Monthly Archives: January 2018

VMC Equine Feeding Blog 3 – What Type of Feed?

So, you’ve researched the grain company, looked at the labels and you are more confused! Which is better for my horse- the low starch and sugar feed, the high fat feed, the ration balancer, the 12%, the 10%, the organic feed?  Argh – how do I choose??

Take a deep breath.

Let’s start with the most important thing, which is: What type of forage is your horse eating?

Forage is the most important part of the horse’s diet and your concentrate should complement the type of forage that you are feeding.  For instance, you might have great pasture in the summer, but in the winter you are feeding so/so hay. You might need to change what concentrate you feed between the winter and summer from a higher calorie, more fortified feed to a ration balancer.  A change from an alfalfa mix hay to a low-quality hay might mean a change in concentrate as well.

Does this feed meet my horse’s age and use requirements?

The feed requirements for a 10 year old pasture puff and a growing 6 month old weanling are completely different. Geriatric horses are another special population. There is no one feed that will meet the needs of all age and use, despite what you see in the ads!

Does this feed meet my horse’s metabolic needs?

Just like people, horses can vary in their individual needs for calories.  We all know people who can eat all day and never gain weight and the opposite.  Horses are no different. Every horse is an individual and you may need to increase the calorie content of the diet for some, and reduce it for others.  Higher fat feeds supply more calories without supplying more starch and sugar, which is healthier for the horse in general.

Is the feed lower in starch and sugar?

The higher the starch and sugar (NSC), the more the risk associated with metabolic problems, such as laminitis.  The NSC is especially important in feeding horses with equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, Cushings, or history of colic. Unfortunately, some manufacturers are very reluctant to share this vital piece of information.  Also, just like with human foods, the definition of “low” varies from one company to another. Low doesn’t always mean low. Another thing to consider is the volume of feed that you are feeding.  If the label directions are for 6# of a 12% NSC, it might actually be higher in total starch and sugar than 1.5# of a 16%NSC. Another reason to read the label and the feeding directions!

Can I feed it according to the label?

As we discussed in blog 1 and 2, if you are not feeding in the amounts on the feeding direction label, you are not supplying the horse with the minimum requirements of nutrients needed in the diet. So, feeding 1# of feed, when the minimum is 5, or feeding 20# when the maximum is 10, is not optimal for your horse.  I see this all the time when people are feeding a pound of low starch feed to their 1000# horse, because he is already too fat.  If you can’t feed according to the label amounts, you need to change feeds!

 

The take home message is that you need to take your horse’s needs into consideration when choosing a feed and you can change feeds as those needs change.  It’s ok to change feeds seasonally or if the horse’s energy or growth requirements change.   Just do so gradually over a period of 1-2 weeks. If you are not sure, ask your vet or contact a nutritionist. Most feed companies have nutritionists available to answer questions at no charge.

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 2 – The Feed Tag

Welcome to the next segment in our VMC Equine Feeding Blogs!

So now we’ve picked the right feed company.  You are satisfied that you are getting quality ingredients from a horse feed specific mill.  What next?

Pretty much when I ask a horse owner what they are feeding, I get the answer: “It’s a 12 % feed”. Or “I feed low starch feed.  2 scoops a day because my horse is fat”.   When I show them the feed tag, people are usually really surprised to find out that they aren’t feeding the correct feed, or the correct amount.

Let’s start with basics. 

 The Feed Tag

Why read the feed tag?

Well, it’s pretty important.  Have you read the tag on your horse’s feed and do you really know what it says?

First what IS the feed tag?

It’s that little bit of paper attached to the bag.

It tells you:

  • Product name and weight
  • Purpose statement identifying the type of horse intended to be fed. Checking that your feed has been specifically formulated for your class of horse is critical. For example, you would not want to feed a product designed for a “mature horse at maintenance” to a “young growing horse.”
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain nutrients (required by law) – Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Vitamin A, and for feeds that include carbohydrate claims (i.e. low starch, etc.), the sugar and starch levels (when added together, the NSC or non-structural carbohydrates)
  • Ingredient list – this listing may include individual ingredients such as oats or corn, or terms like “grain products”. There is NO information regarding quality of ingredients in a feed. Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of amount present.
  • Feeding directions – Horse feed manufacturers formulate feeds to be fed at a specific range of feeding rates; when a product is not fed according to the directions, the nutritional benefits of that feed won’t be met (as in the example above, if you are feeding 1 lb of a feed designed to be fed at 5 lb daily, you will not be meeting the nutritional values on the bag)

What a horse feed tag does not tell you:

  • Additional nutrients needed by the horse but that aren’t required to be guaranteed
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality. The percentage of protein on the bag (i.e.12%) tells you nothing about the quality of that protein. There are countless ways to blend various ingredients to make a feed with 12 % crude protein. A feed containing 12% crude protein made with high quality ingredients will supply more total protein, and more essential amino acids, to the horse than a feed made with lower quality ingredients. The same principle holds true for fat, fiber, vitamin and mineral sources. Not all ingredients are the same quality, stability or availability for the horse.
  • Just because something is included, doesn’t mean the level is high enough to be meaningful or useful. Even though an ingredient is listed, it could be that just a trace amount was included (yeast cultures for example).
  • Whether or not the guaranteed levels of nutrients are appropriate – when reading horse feed tag guarantees, many horse owners look for the tag with the “most” of everything listed. Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more and sometimes more is worse, possibly even toxic, as in Vitamin A.
  • Quality control – Feed manufacturers have widely differing quality control standards. It’s up to the horse owner to investigate each individual manufacturer’s approach to quality control (see horse feed blog post #1)

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The VMC Equine Feeding Blogs – Part 1

I see a lot of horses, and I see a lot of owners who want to make sure their horses are being fed well. However, I also see a lot of confusion as to what my horse SHOULD be eating, and a lot of incorrect assumptions.  For this reason, I will be presenting a series of blogs on equine feeding. If you have questions please email me at drcallahan@vmceaston.com.

How do I pick the right feed company?

Selecting the right feeds for your horses can be a time consuming and often confusing task. There are multiple options – low starch, high performance, mare and foal, ration balancer, high fat… It makes your head spin!  And the manufacturers, the list seems endless…

To help to narrow down your choices, here is a checklist you can use to help find companies that make high quality, safe, and consistent horse feeds.

Horse dedicated manufacturer

Only a handful of feed manufacturers run a horse dedicated mill. Being horse dedicated means that the risk of anything that could be harmful or even deadly to horses like ionophores (monensin), or antibiotics is eliminated. IF a feed isn’t coming out of a horse dedicated manufacturing facility it is immediately put onto my ‘no’ list. There have been catastrophic mix ups in mixed species mills that have resulted in the deaths of many horses over the years so it just isn’t worth the risk. Choose ones that have dedicated mills.

Set recipes for feeds

There are two main ways a feed can be formulated and made. These are:

  • Least cost mixing, where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels of the feed are set but the manufacturer can choose from any number of ingredients at hand to make up the feed at least cost to them; or
  • The use of set recipes where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels AND the exact ingredients used are never changed.

To work out which method your feeds are currently being made by look at the ingredients list. Feeds made by least cost will have a statement something like ‘Ingredients selected from’ or ‘contains grains including…’ or they will list obscure ingredients like ‘vegetable protein meals’ which can be anything. Because of the way they are made, least cost feeds can have widely varying protein quality and starch contents from batch to batch which is not ideal for horses.

Choosing products from companies that make feeds using set recipes guarantees you a more consistent, higher quality product.

Protein quality and quantity

The quality of protein used in a feed is a major determinant of how well a horse does on that feed. Look for feeds that list high quality protein sources in the ingredients with soybean meal and full fat soybean being the most desirable followed by cottonseed meal, linseed meal (not linseed oil), brewers grains, distillers grains, alfalfa, and corn gluten. When choosing feeds, ask your manufacturer if they run any sort of testing for protein and what their protocol is for ingredients and feeds that don’t make the grade.

Independent laboratory testing

A company can write anything they like on their feed label with regards to the analysis of the feed. While most companies do a good job of this, some don’t, so it is a good idea to ask if the company regularly has its feeds tested by an independent laboratory to verify the contents of its horse feed. These results should also be made readily available to you on request if you wish to see them.

Further, horse feeds contain a high percentage of mineral ingredients including limestone, calcium phosphates and trace mineral premixes. These raw materials can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury so it is also worth asking whether your feed manufacturer tests raw materials and their finished feeds for heavy metals. Their answer should be yes and they should have strict guidelines controlling their maximum allowed heavy metal levels.

 

While there are many other considerations when selecting horse feeds including cost, level of customer service and how well a feed fits your purpose, using the four criteria discussed above will help to narrow down your choices from 60+ companies to just a handful. Once you have your shortlist you can then move on to the finer points for the final selection of feeds for your horses.

That will be in our next blog… Stay tuned!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan