Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horse Feed: Feed a Thin Horse This Winter without Going Broke

Do you have a skinny horse? If so, then the approaching cold weather probably has you fretting over the most economical kind of horse feed to offer your horse this winter. Thin horses, often called "hard keepers" are always a challenge to feed, even in good weather, but when the weather turns cold, feeding a thin horse can rack up the feed bills fast. Here are some options you can consider to put and keep weight on your horse this winter.

Factors That Affect a Horse's Weight
There are multiple physical and emotional factors that affect a horse's weight, and this is especially true of the thin horse. Most horse owners probably already know about many of these factors, but I'll cover them quickly anyway.

Teeth: If you horse has not had a float within the last year, it may be time to take him to the veterinarian or equine dentist for a checkup and float. While this will cost you a bit up front, having your horse's teeth in good working order (without sharp points or hooks or ramps) ensures that you get the most out of every bit of feed this winter.

Calorie Needs: Be sure that your horse's basic calorie needs are met. We'll get into the details of what the feed later in this article, but double check that your horse is getting enough calories in his diet. A horse not in work who lives in a stall and wears a blanket during the winter obviously needs fewer calories than a horse in heavy training who lives outdoors in a run or pasture. Your horse also uses more calories in cold than in balmy weather (shivering eats up a lot of calories!).

Parasites: Check your horse's parasite load with a fecal test. If your horse comes up negative for parasites, you may still want to consider giving a double dose of Strongid-type wormer to eliminate tapeworms, which do not appear on fecal analysis.

Stress: Stress can easily cause a horse to lose weight, and horses feel stress in a number of ways. Physical stress can appear in the form of an injury, hard training, or extreme weather conditions (such as extreme cold). Horses can feel emotional stress if their living conditions don't match their personality. For instance, if your horse is low in the pecking order and is constantly being terrorized by his herd mates, he is bound to feel stressed. Also, if your horse is one who needs lots of room to move, keeping him in a stall or run will cause physical and emotional stress, and can even lead to nasty vices like cribbing or weaving. Horses not suited to their occupations will also feel stressed.

Horse Feed for the Thin Horse
If you have checked all of the factors above and your horse passes with flying colors, then it's time to take a deeper look at what you are feeding him. Thin horses come in two categories: low-energy and high energy.

Horse Feed for the Low-Energy Thin Horse
If your horse is thin and has low energy, then adding calories to his diet and improving his ability to digest food will help him gain weight. You can increase his grain content by up to one pound per 100 pounds of body weight per day. Corn and barley provide more energy than oats. Pelleted senior feeds also tend to work well for thin horses. You can also add up to a cup of corn oil per day to his feed, along with alfalfa to provide extra energy and calories. If you horse is picky about eating grain but likes to eat hay, he may have ulcers that need to be addressed.

To improve your horse's ability to digest his food, consider adding high-quality acidophilus and bifudus to his food, along with high-powered enzymes. Blue-green algae also provides a wide-spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals to cover any nutritional gaps that may be present in his diet. I find that a packet or two of Simplexity Health's Essentials is a good "all in one" source for acidophilus, bifidus, enzymes, and blue-green algae.

Horse Feed for the High-Energy Thin Horse
If your horse is thin and has high energy, then chances are that he loses weight through sheer nervous tension and continuous movement. To help this kind horse retain weight, the goal is to keep him calm and relaxed. This kind of horse gains weight more quickly with increased grass hay and some alfalfa. Increased grain does not seem to work as well. In addition to feeding him more calories, adding higher doses of probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus can help a lot. A healthy population of probiotics in the gut helps your horse produce B-vitamins, which results in a calmer and more relaxed horse. Simplexity Health's Omega Sun Algae also helps many high-strung horses calm down because it positively affects the horse's nervous system and brainwaves.

Horse Feed and the Thin Horse
Obviously no "cookie cutter" recipe of horse feed is going to work perfectly on every thin horse, but hopefully this gets you started on thinking about economical ways to feed your thin horse this winter. I have one thin horse (the low-energy kind) to feed this winter and he is already gaining weight from increased hay, alfalfa, senior feed, plus probiotics, algae, enzymes, and mangosteen juice (get the recipe for this "horse goo" HERE). He's living high on the hog ... and loving every minute of it!

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1 comment:

  1. Horses need proper nutrition to stay healthy and active. Horse feeds are available as bulk or bagged custom mixes.