, or whatever its design.
In your current situation you will need two feeds. One must be designed for the young growing horse, which is eating grass hay. The second must be formulated for the mature, adult horse at maintenance level, which is eating grass hay.
There are "one size fits all" feeds. If you do the math you will probably discover it will be more economical to buy the properly formulated feed for each horse. (Read the feed tag and weigh the feed.)
Before buying feed you must invest in a scale. Weighing feed, both forage and concentrates, is very important when feeding horses. Notice as you read feed tags, no where does it say, "Feed one scoop to a horse."
The same rule pertains to feeding forage. No equine nutritionist will recommend: "Feed four flakes a day." Once you calculate two percent of your horse's body weight, you'll know how many pounds of forage to feed a day. For example: a 1,000 pound horse would require 20 pounds of forage a day. (1,000 times 0.020 equals 20)
Hope this helps… and best wishes, Eleanor Blazer
Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards Blazer.