Feeding Horses: All The Basics You Need to Know About

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My neighbor gave me a gig cleaning out stables at her barn when I was twelve years old. I paid for riding lessons on my neighbor’s ancient Appaloosa with the money I earned. But, more than just basic dressage, my experience taught me a lot. Every horse has unique requirements when it comes to feed, and a horse must have the correct diet.

Each of the horses in the stable had his or her own feeding regimen. Most days, they grazed in the vast meadow, but hay, water, and different proportions of grain were provided to them in their stalls. Their diet also included instructions for supplements and medications.

Horse health problems like colic, founder, and infections may develop when feed is out of balance. Getting it wrong is critical.

Horse Feed Essentials

Horses, like cows, sheep, and other hoofed four-legged creatures, are grazing herbivores. They’ve gotten adapted to eat constantly. Horses, on the other hand, have just one stomach like ruminants such as cows, sheep, and goats. Between that of other non-ruminate herbivores and ruminates like cows and goats, their digestive system is something of an intermediary.

Before the meal reaches the hindgut, or big intestine, horses have just one stomach but do a lot of their digestion. A wide variety of essential bacteria live in the hindgut, which aids digestion.

Horses, unlike ruminants, can’t fart. Horses have a difficult time dumping the gas that builds up in their stomachs.

Horses need a lot of roughage and only a little grain, much like their ruminate fellow grazers. In other words, your horse may not need any grain if he has consistent access to high-quality hay and grazing, isn’t doing any hard labor, and isn’t in a stressful age.

Of course, one or more nutrients are lacking in most of our pastureland. It is preferable to be safe when you are a new horse owner. However, don’t rely on pasture and hay to meet all of your horse’s nutritional needs.

Nutrient deficiencies can be life-threatening, trust me. Selenium deficiency is a major issue in New England. It may be copper, potassium, or magnesium in your area. It’s difficult to determine how to recognize a flaw early enough to fix it when you first begin out. As a result, err on the side of caution and enhance your horse’s pasture to keep them happy, healthy, and ready to go.

Pasture & Hay

The majority of your horse’s feed should ideally come from excellent pasture. All-day grazing became the evolutionary specialty of horses. Horses, like all grazing animals, have evolved to eat for the majority of their non-working hours. Instead of larger meals distributed throughout the day, they’re designed to digest tiny volumes of food virtually constantly.

Horses will leisurely and mindlessly eat their way through the day if they are left to their own devices. Roughage should comprise around 1.5%-2.5% of a grazing animal’s body weight every day, and it should be ingested gradually over time.

Roughage for a 500-pound pony would need about 10 pounds, whereas roughage for a 1000-pound horse would need closer to 20 pounds. It’s a good idea to provide some hay in your horse’s stall if he only grazing for 8 hours a day. However, your horse may or may not need additional hay if he is living in pasture and eating as much as he desires.

How Can I Know if My Horse Needs Hay?

Horses that are only on pasture for 8-10 hours each day will likely benefit from having hay in their stalls. In 8 hours of grazing, a 1000lb horse will typically consume around a third of his daily ration. Offer him the remaining 13 pounds of roughage as hay in his stall for the second half of the day. Even more food will be required by draft horses.

He requires less access to hay as long as he spends more time grazing. But, of course, pasture varies throughout the year. This same horse might need 20 pounds of roughage per day in the winter.

Hay, even in the summer, is an crucial component of most horse owners’ everyday feeding. The pasture required to keep a horse healthy without supplementation is rare among us. To thrive without supplementary roughage, a horse must have at least 1.5 acres of well-managed grassland.

The weight of your horse must be taken into account. Supplemental hay and a little grain may help if she’s looking a bit thin. She may not need any extra hay if she is chunky.

Also, if you discover poisonous plants out in your pasture, be sure to remove them immediately.

Choosing Hay

Variations of hay have a significant variation. Most horses can’t eat alfalfa and clover, while bales of weeds, goldenrod, and other grasses may make him sneeze. Grass hay, such as timothy or orchard hay, is ideal for most horses.

Pick light or pale green bales. Alfalfa, for example, is a deep green hay. The nutrients in brown bales have worn off. Gray, white, or black patches on bales should be avoided. Moldy bales are shown by those locations. Bales that reek musty or dank should be avoided as well. The scent of hay should be fresh and grassy.

The average weight of a hay bale is around 40 to 75 pounds. Don’t expect each bale to offer the same quantity of food since there’s a wide range. Each bale is unique, even from the same farmer. The flakes that make up hay are separated. These flakes are usually about 5-7 pounds each, but this can vary depending on the situation.

Water and Minerals

A major component of keeping your horse healthy is water. Horses are huge animals, and to stay hydrated they need a lot of water. A horse will consume 5-10 gallons of water every day on average. Since hay is drier than fresh grass, horses eating pasture drink less than those eating hay. Horses tend to drink more on hot days than they do on lazy, cool days due to their eagerness or after hard labor.

Offer a salt and mineral lick or a loose, trace mineral dish near the water. These combinations can even balance out the deficiencies in your pasture and roughage, not only meeting your horse’s salt needs. Horses can easily access trace minerals in mineral blocks, which protects your horse from the serious consequences of selenium, magnesium, and potassium deficiency.

If you haven’t been supplementing your horse’s salt and minerals, start with a small quantity. When horses are initially presented with trace minerals, they may get them in too high a dose. Sprinkle a little amount of trace minerals on top of hay or in a pail. Prior to leaving a free-access block in the pasture, give it a short period of minerals for at least a week.

Since many horses will turn up their noses at vitamins and supplements, some people choose to put minerals on top of something enticing like grain or beet pulp.

What About Grain?

Horses that are lightly worked do not need extra feed. Grain is seldom required with good roughage, minerals, and plenty of water. However, a little grain can go a long way if it is relied on activity level, quality of pasture and hay, or even harsh weather.

To avoid your horse from stuffing himself, spread feedings out.

Animals find grain fascinating. Imagine a youngster in a room full of sweets. Make sure your grain is stored in a inaccessible to horses container. Keep an eye on the horses while they eat and place out two buckets of food so that the more dominant ones have a chance to eat as well. If you’re feeding more than one horse at a time, keep an eye on them.

Feeding roughage first is recommended, followed by grain. Before diving into richer foods, it’s similar to eating a salad. Roughage helps the horse digest its feed more effectively, preventing it from overeating or eating too quickly. Grain should be regarded as a supplementary source of nutrients and calories, not the primary one.

Change Slowly

Take your time when modifying your horse’s diet. To avoid your horse from becoming foundered by the increase in sweet, fresh grass, gradually increasing pasture is recommended. Don’t make any modifications to your horse’s routine or diet unless you know what you’re doing. It’s safer to take time to adjust eating habits even if the modifications are required.

Introducing any dietary adjustments over a period of one or two weeks is a good habit to get into. The likelihood of colic or founder in your horses is reduced by this steady, progressive change. This race is won by taking it slowly and steadily.

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