The title sounds complicated but we made it simple. You have Options!
By, Steffany Dragon, MS, CEMT
As always, we promise to keep it practical! Most of a horse’s diet should come from forage right? Yes…a horse should consume at least 1.5-2.0% of their body weight in pasture/hay a day. So why do we feed or supplement? Calories and/or nutrients are often undersupplied to our horses due to inadequate access to quality and/or quantity of forage. So, we commonly utilize feed or supplements to fill in these nutritional gaps.
The best way to identify these gaps is to have your forage tested. In some parts of the country, horse owners rely on various and inconsistent sources and shipments of hay. In those cases, testing each shipment may not be practical or timely enough so we depend on quality feed companies to provide what is lacking. The good news is that commercial fortified horse feeds adhere to the established National Research Council’s (NRC) nutrient requirements for horses. However, there are times when utilizing a diet balancer or supplement in conjunction with or in place of feed may be a better option! Such situations may include feeding an easy keeper (you want to maintain and develop muscle but trim down on the groceries!), optimizing your horse’s health and performance, addressing medical issues or injuries or even during pregnancy or aging. The most common reason a horse needs one of these products is because they do not need to consume the amount of calories it would take for them to also receive adequate fortification per feeding.
One SIMPLE way to know if your feed is NOT adequately providing essential nutrients to your horse is if you are feeding less than the recommended minimum amount per day on the feed bag instructions! If there is only one concept I’d like you to take away from this article it is this: A bag of commercially available equine feed is primarily calories (energy) with a percentage of “fortification”, uniformly mixed in the pellets, grain, etc. This very important fortification includes Amino Acids (protein source), Vitamins, Minerals, Trace Minerals and often pre and probiotics. If a horse is fed at the recommended rate on the feed bag then they are getting the necessary minimum amount of established nutrients by the NRC. If you have to feed less than the minimum daily amount printed on the bag, than not only is the portion of calories smaller…so is the amount of fortification the horse is getting per feeding, leaving your beloved horse unintentionally, nutritionally deficient. Make sense? For an average horse, this typically means feeding a quantity less than 5 lbs of commercially fortified equine feed a day. You might have made the correct decision to feed less because your horse is an ‘easy-keeper’ or overweight, you prefer to feed your calories in forage, your horse needs a very strict low sugar/starch diet or any other reason.
So how then, do we fill in the nutritional gap with the nutrients that are still lacking?
2 Great Solutions:
1. Diet Balancer (also called Ration Balancer) OR
2. Ultra Concentrated Balancer/Supplement
Diet Balancers are a low-calorie source of protein (essential amino acids), vitamins, minerals and possibly digestive aids like pre and probiotics, that compliment whatever forage is offered. Diet Balancers have a low feeding rate because they are mostly made up of the fortification component of the feed, without many calories. You can imagine that a pellet mostly of Amino Acids, Vitamins and Minerals might not be quite as tasty as one with more calories. There are many brands to choose from these days that most horses have no problem enjoying so if your horse is picky about one, chances are he’ll like another! Some examples are: Pro Elite Grass Advantage Diet Balancer, Triple Crown 30% Balancer, Nutrena Empower Balance, Purina Enrich, and Buckeye’s Grow ‘N Win.
Diet balancers are meant to effectively compliment the deficiencies in forage. They may be used as a stand-alone feed especially for easy keepers who need fewer calories or when it is desirable to keep starches and sugars also known as Non-structural Carbohydrates (NSCs) low in a horse’s diet who is dealing with or predisposed to metabolic issues. Diet balancers can also be used as a supplement to your horse’s regular feed if you feed less than the recommended amount, you want to offer more amino acids and support for muscle, hoof and soft tissue health, or you want to customize the calorie portion of the diet with your choice of feedstuffs but need a source for amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc to create a complete and balanced diet.
There are usually 2 choices of diet balancers. The most common is the grass diet balancer. It will provide the nutrients lacking when most of the horse’s total forage consumed is grass (ie. Orchard, Timothy, Bermuda, Bahia, and even T&A, O&A mixtures). The other type is an Alfalfa diet balancer. Keep in mind it is recommended that you ONLY choose the Alfalfa diet balancer if 80% or more of the horse’s entire forage intake (grazing and hay) is Alfalfa. It is important that Calcium content in the diet is at least equal to Phosphorus and preferably two or more times so. Because of Alfalfa’s higher Calcium content, for example, the Ca:Phosphorus ratio in an Alfalfa diet balancer is lower. If you feed Alfalfa with other pasture and grass or mixed hays you would still use the grass diet balancer for your horse to ensure this ratio is kept. If you have a little extra Calcium from the Alfalfa that can be helpful for buffering stomach acid etc. and is also beneficial for a horse that is growing, lactating or pregnant.
Ultra Concentrated Diet Balancers (All-In One Supplement) You Don’t Want to Miss this Option!
Now that you just got the Diet Balancer concept down pat, we throw in this next option…but it can be a great one in many instances! There are ultra concentrated diet balancers, that contain the important fortification we discussed in Diet Balancers, in an even more concentrated form such as ProElite Topline Advantage (formerly Progressive) and Augment by Adeptus. They fall into the all-in-one supplement category (providing quality and bioavailable essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals etc.) that become useful for many situations including:
1. Situation: Your horse is an easy keeper and boarded at a stable that only carries a feed rather than a diet balancer option. They do allow you to supply supplements, however. Solution: Use a small amount of the barn feed as the carrier and topdress it with the supplement.
2. Situation: You cannot afford the top of the line feed for all of your horses but one who
is competing and your mom’s favorite senior horse would really benefit from a higher quality/more bioavailable form of fortification. Solution: Topdress the barn feed for select horses with these supplements that will contribute to muscle, soft tissue health, hoof integrity, skin and coat health.
3. Situation: You customize your horse’s diet. Reasons for choosing various calorie sources
and customizing them will be covered in another article. Imagine for example that you prefer your horse’s calories to come from digestible fiber and fat, with fewer NSCs. So, your horse’s main ‘feed’ might be beet pulp, freshly ground flax seed and chia seeds. I remember well, one of my equine nutrition consultations with a top-notch and knowledgeable warmblood breeder. As she went over her very meticulous and thought out custom diets…she literally forgot about including a source for protein, or more accurately, the essential amino acids the horse’s body needs and can only obtain through diet for muscle, hoof, soft tissue, skin, coat, etc. The reason why it did not show up worse in the horses’ condition and topline evaluation score is because she was strictly feeding only a nice quality and quantity of straight Alfalfa hay that supplied critical amino acids. We then added an alfalfa diet balancer that also included the vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and even pre and probiotics necessary for the horse’s optimum nutrition. Solution: add a diet balancer or one of these concentrated supplements to complete the nutrient profile your horse needs. Since these horse’s ate a diet centered around Alfalfa, I like the Augment product for this situation. At $19.99 for a 24-day supply, it’s not only economical, but effective too!
1. Remember to consult your Veterinarian about possible soil deficiencies or excesses of
minerals or elements in the soil for your area, such as selenium or iron.
2. Referring to a local Equine Nutritionist or Veterinarian is always advised. For example,
because of the very low NSC value in ProElite Topline Advantage containing no corn,
lower iron concentrations, and the inclusion of a proven yeast prebiotic, S. cerevisiae, some equine veterinarians recommend this product over others. The title of this product focuses on ‘topline’ but it is a true, top of the line, All-In-One supplement. It’s maintenance dose costs about a buck a day.
3. These ultra concentrated, all-in-one supplements often singularly, correctly and more
effectively, replace the individual and overlapping tubs of hoof supplement, topline/muscle supplement, vitamin and mineral supplement and digestive aid you may have been adding seperately. That translates to better care while saving money!
4. With these Ultra Concentrated supplements, introduce them s-l-o-w-l-y into the diet for palatability purposes. They are jam-packed with goodness, but not everyone prefers spinach over donuts! Your patience will be worth it.
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