The new concept of feeding hard feed is to feed little and often rather than big feeds less often. The reasoning behind this is that the horse’s stomach is actually small in comparison to the rest of its digestive system as in the wild they are grazers and intake small amounts of food on a regular basis. Large amounts of food that they were not designed to eat, such as cereals, can cause problems when fed incorrectly, however are essential to provide the required energy for them to compete successfully.
If feeds exceed 2kg then most of the extra feed is pushed through from the stomach into the gut. The stomach is where initial breakdown of food is performed and has a high level of acidity to aid this process. When this has happened food is passed through into the large intestine where is begins to be absorbed by the body. If too much food enters the stomach at one time then it overflows into the hind gut (large intestine).
Firstly this results in a waste of feed as most of it will pass through the system untouched and come out the other side untouched! Secondly you increase the risk of your horse tying up as the undigested food is thought to eventually contribute to the over production of lactic acid. The equine stomach is pretty small and is not designed for large carbohydrate based feeds.
Feeds should always be at least 4 hours apart, especially when they are on maximum amounts of hard feed. The maximum number of feeds per day would be 4 unless you had a horse that was nearly impossible to keep weight on.
When you are increasing a horse’s daily feed intake it is important to do this progressively as a sudden increase can cause a blockage as seen in some colic cases. I follow the rules of increasing feed by ¼ of a scoop every 4 days per feed until you have reached the desired quantity. So if you were feeding three feeds a day then you would increase each feed by ¼ of scoop and not only one feed. Horses that are new to the yard I always start on Alfa A, Cubes and Sugar Beet of the quantities ½ Alfa A, ½ Cubes and ½ sugar beet. If it is a poor doer then I will quite quickly start to increase both the portion number and size per day. If the horse is a good doer then you will keep a close eye and see how it is doing after a week or so and adjust the feed accordingly.
It is hugely important to feed food that is of good quality. Dusty hay can cause problems such as COPD which are not reversible; also dusty or bad hay is usually of low digestible energy and as a result the horse will need supplementing with hard feed to keep weight on and condition. This not only costs a lot more but is a less natural way for the horse to feed and can cause problems such as ulcers, colic, tying up etc.
Make sure that all feed is stored in its bag and not emptied into bigger containers. This is because once opened air is able to combine with the feed and this can result in a much shorter shelf life: once gone off if fed to horses it can cause problems such as colic. If feed does not smell dry and fresh then check before you feed it that it is still in date. Once feed has gone off it usually changes in colour and texture so make sure it is as normal as possible before you feed it.
Feeding at different times of year
Starting with the spring, I find this a great time of year as there is an abundance of new grass and it contains a high amount of sugar and therefore quick energy for the horse to use. I find horses do really well at this time of year and usually only horses in hard work need high quantities of hard feed.
As summer is upon us the rate of grass growth usually slows down, especially if it is a hot summer, a lot of the grass gets scorched and then loses its feed value. I find I have to supplement horses with hard feed to a moderate degree at this time of year. However good doers are usually still thriving.
Autumn is again a pretty good time as the grass has another push of growth at this time of year. It’s when the frosts come in and the grass stops growing that I find it hardest to keep condition on. If you think a horse is starting to lose weight then you are usually too late to stop it. I find it very difficult to put condition on to a horse that is working hard at this time of year.
I operate on the basis that prevention is better than cure at this time of year, however sometimes weight loss is inevitable no matter what you seem to do. The best thing is to increase feed progressively as explained earlier. If you know a horse is going to drop condition you can up the cool conditioning cubes as even if they are not in hard work they can still have a decent quantity of these.
If a horse has a sudden injury that prevents it from performing its normal daily routine then I will cut the hard feed straight away. This does not need to be done progressively and I will usually feed Alfa A or Light and sugar beet and a handful of cubes. Absolutely no flakes should be fed under these circumstances.
Horses that have colic will need all of their forage taking away. If it has been mild colic and after a couple of hours they have recovered I will give them a small soaked hay net and another one 2 -3 hours later depending on their symptoms. If they are fine by morning I will put them back on to normal hay but soaked for a few days and keep a close eye.
Regarding hard feed I will cut this out and give them a very sloppy sugar beet and Alfa A meal with Epsom Salt and normal salt and their normal supplements. I will do this for a few feeds and if all is OK will progressively get them back to normal depending on the work that they are doing.
When a horse has tied up it is important to make sure that they do not lose any more salts. I usually give a feed that has 2-3 table spoons of salt in it mixed with Alfa A and sugar beet, but no hard feed other than a handful of cubes. I will seek veterinary advice on what to feed and when depending on the severity of the muscle spasm and therefore how quickly it will get back to its normal routine of work.
When horses are being fed more than two feeds a day they usually become a little picky about eating all of their feeds. This is for two reasons; firstly because they are working hard and usually eat less when they are very fit, and secondly because they are being fed a larger quantity of the same feed and this can make them a little stale to it.
The first thing I will do when dealing with picky eaters is to find out what it is they do not want to eat. I exclude all the different components until I find the one that is causing the problem. I have found that horses often go off sugar beet if it is fed in too big quantities. Also they often go off the flakes if they are being fed maximum quantities of them. The first way I tackle this is to add molasses or Doctor Green to the feed and see if this makes a difference. Usually this works but if not I would maybe cut down the sugar beet and start adding a few cubes, just for some difference in the feed which can encourage them to eat again.
Oil can also be a problem for some horses so I always watch to see if adding it causes them to go off their feed, even if only slightly. Carrots and Apples can be a good way to makes horses want to eat their feeds again but I often find they will eat the nice bits and leave the stuff they don’t want. It’s a game of Trial and Error and by playing around with quantities and components I usually find a pattern that works.
Horses in Rest
When horses are not working it is really important to cut their feed because overfeeding when horses are not working can cause colic and tying up. I always feed after work and if a horse is going to have a day off then I will cut all the hard feed out and increase the Alfa A and the sugar beet. If they are on oil I will still feed the oil as this will not harm them in any way. The Cool Conditioning are designed to be fed even when horses are only in light or no work so horses that need to gain condition can be fed these with Alfa A and sugar beet even if they are not working. I tend to split the feed up though over 3 feeds that are quite small to try and avoid any colic type problems.