2. All about calo­ries

Your Horse (UK) - - Horse Care -

Feed for need — not want

A calo­rie is a unit of en­ergy and there­fore calo­ries and en­ergy are the same thing. This is why, when deal­ing with an over­weight horse who re­quires more en­ergy, just feed­ing a higher-en­ergy feed is not help­ful as he’ll be get­ting more calo­ries. In­stead, sup­port­ing weight loss and work­ing on fit­ness lev­els is more use­ful. When think­ing about calo­ries in horses, it’s very sim­i­lar to in hu­mans. Take an adult woman, for ex­am­ple. If she did very lit­tle ex­er­cise and had a low me­tab­o­lism, she would re­quire fewer calo­ries than her friend who works out at the gym ev­ery day. Horses re­quire more calo­ries than hu­mans due to their size, but the ba­sic prin­ci­ples still ap­ply. Your horse uses en­ergy (calo­ries) ex­pressed as mega­joules (MJ) for day to day main­te­nance and ex­er­cise. Calo­ries not used for th­ese pur­poses get stored as fat, ready for a time when your horse doesn’t have enough to eat. The trou­ble is, for do­mes­tic horses this day sel­dom comes and weight gain in­evitably be­comes an is­sue.

A weighty is­sue

Body con­di­tion scor­ing will help you iden­tify if your horse is the right weight and it’s the best way for you to gauge whether his calo­rie in­take is right for him. Many feed com­pa­nies and some equine char­i­ties pro­duce con­di­tion scor­ing guides to help with this, and it’s worth check­ing your horse weekly so you spot changes quickly. If your horse is over­weight, you need to re­duce the num­ber of calo­ries in his diet. If he’s un­der­weight, you may need to in­crease them, but bear in mind that this does de­pend on the time of year. For in­stance, if your horse is slightly un­der­weight at the end of win­ter, be­ing out at grass in the spring will cre­ate an in­crease in calo­ries nat­u­rally, pos­si­bly with­out you need­ing to make any changes.

Cal­cu­lat­ing what he needs

There are var­i­ous fac­tors, in­clud­ing weight and work­load, that im­pact on the amount of feed you need to give your horse. As a gen­eral rule you should feed a

per­cent­age of your horse’s body­weight in feed, de­pend­ing on the con­di­tion he’s in. As a gen­eral rule, once you have body con­di­tion-scored your horse: If he’s about the right weight he will need to be given 2% of his body­weight in feed. If he needs to lose weight he’ll need 1.5% of his body­weight in feed. If he’s un­der­weight or in hard work he’ll need 2.5% of his body­weight in feed. Bear in mind that this per­cent­age fig­ure doesn’t just in­clude hard feed, but for­age and graz­ing too, so once you have a daily to­tal fig­ure you can de­cide how much of this will come from for­age/graz­ing and how much from hard feed. Many horses will get away with a for­age-only diet in con­junc­tion with an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ancer. For those work­ing harder, or who strug­gle to keep weight on, you will also need to give hard feed to pro­vide suf­fi­cient calo­ries, while still main­tain­ing a good for­age in­take. When choos­ing a hard feed be aware that calo­ries are not the only thing you need to con­sider. Your horse’s tem­per­a­ment and clin­i­cal his­tory will have a big im­pact on how you de­cide to sup­ply those calo­ries. For ex­am­ple, a horse with gas­tric ul­cers would be best suited to hav­ing calo­ries sup­plied from a feed with highly di­gestible fi­bres and oils with a con­trolled level of starch.

Tot­ting up the calo­ries

If you’re not sure how calorific a feed is, then look at how many mega­joules per kg are be­ing de­liv­ered from the feed as a guide. Typ­i­cal amounts are: ● Leisure feed: 8-10 MJ/Kg ● Com­pe­ti­tion feed: 11-13 MJ/Kg ● Con­di­tion­ing feed: 12-13 MJ/Kg How­ever, while many peo­ple get hung up on the calo­ries in their horse’s hard feed, they of­ten tend to un­der­es­ti­mate the value of their for­age and graz­ing. Own­ers de­lib­er­ate over how much chaff to feed — which makes up very lit­tle of the to­tal diet — while not weigh­ing out hay or prop­erly as­sess­ing their graz­ing regime. If your horse is over­weight, re­mem­ber that grass is usu­ally the largest con­trib­u­tor to ex­ces­sive calo­rie in­take. For a help­ful body con­di­tion­ing scor­ing chart, go to blue­cross.org.uk/pet-ad­vice/ how-body-score-your-horse. For more in­for­ma­tion about nu­tri­tion­ist Donna Case, visit the­horse­feedguru.com.

If you’re strug­gling to do up your horse’s girth, it’s time to start count­ing calo­ries

Your horse’s work­load should be taken into ac­count when de­cid­ing on his feed­ing regime

Us­ing a weigh tape along­side body con­di­tion scor­ing is re­ally help­ful. Although weigh tapes can be a lit­tle in­con­sis­tent, if you weigh at the same time of day, on the same day each week, it will pro­vide you with a good idea of whether your horse’s weight is go­ing up or down. Then you can make any ad­just­ments be­fore it be­comes an is­sue. Use a weigh tape to make sure your horse isn’t too fat or too lean

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate how many calo­ries your horse gets from graz­ing

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