With the conditioning season gearing up, snow storms and ice notwithstanding , it’s still time to start thinking about the feeding program for the season. While winter has loomed, our horses have been fed straight hay with the occasional beet pulp for a treat and free choice mineral/salt. Last fall, I did a fairly comprehensive review of feeding requirements in relation to digestible energy, calorie in take, etc that you can read about here. ...and I will warn you, I am bit of a nut when it comes to nutrition for my horses...
It’s easy to get lost in all of the mumbo jumbo of KCAL, DE, Calcium to Phosphorus ratio, etc , etc. In my ongoing quest with nutritional analysis, I finally narrowed it down to focusing a just a few important facts. Really, it’s pretty simple…
Low Protein levels (<13%)
Increased Fiber, Increased Fat
Starches that are easily absorbed in the small intestine.
There are a lot of articles out there on feeding the endurance horse and there are a lot of blogs out there that have also done a write up of feeding the endurance horse by much more qualified persons than myself, so I won’t duplicate efforts here.
I found that during this decision making process, it was quite easy to get caught up in the myriad of choices available. Each company tries to sway the consumer by coming up with the most eye appealing packaging. The more I looked, the more questions bubbled to the surface. If I chose one brand name, then I was left to decide what the type of feed I want within that brand , such as extruded, textured, pelletized, complete or just a supplemental type feed. I also found that I consistently ran into a situation where one product would have the Fat and Fiber %’s where I wanted them, but the protein levels were way to high, or vice versa. After several head spinning trips to the feed stores, reading feed tags, comparing prices , emails and phone conversations with feed dealers, vets, and so on, it seems that I have come full circle.
As much as I did like some of the products out there and definitely would consider them in the future, I kept coming back to one thing. Whole Foods. On a personal level, when given a choice, whole foods are always better than “processed” foods with the human diet. Why should that be any different with my horses diet? With all the top name grains out on the market today, there seems to be a lot of processing going on. I am just not convinced that is necessarily a good thing. Keeping to the basics, like feeding oats, seemed to make more sense to me and frankly, makes me less nervous about digestive upset. At the same time, I have fed some of the name brand grains in the past, like Strategy, Omolene, etc and had some very good results, so I really did have to weigh all the factors.
I have decided that I will put JB whole oats (yes, whole oats, I’ll explain shortly) with beet pulp, ground flaxseed for his Omega’s and fat and then a daily multi vitamin like Horse Guard. Now, before I go much further, for those of you reading this that are fellow endurance riders, I know some of you might be cringing. I realize that oats really aren’t that popular in the endurance sport but please read on….
I found a lot of information on why oats might not be a good fit for an endurance horses and I did a little digging into this. Oats have been fed to horses for a very long time with pretty good success. As it turns out, the worst part about Oats for an endurance horse is that oats tend to create a bit of a glycogen spike 1.5 to 3 hrs after consumption, also known as the dreaded “sugar high”. They are also not as low in the protein level as endurance riders like to see, but certainly not any higher than some of the other grains out on the market. According to what I was able to research, on average, oats run somewhere in the 12-13% range in protein level. Interestingly enough, the quality of the protein is not considered excellent (adequate amino acids) As an example, if your feeding young growing horses, you may not want to feed oats alone for example to meet the nutritional needs of a growing horse. On the plus side, Oats are much less likely to cause digestive problems because of the fiber content. The part that really sold me on oats is that they have very high prececal starch digestibility, somewhere in the 80- 90%. That is the key when considering starch levels. This means that the starch is digested in the small intestine and that is exactly where it needs to be digested, as opposed to the large intestine. Corn or barley by comparison, is not well digested in the foregut. This is when a horse can run into trouble when starch leaks into the large intestine(colic, laminitis , insufficient absorption of minerals) The sugar high effect of oats I mentioned earlier really doesn’t have me overly concerned because I feel that I can manage that with my horses feeding schedule. It will be several hours before and several hours after conditioning that my horse will receive his grain. I will monitor JB’s highs and lows and adjust as needed if it does become a problem. ….And.. ofcourse, he won’t be getting oats on race days.
One other point to consider is that oats can have an imbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio with Calcium being on the lower side. This is more of a concern when feeding a large amount of oats (over 7 lbs per day)but the recommendations to keep this in sync is to either feed some alfalfa hay or supplement. Our hay already has some alfalfa in it. JB is also supplemented with Horse Guard and he has access to a mineral/salt lick . My vet feels this is not something to be concerned about. However, I would suggest that anyone check with their vet as hay can be different depending on the area and every horse is different as well.
On another note, Oats can be much more economical for me as I can access whole oats in bulk from a local farmer. I can purchase 100# of oats for $10. The only downfall is that you have to put in a little extra work to go get the grain yourself and load the oats but I can deal!!
When I considered the alternative options of brand name grains, I will still be ahead based on price and ration needed to feed. I will likely feed JB approx 3 lbs (dry weight) of beet pulp per day to JB and adjust as needed. Rebel is a much easier keep so he will likely get less.
In addition to the oats and beet pulp, I mentioned Flax seed and Horse Guard as well. Flax seed is also something I can buy in bulk and would run me pennies a day to supplement. Flax will provide needed Fat and Omega’s. Horseguard is a vitamin /mineral supplement that I have fed for years and feel very comfortable with. It runs about .48 cents a day per horse if you buy the 28 day supply.
If I had decided to go with one of the grains available off the shelf, I probably would have chosen either LMF Gold, Ultium, or the Nutrena Empower product as a top dress with beet pulp. My vet liked the oat with beet pulp or the Empower with the beet pulp choices the best.
So, what is everyone else feeding out there in the great big world? What are your likes and dislikes of your feeding programs