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March 2012 - How can we ensure the very best ration for a horse?

haybal + vatten = ensilage 

To feed a horse well, you must first select the particular feeds you want to use, and then decide on a daily allowance for each. This is easy enough in theory, but in practice there are some common pitfalls.

In addition to the nutrients that a ration has to provide, there are several other requirements you have to take into account. The first is to make sure your horse has enough to eat! That is, the ration should contain sufficient feed for the horse to feel full. This feeling of fullness is vital for the horse's well-being and mental health, and prevents the development of stereotypical behaviour such as crib-biting, wind-sucking and tongue-rolling. Generally, a horse that feels naturally full works well in most situations, and better than a horse that is constantly searching for more food. So the question then is how much food should a horse have to feel naturally full and satisfied?

Here are some simple guidelines:

When considering how much a horse should be given to eat, it is of great importance to determine how dry or how moist the feed is. It is the dry matter in a feed that provides energy and nutrients, not the water. For feeds which are fed in moistened form, like beet pulp, this is generally easy, since the amount can be measured dry before the water is added. To control the amount of a water-rich feed such as haylage so that the dry matter you feed corresponds to a particular amount of a dry feed you have to make a calculation.

Since water content is so important for overall nutrient value, you need to have, or to make, an analysis of the dry matter content of your haylage. The dry matter analysis informs us how much of the feed is dry material remaining after the drying process and how much is water.

The water in a feed does not give the horse satiety, nor does it contribute nutrients. Therefore it is vital to be able to “compare” feeds on an equivalent dry matter basis when composing rations. Most feed analysis gives the dry matter content in any sample as a percentage. If an analysis of haylage gives a figure of 65% dry matter, you know that the roughage being fed consists of 65% dry material and 35% water.

To assess the amount of haylage you need to feed a horse, it is customary to convert its solids content to that of standard hay. The daily ration given to a horse should contain the equivalent of about 1.5 kg hay per 100 kg body weight, in order to keep the digestive functions working optimally. Hay contains about 85% solids and 15% water.

Here is an example that may help you with the kind of calculations you may need to do.

If your adult horse weighs 500 kg, you are recommended to provide around 7.5 kg of dry hay per day. When using roughages with higher water content than 15%, for example haylage and macerated beet pulp, you need to calculate how many kilos of your own forage are equivalent to 7,5 kg of hay. So, to determine the equivalent amount of your own moist feed that you need to provide if your horse requires 7.5 kg dry hay per day, multiply 7.5 kg by 85 (which is the standard dry matter percentage of hay), and divide that by the dry matter percentage of your own feed. In our example above, your moist feed percentage is 65.

This gives us the calculation: 7.5 * 85/65 = 9.8 kg.

Therefore you must provide your horse with 9.8 kg haylage if it is to get the same amount of dry matter as it would from 7.5 kg of hay. If your haylage only contained 50% dry matter, you would have to feed 12.8 kg in order to deliver the recommended amount of dry matter.

In this way, once you have ensured that your horse will get sufficient amounts of roughage in the ration, you can go ahead and give concentrates, vegetable oil, vitamin- and mineral-supplements plus any additional feed types to supplement the ration. Use the PC-Horse program to check that the ration provides adequate amounts of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins to meet your horse's needs. If horses are described and defined correctly within the PC-Horse program, it will be easy to check that rations formulated are meeting optimal requirements.

One other question remains: How much can I expect my horse to eat per day?

To answer this, start from the assumption that a horse will eat about 2.5 kg dry feed per 100 kg of body weight. This will apply to adult horses in the maintenance category in PC-Horse. Young growing horses, exercised horses and brood mares will eat more of both roughage and concentrates, and they will be likely to need a daily feed intake of 3.0 kg dry feed per 100 kg of body weight. Remember though, that this is only a recommendation. There are always individual differences in how much horses eat - just like people!

This article was originally written by Dr. Day Austbø.
Copyright: PC-Horse International - Norway 2012.
Feel free to use and publish the material. Please indicate the source and author.