Make The Correct Horse Feed Choice
By Eleanor Blazer

         When I started working at the local feed co-op in the late seventies, we offered three horse feeds…all based on protein levels.  The 10 percent was for adult horses and ponies; the 12 percent was for performance horses and the 14 percent for broodmares or horses needing a little extra nutrition.

        These feeds were made in our mill, using locally grown grains.  They were all sweet feeds, and the only change we made was to lower the amount of molasses in the fall to keep the feed from freezing.

        The products were in 100-pound burlap bags, tied with a string.

        We sold a fair amount of these mixes, but also sold straight oats and corn.  Requests for supplements were rare.  If a customer wanted to boost the diet, Calf Manna was the top choice…and if I remember correctly, the only supplement we offered.

        The majority of the horses were on pasture.  Good quality hay was plentiful. 

        Horse owners generally had a farm background or came from a family with a history of horse ownership.

        Thirty years later things are very different.

        Horse owners now have many feed choices.  We now have "lite", "performance", "high-energy", "low-energy", "maintenance", "growth", "low-starch"; "high-fat", "low-carbohydrate", "elite", "high-fiber", "senior", "complete", "pellets", "extruded", "textured"…you get the idea.

       What happened? 

       The first thing that triggered the horse feed boom is more expendable income.  Horse lovers not living on a farm were suddenly able to realize their dream of horse ownership. 

       These horses were boarded or kept on small parcels of land - farmettes. They became part of the family.  They were no longer work animals. 

       The new generation of horse owners wanted to give the best care possible to the new family member.  In many cases money was not a concern.

       In increasing numbers, horses were removed from pasture and housed in stalls.  Access to fresh green grass and a somewhat natural environment was limited.  Nutrients were needed in a commercial form.

       Feed companies grabbed this opportunity.  Nutritional research was previously geared to production animals (cattle, sheep, swine and poultry). Now there was a reason to conduct research on equine feeds - more money.

       Research focused on what horses' needed. The parameters were based on quality, quantity and types of forages fed to horses considering age, health, activity level, how horses utilize different ingredients and management styles.  The result of this ongoing research is the availability of balanced rations based on what an individual horse requires.

       How do you decide which formula is best for your horse?  The answer is simple - read the feed tag.

        Reputable companies will state the type of horse for which the product was formulated.  For example, it might say "Nutritionally balanced for the special needs of growing foals."  You would not feed this product to a senior horse.

       The tag statement also tell you if the feed is complete (an all-in-one product that is fed with little or no forage), or if it must be fed with forage.  In addition, the tag will give a guaranteed analysis of the nutritional levels, ingredients, feeding directions and manufacturer.

       To get the intended benefits of the product, feeding directions must be followed.  This means not diluting the balanced formula with other products (this includes oats), feeding by weight - not volume (use a scale) and feeding the correct amount recommended for the horse.  If you discover you cannot follow the feeding directions, then the product is not the one for your horse.

       When changing feeds, make the change gradually.  Take at least seven days to slowly switch your horse to the new feed.  This gives the balanced microbes in the large intestine time to adjust and will lessen the chance of colic or intestinal up-set.

       Our horses are lucky - we now have many choices to keep them healthy and happy.

        It's up to us to make the right choice.

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