Last Updated: | By Sarah Braithwaite, Author & Horse Health Expert
Many owners want to understand the balance of their horse’s feed better and ask the question “Is my horse diet balanced with a commercial balancer or feed?”. Understanding if the feed balancer and bagged feed your horse eats matches grass and hay is an important consideration for long term health and horse resilience.
The answer to this question is possibly not!
We say possibly not because currently most commercial balancers and feeds have vitamin and mineral premixes added which are broad spectrum. This approach is very much a broad, scatter-gun method supplementing all the minerals a horse is believed to need at low levels as determined by NRC daily minimum levels.
There are bagged feeds on the market too which are just natural products such as grass nuts and forage cubes, beet pulp, alfalfa pellets and hay chops. These feeds are usually not fortified with any minerals and vitamins and although excellent feeds are not balanced. If in doubt read the white label to check the analysis of the feed you feed to check exactly whether it is fortified or not.Broad spectrum or forage focused vitamins and minerals? Which is best for your horse? Click To Tweet
The ‘forage focused’™ approach adopts a different strategy to the broad spectrum one. We believe this ‘forage focused’™ method, where selected minerals and vitamins which are known to be deficient are supplemented, is better. This can be done by referencing scientific analysis of grass, hay and haylage, and testing what your horse eats. This is a superior approach over the broad spectrum one and an efficient supplement approach to targeted horse supplementation.
We always start with the greatest proportion of a horse’s diet which is grass, hay or haylage and work forwards from there. It is clear that using the Nutritional Research Council minimums, at the same time as looking at that which is contained in grass, hay or haylage, results in a horse diet balanced so that an excess of one mineral does not block the absorption of another.
The answer to this question is it depends!
We say it depends because it depends what levels of nutrients are already contained in forage. Forage is where horses get the greatest amounts of minerals and vitamins and so levels in grass, hay or haylage determine the levels needed to be supplemented.
A feed or supplement can only be said to be balanced if it is balanced to the levels of nutrients in forage. If the bag says balanced what that truly means is that it is only balanced to itself and the minimum daily levels of nutrients advised by the Nutritional Research Council data.A balanced feed for horses is balanced to the levels of nutrients in grass, hay or haylage.Click To Tweet
If the grass, hay or haylage your horse eats is not high in iron, not high in manganese, and not high in calcium then the broad spectrum approach is likely to work. If on the other hand the forage your horse eats is high in these minerals then you may find that you need more to support a healthy horse into ripe old age.
Our research into forage all over the UK and Europe supports a more ‘forage focused’™ approach because we find that levels of calcium are either perfect or too high. Levels of iron and manganese are usually high which results in the locking up of crucial minerals such as copper and zinc. Careful balancing of minerals such as phosphorous and magnesium is also needed as too much calcium will block the absorption of both these very important major minerals.
Lastly the depends answer, depends on how much you are feeding of a concentrate bagged feed or feed balancer. Many owners find they can’t can’t feed enough feed because the feed energy (calories) contained in the feed contributes to making their horse overweight, or more overweight. They feel that they cannot feed the amount recommended and so an approach which supplements only the minerals, nutritionally focused to target those nutrients low in forage and carried in an amount of feed matched to the energy needs of the horse, is a different way to feed but it certainly is an intelligent one!