1. Micronutrients explored
ENTER ANY FEED store and you’ll be greeted by a diverse array of feed bags and bales of forage. Plus treats, of course. With the enormous choice available these days, it’s all a bit mind-boggling. But one rule holds true — feeding what your horse needs for his lifestage, condition and the work expected of him is essential, and it’s why understanding the role of calories and micronutrients in your horse’s diet will help you keep him in tip-top health.
A vital ingredient
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your horse needs every day to keep him healthy. They maintain and support all his bodily functions, including supporting the immune system and bone and teeth structure. They’re also essential for nerve and muscle functioning and to help promote good eyesight. Basically, your horse needs them for his general health and wellbeing. Micronutrients are required in very small quantities — the name micro gives it away. But make no mistake, their role is extremely important, and getting the correct balance is critical for a happy, healthy horse. Some vitamins are made internally, but not vitamins A or E, so your horse will need to get these from his diet. Demand for other vitamins varies, which is why manufacturers include a broad spectrum in most feeds to avoid deficiency developing. Check the list of ingredients and values on the back of the feed bag to ensure your horse is getting the right amounts. Most nutritionists and feed companies use the nutrient levels published by the National Research Council (NRC) to ensure your horse is getting what he needs.
Where to find these dynamos
All feedstuffs contain varying levels of micronutrients, from grazing and hay through to hard feed and supplements. If you’re feeding a forage-only diet, then a broadspectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer can be an effective way of ensuring most daily micronutrient requirements are met. Forage alone won’t do this. When feeding your horse supplements, always question why you’re feeding them and ensure you know what they contain. Don’t feed a supplement for fashion, or because your f riend does — understand the rationale behind why you’re giving it and whether it’s safe to be used in conjunction with any other feeds and supplements you’re feeding. Do your homework and choose wisely. Once you’ve decided on a supplement, follow the feeding recommendations on the label so that you feed it at the correct levels.
Why he needs micronutrients
A lack or imbalance of micronutrients — or, in some cases, toxic levels of them — can lead to failure to thrive, poor hoof quality, a dull coat, weight loss, depression, dehydration, hair loss and, in the worst-case scenario, death. Certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A and D, sodium, copper, zinc, iron, iodine and selenium, are harmful if fed in excess, so be extremely careful when
feeding multiple feeds or feed supplements. The most commonly seen signs of vitamin imbalance are poor hoof quality and a dull coat, which are easy to spot, so if you notice these and are unsure of the cause, call your vet. A nutritionist (either independent or from a feed manufacturer), will be happy to give advice on what to feed your horse for his particular lifestyle. Many manufacturers have free helplines you can call for advice. A horse’s micronutrient requirements will change depending on his lifestage. Supplementation is particularly useful for: ● Breeding mares ● Youngstock ● Competition horses ● Older horses ● Horses and ponies with laminitis Supplements are fed as either granules or pellets, a block or brick, or a balancer. A nutritionist will be able to help you decide which would be best suited to your horse.
The feed packaging will tell you all you need to know Unlike humans, horses don’t tend to become deficient in iron as the amount in their forage typically exceeds their daily requirement. So, it’s important not to feed supplements that contain iron without having consulted a nutritionist first, as this could cause toxicity.
Essential nutrients are in everything your horse eats
Horses will need different amounts of micronutrients at various stages of their lives