Published by Sarah Braithwaite, Author & Horse Health Expert on
Winter horse feeding to make sure your horse has the right balance of nutrients will ensure your horse keeps healthy and active throughout the long dark months. Calories are often the easy part of horse feeding but how do you know what nutrients and at what level they are needed in the daily diet to protect the health of skin, hooves, and maintain optimum horse health?
There are many horse supplements on the market but choosing which one will give your horse the winter minerals and vitamins it needs can be confusing. Forageplus discusses ten ways to know what nutrients are best to focus on for the healthiest horse in winter.
Your horse needs the right fuel in the right amounts, just like a car, to run correctly. Correctly fueling your horse is essential for resilient health, soundness and longevity. A car, when it breaks, needs new parts which are easy to replace. A horse constantly needs to repair, replace and in the case of performance horses and young horses, build their bodies. A car uses petrol or diesel as fuel your horse uses nutrition.
Horses usually gain their nutrition from three places: water, forage (grass, hay or haylage) and bagged feed. Like humans they need guaranteed amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Humans get their food from many differing sources but horses largely have to concentrate on one source, forage. Many owners concentrate on the bagged feed their horse eats, worrying which one is the best to feed. Owners are led to believe a bag of feed will have the main impact on their horse’s nutrition and health. In reality, because of the amount of forage consumed, bagged feeds are a very small part of the horse’s diet.
Most of a horse’s winter nutrition comes from hay or haylage. Even if you are lucky enough to own a lot of land, horses will usually need supplemental feeding in the form of hay through the winter months. This is because even though there might be grass to eat the nutritional value of that grass, particularly the protein levels, will plumet as the weather gets colder. After a frost you may notice that your horse finds longer grass less palatable and will choose summer cut hay or haylage over longer winter grass.
Low levels of protein in the diet will lead horses to be hungry. This leads to the over eating of feed as the body seeks to maintain the level of protein needed for good health. Then there is balance of minerals. Hay and haylage is just dried grass and if the the dried grass eaten is not balanced, neither is the overall diet.
Farmers know that balancing diets to the forage the animal eats is essential. The agricultural business has been balancing the nutrition their animals need, to the forage eaten, for many years because it provides them with healthier animals and better profit.
Balanced nutrition for their cows and sheep means more milk and more meat but it also means less disease. This approach means farmers create the healthiest, most robust animals. Farmers know that calories alone won’t get them there. Farmers know that quality protein, adequate vitamins and carefully balanced minerals make the difference.
Here at Forageplus™ we know the difference a forage based approach makes to horses which is why we carry out analysis of forage. This is why our philoposphy starts with the grass, hay or haylage horses eat. We scientifically test hundreds of samples of grass, hay or haylage that owners feed to their horses from all over the UK and Europe.
This forage, grass or hay, makes up the greatest proportion of horse’s diets in both winter and summer and it is vital to understand it contains many nutrients. In winter when the weather is cold horses will eat more forage. This is where they will get the greatest amount of calories, protein and because it makes up the greatest proportion of the diet. Yes a bucket feed may need to be given but if you can match to the nutrients in the winter grass, hay or haylage eaten you can boost the effectiveness of the chemistry which powers the health of the horse.
Forage, grass, hay and haylage has the greatest impact on what nutrients the horse is exposed to and what nutrients the horse is lacking in so forage is where you should start and match to when feeding for healthy horses.Ten ways to know what minerals horses need to be healthy and get a balanced diet everyday in winter Click To Tweet
Use of land will affect soil pH, mineral levels in the soil and the level of compaction. Soil pH will affect the mineral uptake by the grass and often result in high manganese levels. Compaction will affect mineral levels in grass, reducing drainage and often resulting in high iron levels. Over grazing too will affect mineral uptake, weakening grass so the roots become shallow and have less access to minerals. Mineral levels affect soil balance. Where soil has been looked after and the balance of minerals attended to carefully then mineral levels will be very different in this field to a field where no attention has been paid to soil health. A formula for a horse feed balancer which takes account of all these differences or actually tests grass, hay or haylage is the only way to make sure that you are feeding the minerals your horse needs each day.
Mineral supplements that have a little bit of everything: This ‘scatter gun’ approach will often mean you are over supplementing unwanted antagonistic minerals and under supplementing those important minerals required to balance a horse’s daily diet. A ratio approach based on scientific analysis of many forage samples and a wide statistical average is far superior.
Regional balancers: There can be huge variability in the mineral and nutritional composition of forage within a region and even between neighbouring fields as described in points 9 and 10 above. Without in-depth statistical analysis of the forage composition inside the region as well as the region outside of the specified area there is a risk that any regional balancer has been formulated using a narrow/limited database making it prone to statistical error and/or error due to the presence of outliers in the dataset. If in doubt always ask to review the data for any balancer claiming to be based on statistical analysis.