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

NZ Horse & Pony - - In This Issue -

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.

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