Feeding an easy keeper
DR NERIDA RICHARDS of Feed XL looks at some of the issues surrounding feeding a horse who is overweight or prone to obesity
Overweight horses can’t just be shut up on dirt; they still need balanced nutrition
The mistake a lot of us make with an overweight horse is just thinking that we shouldn’t feed them very much at all, and generally feeding them a very low quality diet or locking them up so they can’t eat much. The problem with doing this is that while you will do a good job of restricting calories and causing weight loss, you will also be severely restricting protein, vitamin and mineral intakes, and in doing that, you are going to cause more health problems than you can imagine.
To feed your easy keeper a restricted calorie diet without compromising health, you should do the following:
Restrict access to good quality pasture or forage
Because most pastures nowdays are designed to fatten cattle, they are now more like double chocolate mudcake than high fibre Allbran for horses, meaning horses grazing them will usually become grossly overweight. Thus, we need to restrict their access to the pasture.
You can do this in one of two ways. First, you can lock your horse up either overnight, or during the day, for a period off the pasture, or you can put a grazing muzzle on your horse. I like the muzzles as they allow your horse to be out wandering around and interacting with herd mates without having access to massive quantities of feed. It also still allows the horses to have their heads down and be chewing all day which helps keep the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts healthy.
Provide access to very low quality hay
Because you are restricting your horse’s forage intake at pasture it is essential that you fill him up with a high fibre forage. Suitable forages include weatherdamaged lucerne hay, cereal crop straw or a very, very mature or weatherdamaged grass hay like stalky pasture hay (be careful to ensure all are free of mould and contaminants).
Your horse’s intake of pasture will determine how much extra forage you have to feed. Around 2% of your horse’s bodyweight (10kg for a 500kg horse) should be the minimum you feed to a horse with no access to pasture. The amount really depends on your horse and the quality of your pasture. To extend the amount of time it takes the horse to eat his hay and help prevent boredom, put the hay into two or three haynets, as this makes it harder for the horse to pull it out and eat, so will keep him chewing for a lot longer.
Add some high quality protein to the diet
While doing the above, you need to make sure that you still meet protein requirements. Failure to meet protein requirements can result in muscle wastage, poor coat and terrible hoof quality.
Full fat soybean or soybean meal contains the best quality plant protein available. You only need to add a small amount (up to 400 grams per day for a 500kg horse on a diet of poor quality hay) to help maintain hoof and coat quality and avoid muscle wastage. You can also feed a small amount of lucerne hay or chaff to add some quality protein.
Ensure vitamin and mineral requirements are met
It is essential you do not compromise the overweight horse’s health by restricting vitamin and mineral requirements. Adding a low dose rate vitamin and mineral supplement to an overweight horse’s diet will meet their vitamin and mineral requirements without adding unneeded calories. You should look for a ‘complete’ vitamin and mineral supplement that is fed at a dose of less than 100g/day. Oils Over the years I have found that horses on restricted diets often lack shine in their coats, even though they are on well-balanced diets with all their protein, vitamin and mineral requirements met. This is likely due to a lack of oils, and more specifically the omega fatty acids in the poor quality forage diets they are being fed. Adding a 1/4 of a cup of oil that contains both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (for example canola or
soybean oil or commercial oils with added omega 3) to their diet per day will make sure they have their essential omega fatty acid requirements met to keep their skin and coat nice and healthy.
Salt All horses should have constant access to a salt lick and easy keepers are no di erent. Always make sure your horses can get to salt. It should also go without saying that they must have constant access to clean, fresh water.
An example diet
A suggested diet for a 500kg easy keeper:
Restricted access (either with grazing muzzle or yarded overnight) to average quality pasture 2 kg/day poor quality meadow hay Up to 100 g/day of a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement 60 ml/day canola oil 250 g/day good quality lucerne cha Free access to salt lick If the pasture quality was ‘poor’ (dried, brown with seedheads present) some full fat soybean would be used to provide quality protein.
Why bother trying to get the weight off?
What we o en don’t recognise is that being overweight for a horse carries just as many health problems as it does for humans. In overweight horses we see increased levels of: insulin resistance laminitis bone and joint wear and tear lack of mobility; and heat stress It is worth the e ort putting together a diet for your overweight horse as he or she will be all the healthier for it. Just giving them poor quality hay or straw or locking them in a tiny dirt paddock is not a solution to weight problems. You must restrict the calories but provide for all their other nutrient needs.