Feeding is supposed to imitate grazing….little amounts, often.

Feeding is supposed to imitate grazing….little amounts, often.

The horses are fed periodically.

That is the only common task among all the barn owners I know! Every one of us does it differently. I feed morning and night. My neighbors feed in the afternoon. My other neighbors feed in the morning. My friend’s barn feeds three times a day. Some other friends put out free choice hay in the pasture and only grain at night. See my point?

Experts say, “feed little amounts, and often” in imitation of a horse’s natural grazing habits. Relatively speaking, a horse has a fairly small capacity stomach, but a large intestinal system. This means you feed a small amount, chewing and swallowing constantly little bits, to keep the pipeline with something in it all the time. The stomach does its processing and then passes on the food to the rest of the system, small amounts at a time, keeping the pipeline stocked up and moving along. When you feed a horse a large amount, at one time, they can have trouble. Unlike a ruminant animal (like a cow, sheep, goat) with a multi-compartmented stomach, the horse only has one small outlet into his digestive system, and folks, as we all know, it’s a one-way street.*

(*This is the difference between a horse and a ruminant — that one-way system is the reason we fear colic so much, because horses cannot throw up, or regurgitate food. A blockage or poisonous portion of food can only go out or through the body to be passed. This is why we are so careful about feeding  horses – what goes in must come out!)

Horses can be fed a wide variety of roughage and grains (concentrates) and do really well. I know some people who do not feed grain at all but provide good quality hay to their horses and they do just fine. I know others who feed grain sparingly and only in the winter or when a horse is stressed or losing weight and they do just fine. And then there’s me with six different grain cans in the feed room! (And only five horses to feed.) Over the years I have learned that feeding doesn’t have to follow a guidebook or set of rules. Lots of my friends with their own barns and horses have wonderful fit and fat animals to ride and compete, and they feed totally differently than I do.

Soaked beet pulp...in winter I bring it in the house to avoid freezing in the bucket! Pampered, no?

Soaked beet pulp…in winter I bring it in the house to avoid freezing in the bucket! Pampered, no?

I think you have to polish your powers of observation in order to feed a horse right. More hay, less grain; more fat, less carbohydrate; better quality forage vs. abundant amounts of lesser forage. You keep experimenting to find what works for you. I feed differently in summer when the grass is high, as opposed to winter when there is no pasture.

The feed companies are always coming up with new products, too, that make sense or fill a need. In addition, older horses need to be fed differently than younger or more active horses as their teeth and digestive systems change.

When you board a horse, you are putting the feeding of your horse under the care of another and again, those techniques vary from barn to barn. If your horse does well at one barn, it does not mean he’ll do as well at another, and vice versa. Checking the feeding program before you move is important if you have a horse that is not an easy keeper. And even easy keepers can have a  hard time with drastic changes.

To avoid disturbances in digestion, when ever a  horse is changed over to new feed, the change should be done gradually to introduce the “little amounts, often” into the digestive system. Grain A, with a handful of Grain B. Grain A, 3/4 to 1/4 Grain B. Then, 1/2 to 1/2. Then 3/4 new, 1/4 old — gradually over several days. It takes about 12 to 24 hours for a digested portion to go from one “end” to the “other”.  So this is why we go s-l-o-w-l-y with grain changes — to allow the intestines to get going with the new digestive process on the new grain in a gradual manner. The system is already full of water, fluid,  enzymes, good bacteria, and other gremlins, that break down the hay and grain into energy, fat or whatever the body needs. When you add different feed you task the system with developing different concoctions of break-down stuff. This is why we try not to dump a big amount of new and different feed on a  horse all at once. While this isn’t exactly a scientific explanation, the important thing to remember is “little amounts, often” with feeding horses.

Here are a  few links: Feeding to prevent colic and a short primer on feeding here: The Rules of Feeding your Horse. You’ll need to know how much your horse weighs in order to calculate feed, so here’s a calculator: Horse Weight Calculator. And here’s a handy link to feeding grain amounts: Feeding Calculator

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