Monthly Archives: February 2018

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 5 – Ration Balancers

In the last segment of our nutrition blog, I want to talk about ration or diet balancers.

In many cases, they are the perfect feed to feed our easy keepers or laminitic horses, as well as our horses on poor quality hay.

Why do I like them so much and what are they?

If the forage supplies adequate energy, horses will either maintain their weight or gain weight, and this may seem as though all of the other nutrient requirements are being met.

Unfortunately, with today’s forages this may be a false assumption. Many times, there are inadequate amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals in the forage required for the work asked of the horse, whether it is performance, growth, or reproduction.

Easy keepers are sometimes fed lower nutritional quality hays at lower amounts to reduce calorie intake. They may need additional protein just to meet requirements.

But beyond just meeting requirements there is the issue of protein quality.  Even a grass hay that provides adequate crude protein might lack adequate levels of some essential amino acids.

Ration balancers not only provide crude protein, they tend to provide guaranteed levels of the most limiting essential amino acids, such as lysine and methionine, that are vital.

The advantage of using a balancer pellet is that the horse owner can meet the horse’s requirement for protein, vitamins, and minerals.

A balancer pellet can be used three ways:

1) alone as a low-calorie source of protein, vitamins, and minerals;

2) combined with straight grains, such as oats or corn or

3) as a top-dress for a concentrate fed at less than the recommended feeding rate.

There are two different kinds of balancers: one to feed with grass diets and one to feed with alfalfa diets. This is because the nutrients are formulated to complement your horse’s diet.

If your horse consumes more than 50% of his forage in grass, pasture or grass hay, he should have the grass formula. If he consumes more than 50% of his forage in alfalfa, then he should have the alfalfa formula.

Why are they good?

  • They are low calorie and low starch
  • They are meant to be fed in small amounts (1-2# day).
  • They have little grain content
  • They have added high quality proteins such as lysine and methionine, which aren’t present in lower quality hay and pasture

Common misconceptions

  • They cost more and are too expensive
  • They have too much protein (Egads – 30%!!!)- my horse will get high or it will stress his kidneys

So, first the expense

A bag of balancer is going to cost around $30, while a high end sweet feed costs somewhere around $16. How can the balancer be cheaper?!?

It comes down to amounts that must be fed.  Feed 2 # of balancer per day (what the label says for your horse – remember that label!), vs the 7# of feed the sweet feed bag label says.  The bag of balancer will last you 25 days, the sweet feed 7 days. So, you will spend 3 times as much on the sweet feed, and be feeding your horse way more grain – not an ideal situation.

If you reduce the amount of sweet feed, yes, it will make your bag last longer, but remember that label?  That feed is meant to be fed in the minimum amount on the bag.  If you aren’t, you aren’t feeding a balanced diet.

Ok, how about all that protein!?!

Use a comparison in protein levels between ration balancers and performance feeds. Most performance feeds have crude protein levels around 12% and a daily recommended intake upwards of 5 pounds per day. At 5 pounds per day this would provide 0.6 pound of protein or the same as two pounds of the 30% ration balancer. In fact, performance feeds given at the upper ends of the recommended feeding levels provide far more protein a day than the ration balancer.

When should you not use a ration balancer?

  • If you are feeding adequate amounts (i.e. label amounts) of a high-quality feed and forage.
  • If you need more energy in the diet (to increase weight, to add more energy), you will need to add a source of calories such as fats or grains. Increasing the ration balancer does not add more calories and here is a case where more does not equal better.

When should you use one?

  • Poor quality forage or hay
  • Poor muscling, poor toplines
  • Dieting horses (laminitic, Cushings)
  • Easy keepers
  • Whenever you are not feeding the given feeds according to label directions

Thank you, and let me now if you have any questions!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, MSOL, DVM, DACT, DABVP

drcallahan@vmceaston.com

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 4 – Natural and Non-GMO Feeds

How about “Natural” feeds – is this a better option for my horse?

How about non-GMO feeds?

Surely, they are better – after all, they are more natural!

Well, maybe not…

The horse’s natural diet is composed of forage and forage alone, but since we ask our modern horses to perform a variety of unnatural things, we have to provide the additional calories they need. Our grasses and pastures are on depleted soil, so the hay, grass, or pasture is not balanced in itself.

Some people seem to think feeding unprocessed grains, and non-GMO grains is better for the horse. But, generally, the advantages of feeding straight grains (without additional fortification) are few and the “non-GMO” label has to be taken with a grain of salt.

First, let’s discuss the unprocessed grain diet, i.e. “Natural”

What are cereal grains?

  • Oats – Oats are palatable and easy to chew, less susceptible to mold and are considered a safe grain since starch from oats is easily digested in the small intestine. However, they don’t offer all the nutrients needed, cannot be considered a complete feed, and processed oats have a short shelf life.
  • Corn – Most horses like the taste of corn. But it’s high in starch (70%), low in protein, may not be completely digestible in the small intestine in large amounts, and undigested starch can trigger colic or laminitis. Also, it molds easily if not stored properly and moldy corn can cause death in horses.
  • Barley – Barley contains high energy, moderate protein and low fiber. Crude protein from barley is easier to digest than corn, and the energy is higher than oats, but barley starch has low digestibility in small intestine, and it molds easily if not stored properly.

The problem with just feeding cereal grains is that they vary widely in their nutrient profile. Some have adequate protein for a mature horse when paired with grass hay, but others do not. Cereal grains do not contain a balanced nutrient profile, and they must be paired with some type of additional fortification.  A straight cereal grain diet is unsuitable for young, growing, or geriatric horses, due to the lack of the essential amino acids especially lysine and methionine.

In order to make grains digestible for the horse, they must be processed in some way such as crimping, rolling, steaming or cooking. Cereal grains also are a high starch meal. The horse’s digestive system is easily upset with high starch meals, and big swings in insulin can result, leading to insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome and in young horses, possible links to OCD development.

Hard keepers may not be able to take in enough calories from a cereal grain ration; the use of fats and fibers in commercial feeds allow them to condense the number of calories per pound.

Why a Concentrate?

Concentrates, or commercial feeds are formulated specifically for the needs of a horse and a certain class, type or usage.  If chosen and used properly, commercial feeds represent the total nutrition package. Benefits of commercial feeds include:

  • They’re uniform and consistent.
  • They’re generally easy to digest.
  • They have an extended shelf life.
  • They guarantee a consistent intake of nutrients.
  • They simplify ration balancing.
  • They give the owner options for horses with problems such as poor teeth or respiratory tract disorders or poor forage availability.

How about non-GMO feeds – are they better?

Non-GMO means that the ingredients do not contain genetically modified organisms. A GMO is a plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification, or transgenic technology. Virtually all the soybean crop, as well as corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton in the US is now GMO.

Certain crops grown in the U.S. are not genetically engineered, and these include oats, barley, wheat, rice, sorghum, and millet.

Unfortunately, the term “Non- GMO“ product is not federally regulated; therefore, companies are on the honor system.

The problems?

  • Sourcing non-GMO product is difficult and these crops are more expensive, which raises the price of the feed substantially.
  • The feed is produced in mills that also use GMO products, so the feed will have residues (or more) GMO products in them.
  • Some products, such as soybeans, have no non-GMO alternative. That means that soybeans are not included in non-GMO feed.  Soybeans are rich in lysine, an essential amino acid.  For that reason, the non-GMO feeds are not suitable for young, growing horses or broodmares, as the lysine content is too low, and the protein is made up of lesser quality amino acids.
  • These feeds tend to be higher in starch and sugar, and usually are not suitable for horses with Cushings, equine metabolic syndrome, or those who are starch sensitive.

So, if you are willing to pay at least $2-$3 more per bag, and you are feeding a mature animal with no health or weight issues, the non-GMO feeds may be suitable to feed.  If you don’t want to feed them, be reassured that long term studies in multiple species have shown no difference between those fed GMO and those fed non-GMO feeds…

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan