What's in Your Feed Bucket?
I want to preface this post by saying I'm not intending it to be a be-all end-all opinion, and more that I want to open up a discussion I wish I had had before.
I've been riding since I was about five years old, and I never gave one thought to what any of them were eating. Horses eat hay and some type of grain which varied depending on the fanciness of the barn and fatty points of the horse. When I first started riding there was almost no variety to what we fed, literally scooping a can of corn for meals.
Now things are more complicated - every grain company comes out with a different kind of inventive food. High sugar, low sugar, high fat, protein, sport, mare, senior and every combination in between. I've had horses on buckets of grain and beet pulp, with different additives for calmness, shiny-ness, hoof strength and fat. I didn't personally know anything about it, but someone knowledgeable and in charge did and that was enough for me.
|Spice and his hay pile|
Well... horses are designed, spoiler alert, to eat grass. That's it. Humans give them grain because we complicate their lives; we ask them to work, live inside, and do other non-horsey things they didn't evolve to do. I realize this is obvious but stick with me, the punchline is coming!!
|Exhibit G: for grass.|
Grain typically has a couple of main components, the biggest being fat and sugar (including starches). Sugar creates the obvious problems of hyper horses, like kids on a sugar high. Over consumption of sugar isn't just a human problem. Sugars in grain are just as bad for horses. It creates obesity leading to laminitis, an increase in gastric ulcers and even insulin resistance.
Once they process the fat the best they can, even then it isn't going to guarantee weight gain. They typically don't spend all day sitting in front of a computer or TV like people do, allowing that fat to stick to their ribs. It becomes energy and they gallop it off like idiots.
That all sounds terrible, but everyone's feeding their horses grain so there must be some kind of perk, right? The perk is, grain is more convenient. It's almost always cheaper than hay. It's easier to store and easier to procure. If you have your horse on a 100% forage diet, which is the only thing they're designed to live on, you better have some massive lush pastures or be ready to buy and store truckloads (and truckloads) of good quality hay.
Young, fit horses like Thoroughbreds do play, but giving them the equivalent of 45 Poptarts and sending them on their way isn't going to help them settle.
If your horse is skinny, it does take longer to put weight on. But they don't lose it when you try to wean them off the huge amounts of grain you're giving them. As someone who went through two rounds of gastroscopies and 60 days of Gastroguard and sucralfate, let me tell you that's not a journey I'd undertake on a horse that wasn't insured (Indy is actually going through a THIRD round of 30 days of ulcer treatment at his new home).
|grazing was hard for him, k?|
Do some horses need grain? I'm sure there are. Just like some horses need shoes and some are fine barefoot and that those needs can change over time. What I am realizing is there isn't as much of a prevalence of horses that need grain as I thought.
Right now, Spicy is eating all the hay I can keep in front of him, aided by a hay net. For his meals he gets forage extender, Grow n Win (a ration balancer for vitamins), and a handful of alfalfa pellets.
|My two loves.|
Pun totally intended.
Also in the grain are usually vitamins and minerals that may be missing from a mostly hay diet. A lot of that gets dried out of the grass when it becomes hay. Which is another reason people supplement with grain. Ever since having horses at my home in my care, I've focused mainly on feeding hay, and other forage feeds (basically chopped up hay) with just a little grain to appease them at meal time. And/or to mix meds into. (Mostly for the meds, let be real.) Jampy unfortunately had a laminitic episode two months ago, so he's currently eating nothing but hay, chopped hay, and some alfalfa cubes. He's doing just fine so far on it! (So long, rambling point here, I agree with you!)ReplyDelete
thats true about the vitamins and minerals, which is why I have him on a ration balancer. they're typically 30% +/- protein and have no fat or sugar in them. And those are even cheaper than grain.Delete
also long rambling is fine, because i'm starting to love hearing what people feed their ponies!
lol i wish i could give charlie 45 poptarts. or like, literally anything to make him a little more fizzy.... just a little, c'mon buddy, plz?ReplyDelete
HAH bag of mints 3x a day? and a rockstar?Delete
What a great post and I agree whole heartedly! Focus on the animal's biology and give 'em what they're designed to have (wish I could do that better for myself lol!)ReplyDelete
My three have been lucky to be turned out on pasture their whole lives with nothing but pasture and hay in the winter. They've got a mineral block, too, and are fat, shiny, happy, and have been such easy keepers in so many regards. I think their ease of keeping definitely stems from quality diet and which is SO COOL to me in such a nerdy nutritionist-type way. #alwaysascientist
This summer has been so weird for us though as we've finally switched up our living situation. Only 2 acres of turnout is NOT enough grass! So now they get beet pulp and alfalfa pellets with some Omega Max and Cocosoya to help 'em out some every day. Just isn't the same as that fresh pasture though! Fortunately, we're moving to fresh pastures in a couple days and I can't wait to watch them put back on the 40-50# they've lost.
Ugh yeah I bet they're not happy about that switch. There is something very satisfying about a giant field of good quality grass that makes me want to let horses run wild and free and stuff their faces on it.... :DDelete
Feeding can drive you insane. Mine are on pasture in the months of May-October with hay at night. Carmen gets a wee bit of fat and fibre for vitamins. Irish gets a lot more Fat and Fibre plus a little bit of crushed oats (helps with his ulcer issues. Not sure he has those issues any more but am relunctant to mess with his diet). Irish gets a scoop of Mag Oxide and lysine. Carmen gets the Mag. In the winter I add alfalfa to Irish's diet to help keep the weight on.ReplyDelete
I gleefully embrace the insanity! thanks for sharing.Delete
The thing I wonder about is - for centuries, horses were used for work. Like, heavy, hours long work. Plowing fields, pulling buggies, transporting military. I can't imagine they had hours to graze, like wild horses do. So, what were they eating? Did they not have ulcers then? Whatever they were being fed had to be - cost effective - transportable - easily stored, etc. Is it that they were doing work commensurate to the energy provided by grains? Are we feeding them the same as when we did when they were work animals, but their workload has decreased to essentially 1hr or less per day. Is this what is causing the issues we are seeing?ReplyDelete
That's a REALLY fascinating perspective that I hadn't thought of... horses used to be as commonplace as cars (tractors, farm equipment etc). Also they were frequently draft types so maybe they even metabolize it differently?Delete
Interesting idea, thanks for commenting!!
Feeding can be so complicated to me (although it really is simple). I really get sucked into the marketing of some supplements. I do have an equine nutritionist on my team who helps me calm the eff down. My horses just get a few soaked alfalfa cubes and a handful of grain, with salt and probiotics added. Only Henry really needs probiotics for his ulcer-proneness but I just give some to everyone. Seems to be working ok!ReplyDelete
I'd love to hear a nutritionist's take on forage first diet - I wonder if they'd suggest hay testing or similar since it doesn't have guaranteed amounts like grain?Delete
that might have been part of my hesitance towards jumping down this rabbit hole - do I REALLY want to know how much I don't know.
My horses (including my three OTTB's and my endurance horse) almost never get grain. Free choice, high quality hay. They've all been fat, shiny, and ammy-friendly. But I have given up trying to preach the rewards to an unwilling audience. I love this entry for so many reasons.ReplyDelete
maybe if enough people say it they'll come around? my goal in life is to compete really successfully so that people will see grain free green broke 12 yo OTTBs are not trash. or something :PDelete
I think this is a great goal. And then we can be all "I told you so!"Delete
The whole no grain thing is something I have really come to appreciate from living in CA. Before I moved out here, feeding lots of grain just seemed like what you did. Most barns out here don't feed grain. If you want to, you have to go buy it yourself. It's not part of board. (Some barns offer grain, but they are rare). Our horses get some beet pulp to soak up supplements and keep them hydrated and a ration balancer. When they need extra weight they get rice bran. They haven't had a bite of grain the entire tome we've owned them and I plan to keep it that way when we move. I looked at a boarding stable in VT that advertised 8 quarts of grain a day. I think my horses would crawl out of their skin if given that much grain. One nice thing we have out here is access to better hays like oat hay and alfalfa hay instead of just grass or timothy. It's hard to get alfalfa on the east coast and I've never seen oat hay, though maybe you can get it somehow. I will miss being able to change up hay types as necessary.ReplyDelete
oh wow thats fascinating. definitely hang on to it when you come back east!Delete
can you imagine levi on 8 qts of grain?? i think he'd turn into a rocketship spontaneously.
I have a yearling and when I was looking at mare and foal grains to feed, most said she needed 6-10 pounds per day. F that!! No way in hell am I feeding a horse, let alone a baby, that much grain. She’s switching over to a locally made feed that’s Timothy, alfalfa, beet pulp, flax, and rice bran. I’ve had really good luck feeding it to all types of horses and they love it.ReplyDelete
10 POUNDS for a yearling???? oh my god!!!Delete
I went to the little to no grain diet bc 2 of my horses couldn’t handle the grain. 1 is a cribber and grain/sugar makes his cribbing worse and the other was a high energy, fat, quarter horse/Morgan, overgrown pony that would get so jacked up on grain even if all you gave him was 1 handful. Quality hay, grass, timothy hay cubes (no alfalfa for the pony!) and a vitamin/mineral supplement is all the fat pony gets but I do give my cribber (who is a 17h TB/Oldenburg cross) 1 cup of a grain called Crypto Aero a day. I like the CA bc it’s mostly other “stuff” (timothy pellets, alfalfa pellets, rose hips, papaya, chia seeds, etc, etc, etc) mixed with whole oats and that’s it.ReplyDelete
I’m really curious to follow along with how well your guy does on the no grain diet and hope you do some follow up posts later on about it!!!
it's crazy about the cribbing - I started wondering if the weavers/stall walkers I know would calm down if they were cut off grain...Delete
I love the concept of a forage first diet, but can't quite quit the grain at my house. I have had a lot better results with fat sources over high protein type feeds, but you're making me think that maybe I need to expand my horizons a bit. The hard keeper was on 4 lbs of grain and another lb of rice bran this winter, and I'd love to find the right way to put calories in her to keep the ribs covered... while not making her an ulcery psychopath (though this is generally her base state). Complicated by the fact that feeding anything that needs to be wet in winter doesn't work because it's too cold. Ugh. Please keep us in the loop on how Spicy does on his forage first diet!ReplyDelete
the ulcery psychopath struggle is real. i will definitely keep y'all updated. he was initially touted as a 'problem horse' but really he is naturally sensitive and does not need any extra things in his life to up his anxiety!Delete
Neither of mine ever needed nor got grain. To this day, Lucy gets alfalfa (cause she's allergic to basically every other type of grass.. FUN!) and Platinum Performance, which she will eat straight (and yeah, I know people have supplement opinionzzz but you will pry my PP from my cold, dead hands). The donkey gets grass hay, basically whatever we pick up. My mother actually got in trouble with the vet for feeding him too high quality of hay - donkeys are designed to live on like, rocks and sticks and weeds. Plus access to salt and mineral blocks, lots of water and all the apples/carrots and cookies they can pry out of me.ReplyDelete
oh my god that is the most inconvenient allergy. it's like people being allergic to sun.Delete
i had a chuckle at the 'donkeys are designed to live on rocks' tho :P
I've thought about ending grain with P (he gets TC Senior), now that he's at a barn with all the hay he can possibly eat, and fields full of good grass. I haven't been able to bring myself to actually do it just yet.ReplyDelete
Keep updating on how it goes!
you can do it!!!! i believe in you!Delete
When we first brought Carlos home from the track he was eating about 10 flakes of hay a day. Horse ate so much hay!ReplyDelete
very cool blog post (Sorry I am so late damn work kept me away all week) I literally bought a bag of Omolene 100 just to be able to give Remus something with his smartpaks (He gets a mineral pak and he is on one of their colicare smart paks. He gets literally a handful twice a day of the Omelene. I could totally not give him grain and maybe I will once we get him on the big field. But for now I like that he is having some only because our hay here in TN is so dismal (Bermuda ICK). I am buying forage like Timothy and Alfalfa in those compressed standlee bales at TSC to supplement his foraging. It is expensive though> I wish I had known about the hay down here BEFORE I left DE I would have brought hay with me. Thanks for all the info tho that is so interesting. I love learning new feeding tips! :)ReplyDelete
thanks for share dear. if anyone want to read about grains handling in feed mills for animals visit belowReplyDelete
PRODUCTION TOWER Feed Mills