Mix and Match Rations

Mix and Match Rations

Mix and Match Rations

Vaughn W. Henry

One of the problems owners experience is juggling complex rations for a wide variety of different horses and their needs. Just read any equine nutrition text and the advice is to feed lactating mares more protein than barren mares, provide higher quality protein for weanlings, pay attention to energy needs on endurance horses and so on. From a management perspective, having multiple rations and ingredients is an accident waiting to happen. Many farm employees have a hard enough time being consistent when feeding, but complicate it with a wide selection of prepared feed products, supplements and feeding directions for several different horses and it’s no wonder horses colic.

Animal scientists, veterinarians, feed store staff and owners often disagree about what’s really needed, and horses usually wind up either being under-fed or over-fed. Underfeed and the horse will not meet expectations for growth or performance, and overfeeding causes a slew of problems affecting performance and the owner’s budget. Unfortunately, horse owners are constantly seeking a panacea that solves problems and hope to find it on the vitamin shelf at the feed store. In reality, most horses are short on basic energy and protein nutrients and rarely lack vitamins. Although some areas of the country produce feedstuffs that lack all the necessary minerals, they can be easily replaced with commercial supplements. Trace mineral salt and a calcium-phosphorus supplement will generally solve most mineral deficiencies, but it takes a little work to make sure everything is in balance. Since there’s no “magic” feed that meets all needs, most owners are left with choices about using various grains, premixed commercial feeds, hays and pastures. Common energy grains used in the U.S. include oats, barley, corn and occasionally sorghum or wheat. With fluctuating prices for grain, sometimes substitution is necessary in order to meet the requirements for a balanced ration, so the “Pearson Square” is the basic quick fix for the non-computerized ration calculator. Used for any number nutrient classes, the procedure works well for simple rations. The “square” may be used to find what proportion of each ingredient would be needed to meet energy, protein, mineral and vitamin requirements. Use the NRC Nutrient Requirement of Horses for data on what horses needs are at various stages of growth and performance, then match them up to the feeds analyzed in the book’s tables. Once you know what the target is for calories, or protein and which feeds you plan to use, the process starts off pretty simply.

How to do it? Start by drawing a square on your pad of paper, place the desired number in the center. This will be the final ration’s content for whichever class of nutrient being analyzed. List the two ingredients to the left with their respective nutrient content (in the example above it’s the percent crude protein for one grain and one hay) and by subtracting the smaller number from the larger diagonally, you will determine the proportion of each ingredient. This is a simple way to balance a ration when using two ingredients or supplements and is a mainstay on many horse farms.

Success when feeding horses

  • be consistent, make changes gradually
  • weigh the feed provided to each horse
  • weigh the horse to monitor progress
  • feed horses at the same time of the day
  • feed in frequent smaller meals
  • if possible, feed horses individually according to needs
  • avoid unnecessary risks for digestive upset
  • keep feed free of molds and contaminants
  • provide free access to clean water
  • use clean, quality ingredients
  • pay attention to basics, there are no “magic” solutions
  • consult qualified advisors for help
  • keep horses on an effective de-worming program