20 Mar Ultimate Horse Feedings Tips: Castlereagh’s Year-Round Guide
If you’re a horse owner then you know the joy of seeing your companion get excited when it sees you with a bucket of horse feed. Staying on top of your horse’s diet is of the utmost importance to its health. Its dietary requirements will change based on the time of the year and mistakes are all too easy to make.
In this guide, we provide you with comprehensive year-round horse feeding tips. In doing so, we’ll tell you all about the important questions you need to ask and answer; how you should adjust your horse’s diet according to the time of year; and, what are some of the most common feeding mistakes that horse owners make.
Let’s get into it.
Begin with the important questions.
We believe that there are seven important questions that you should know the answer to off the cuff when it comes to feeding your horse. They are:
- What’s your horse’s age?
- What’s its physiological stage?
- Does your horse have any medical issues?
- What’s your horse’s body weight and condition?
- What forage is available to your horse?
- What’s your horse’s age?
- Your horse’s age will determine its nutritional needs. A young horse (up to 2-years-old) requires a diet that will drive growth. This means that you will require a feed with increased protein contents, vitamins and minerals.
On the flip side, if your horse is considered a “senior horse” then it will have a different set of nutritional requirements. Horse’s are determined to be senior when they can no longer maintain their body condition while eating the same diet.
Senior horses require readily available vitamins and minerals that are easy to chew and digest, and have high fibre content. In many cases, this will require that you add a pelleted feed to your horse’s diet.
What’s its physiological age?
Your horse’s physiological stage will also affect its nutritional requirements. We’ve listed the various physiological stages below:
- For stallions – breeding or non-breeding
- For broodmares – early, mid or late gestation
- Activity level – light, moderate, heavy or very heavy
Discerning your horse’s activity level can be difficult, as it depends on the type of activity it is performing i.e. work, maintenance or exercise. You need to be precise, though. Underestimating or overestimating your horse’s activity level can result in either a fat or thin horse.
Does your horse have any medical issues?
Allergies, gastric ulcers and kidney problems can all lead to diseases meaning that your horse will need a specially designed nutritional plan ~ by a nutritional specialist. Diseases that your horse can contract include Cushing’s, insulin resistance, laminitis, obesity and tying-up. It’s important to correctly diagnose any existing health issues and to get the aid of a veterinarian. Don’t try and do it yourself.
What’s your horse’s body weight and condition?
Measuring your horse’s body weight is obviously very important, and the easiest way to do it is with a livestock scale. The reality is though, that most people don’t have one in their backyard. There are two ways to estimate your horse’s weight, though:
- With a tape measure
- Using the body scoring method
With a tape measure
You can find a weight tape in most feed stores, though a regular measuring tape will do as well. Here’s how you do it:
- Measure the heart girth
- Measure the horse’s length – from point of shoulder to point of buttock
- Use the equation below to estimate its body weight
Equation: Horse Girth (cm) x Horse Girth (cm) x Length (cm) / 11900
Using the body scoring method
This is a simple method that involves inspecting various parts of your horse’s body and giving it a score on a scale from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese) for level of fat. Areas you should score include:
- Over the ribs
- Behind the shoulder
- Tail headed area
- Neck and withers
Regularly scoring your horse’s body fat levels means you will stay on top of dietary needs and will thus be able to determine if your horse needs to gain, lose or maintain its weight.
What forage is available to your horse?
Hay and grass should make up the foundation of your horse’s diet and the feed you select should complement it. If your horse has access to plenty of good quality hay and grass then there will be less of a need for concentrate, depending on your horse’s activity level and the amount of energy it exerts throughout the day.
By answering the five questions we mentioned above, you should have an increased knowledge when it comes to your horse’s dietary requirements.
Let’s get into year-round feeding tips
Now that we’ve covered some of the questions you should answer, let’s get into our top horse feeding tips for each season of the year; summer, autumn, winter and spring. Remember, your horse’s dietary requirements will slightly change throughout the year.
- Maintaining your horse’s body heat is key during the year’s warmer months. As such, your efforts for summer will involve keeping your horse’s body heat down. Here are our top 10 tips for feeding and maintaining your horse during summer.
- Allow your horses to enjoy more freshly watered pasture and less concentrates.
- Your horse’s body weight is about 60% water. So, make sure to provide it with between 40 and 60 litres of water per day.
- Your horse will lose electrolytes through increased sweat during summer. Add electrolytes in its water supply to replace these.
- If you don’t already have shelter then build some for your horse. This will keep your horse cooler and more hydrated.
- Install a cooling system if you’re after ultimate comfort for your horse. This includes large fans and misting systems.
- Make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise. The fatter your horse the more body heat it will produce. Just make sure it exercises during the cooler parts of the day.
- Use less tack if you’re preparing your horse a trip during summer. A lighter load means that your horse will remain cooler.
- Get your horse off the hot earth by providing it with extra bedding in a cool sheltered spot. For this, you can use deep wood shavings.
- Make sure you’re controlling flies, which will be attracted to your horse’s sweat and manure. This way you’ll avoid sores and irritation on its body. To help control flies, regularly get rid of manure and also use large fans to help your horse sweat less.
- Finally, use sunscreen. Your horse has the ability to burn just like you do. Ultimately, keeping your horse in the shade is the best way to protect its skin, but if it really wants to soak in some Vitamin D then rubbing sunscreen all over its body is the way to go.
During autumn, things begin to cool down. So, this season is all about preparing for winter. Much of what you do will remain the same as summer, with a few tweaks. Below are our top tips for autumn.
- Encourage your horse to keep drinking water despite the cooler weather. Horses typically drink less water during the cooler parts of the year. One way to get your horse to drink more is to make its drinking water warmer.
- Introduce more hay to your horse’s diet. Hay is tougher to digest and thus your horse will produce more body heat as its body tries to break the hay down.
- Continue to monitor your horse’s body condition. Remember the body scoring method we mentioned above.
Winter is all about making sure your horse gets enough nutrients while keeping its body weight down. Typically, horses are less active during winter and also have less access to fresh forage. So, it will require more horse supplements that are rich in minerals, proteins and vitamins.
- If you notice that your horse is beginning to lose weight as winter nears or throughout winter then now is the time to increase its rations. Giving it additional hay is a good way to go, as this will increase its body temperature.
- Use supplements wisely and don’t think of them as a substitute to hay. Instead, use them to maintain your horse’s weight or increase it over a longer period of time.
- Winter is also a great time to consider high protein hay. You should consult your vet about this, but if you live in a particularly cold area then high protein hay is a great way to increase your horse’s fat stores and maintain its body temperature.
- Finally, make sure your horse has access to clean and warm water. Make sure it’s above 50 degrees, so that your horse isn’t discouraged from drinking it and doesn’t become dehydrated as a result.
During spring, it’s all about preparing for warmer days and temperatures again, as well as an increase in activity. Our tips for feeding your horse during spring are as follows:
- Start by evaluating your horse’s body condition to see if it lost, maintained or gained weight during winter. From there, you will have the base knowledge required to begin making decisions about how you will adjust your horse’s diet.
- With nature in full swing and plenty of grass available, your horse’s diet should mainly consist of grass. Thus, you will have less of a need for supplements.
- As your horse will have increased activity, make sure it also has plenty of water. Consider adding salt to encourage drinking.
If you use the above tips as a general guide, then you should be pretty set throughout the year. Though, remember to consult your veterinarian for professional advice on adjusting your horse’s diet based on its nutritional needs.
Common mistakes you should avoid
Now that you have some general knowledge on how to feed your horse throughout the year, we’re going to get into the most common mistakes that you can make as a horse owner. The most common horse feeding mistakes include:
- Inadequate pasture
- Low-quality hay
- Over supplementing
- Neglecting parasite control
- Ignoring dental issues
- Not providing enough water
Overfeeding is a common mistake that horse owners make. This can lead to obesity-related problems such as equine metabolic syndrome and laminitis. To avoid overfeeding, stick to a simple diet consisting of good pasture and only use supplements for shortfalls in nutrition.
This can be a problem among senior horses, particularly if they’re working horses. If hay and good pasture can’t provide your horse with the necessary energy intake then add supplements to their diet. You may also want to add supplements when your horse loses the ability to digest food efficiently.
It’s important to inspect your pasture up close. What may look like healthy grass from afar may actually be riddled with weeds when you get close. As a result, your horse has to work hard to get to the grass and may also start eating the less nutritional weeds.
Dusty and mouldy hay can be bad for your horse’s lungs. Also, not all types of hay may be suitable for your horse. It’s important to know what type of hay you’re buying and to also be confident that you’re buying high quality hay.
This can lead to two main problems. Throwing money away – a best case scenario; and, causing vitamin and mineral imbalances.
Neglecting parasite control
Your horse may be competing with parasites for the food i.e. grass they eat. To avoid damage to your horse’s internal organs, you should add a regular deworming program as part of your horse’s diet.
Ignoring dental issues
This one should make sense. Your horse needs to be able to chew properly in order for it to maintain a healthy diet. Dental issues — particularly in older horses — include developing hooks and sharp edges on their teeth, making it painful to chew.
Not providing enough water
We’re sure that ALL horse owners provide their horses with water, though it may not be enough. For example, you need to really stay on top of your horse’s water consumption during winter. Make the water warmer so that your horse isn’t discouraged from drinking it.
Tips for feeding your horse on a budget
If you’ve gotten this far then we want to provide you with some bonus tips. Owning a horse doesn’t come cheap, so to help you save money, we’re providing you with our tips for feeding your horse on a budget.
Divide your land into small sections
If you have small land then you can divide it into small sections to help pasture grow back after your horse has finished grazing. By moving your horse between sections, you are effectively rotating the pasture and thus giving your horse more grass to graze on for longer. Make sure you remove any manure to help the grass recover quicker and create a separate area for your horse to rest so that it isn’t walking on the pasture.
Rent land from a neighbour
If you find that your paddock is overgrazed and your neighbour doesn’t have any livestock, why not ask them to lease parts of their land for your horse? You can offer to pay a weekly amount you can afford per horse. Paying for a paddock is often much cheaper than purchasing hay for a horse due to an overgrazed paddock.
Buy straight from the farm
If you’re lucky enough to find that someone is selling hay direct from their farm then make sure you buy some. It’s much more economic than buying hay from a supplier. Just be sure to inspect the hay before taking it home. When you’re inspecting, you want to make sure that the hay has a sweet smell and that there’s little-to-know dust or spores.
If your area is experiencing periods of drought then supplements will pay for themselves, as you won’t need to purchase as much hay. Make sure you speak to a nutritionist though, so that you’re not overfeeding your horse.
That’s a wrap
We hope that our comprehensive horse feeding tips have been of great help to you! Remember, this is a guide. For the best possible advice, make sure you talk to a vet. If you found this article useful, then why not subscribe to our newsletter? We’ll send horse-related tips your way and keep you updated with what’s happening at Castlereagh feeds. We’re stock feed manufacturers from NSW and are happy to help out as much as we can.