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Feeding at Grass; Why Bother?

Spring and summer see improving weather, longer days, more things to do with our horses and ….. more grass.  Lots of horses also get more grazing time, than they do in the winter, while their owners go easy on the hard feed or cut it out all together.  That will be fine for many whose work demands are low, but pasture doesn’t always provide all the nutrients a horse needs, especially if work and competition are stepping up.
 
So, if your grass is good, it’s likely that your horse’s energy demands will be partially, if not fully, satisfied (or exceeded!) by what he grazes each day.  What will be less obvious is whether his requirements for vitamins, minerals and quality protein are fully met through grass intake alone.  So, whilst your horse may survive quite happily in the field with no supplementation, uncertainties remain and, if you are expecting your horse to perform, heal, breed or grow, ensuring there are no nutritional shortfalls should always be a priority.
 
Performance

Competition and its training and preparation place ever increasing demands on a horse or pony’s body.  Vitamins and minerals are essential for the body’s correct structure and function, and the right balance is important to ensure their correct absorption and use by the body.  Protein is also essential for the building and repair of all body tissues, including muscle, without which the athlete could not perform.  Here, it is as much about the quality of the protein a horse receives that counts, as it is about quantity.
 
Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which are termed “essential” because the horse cannot synthesise them and must receive them in his diet.  It is the proportion of these that are provided by dietary protein which determines its quality and amino acids to look out for include lysine, methionine and tryptophan.  Without this quality protein the working or growing horse will be less able to build strong muscle tissue or to repair damaged tissues suffering the wear and tear of performance.
 
Therefore, feeding a balancer, like  Baileys Lo-Cal, during the spring and summer months, is infinitely preferable to no hard feed at all, as it is formulated to provide these essential nutrients which forage alone, including grass, may be lacking.  Fed in small quantities (450g/2 mugs per day for a 500kg horse), Lo-Cal delivers all your horse needs for health and well-being but without additional calories and is a more effective option than the “token gesture” handful of mix or cubes.  If you still need some hard feed for energy but don’t need the full recommended amount, Lo-Cal is perfect for “topping up” the nutrient levels to ensure your horse is not missing out.
 
Healing

Whilst “Dr Green” can perform wonders, again it does depend on the quality of your pasture.  If you’re turning a horse out for a rest at the end of a hard season or an enforced break due to injury, again it is worth maintaining some form of additional nutritional contribution to counter any possible deficiencies.  As we’ve discussed, quality protein is essential for tissue repair whilst certain minerals are key to bone and tendon development indicating that the continued use of a balancer during a rest period could prove highly beneficial.
 
For those who find feeding horses at grass or in a group difficult, or too “labour intensive”, Paddock Lick Plus is the ideal solution.  This lightly molassed vitamin and mineral lick enables horses to supplement their diets at will and contains the essential amino acid, lysine, so important for muscle development and repair.  The minerals it contains are chelated to make them more available to the horse and it is worth checking any lick, feed or supplement you use to see whether the minerals are also included in this form (they may be described as “organic”, “protected” or “bioplexes”).  Beware of playing “the numbers game” when selecting products like this as more is not necessarily better, especially if the nutrients are not easily taken up by the horse’s body.
 
Laminitis

This is one condition that is directly associated with too much spring and summer grass, so horses or ponies deemed susceptible are often the first to be made to do without compound feed during the summer months.  Fair enough, they generally don’t need any more calories than the grass or forage provides but, like other horses they do need other nutrients for health and well-being.
 
Lo-Cal balancer, with Light Chaff  or on its own, is by far the most economical choice for the laminitis-prone being nutrient dense but low in starch and with a minimal calorie content.  Its biotin, methionine and zinc levels support healthy hoof growth whilst anti-oxidants, such as organic protected selenium and vitamin E, help the body fight free radicals, now found to be a major factor in a laminitis attack.
 
Restricting access to grazing will probably be necessary for the good doer but fibre intakes must be maintained by feeding clean hay or haylage.  Look for more stalk and less leaf for lower nutritional value and consider ways of extending eating time, say, by feeding it in small holed haynets.  Hay replacers and chaffs are an option for the horse or pony with very little or no access to grazing but be sure to follow feeding recommendations when considering them as an alternative to compound feed.  Many of these complete fibre feeds need to be fed in quite large volumes to meet your horse or pony’s nutritional requirements.
 
Lo-Cal balancer with a scoop of low calorie chaff could prove an easier choice as you can be sure that your horse will be getting all he needs from the Lo-Cal, then chaff can be fed simply to bulk out the feed if necessary.

 

Feeding the recommended quantity of a complete fibre feed will provide all the necessary nutrients, alongside limited grazing and hay, and costs from 95p to £1.65 per day for a 500kg horse.  Two mugs of Lo-Cal balancer per day will also provide all your horse needs whilst chaff can be added as necessary making the cost around 93p per day.
 
Breeding and Growing

Correct nutrition can influence fertility in both mare and stallion with extremes of condition (too fat or too thin) being less conducive to successful conception.  The demands of a busy stud season can be high for the covering stallion, especially if he has a concurrent competitive career.  Stud Balancer is ideal on its own, where grazing or forage is sufficient to meet energy demands, or, like Lo-Cal, can be added to reduced quantities of hard feed in order to maintain nutrient levels.
 
The development of the foal begins at conception so it is important to continue to feed correctly once the mare is confirmed in foal.  Mineral demands can be particularly high as research has shown that the foetus builds reserves on which to draw after birth.  Baileys Stud Balancer is formulated to meet the increased nutritional demands of all breeding stock, with chelated minerals and quality protein essential for the growing foetus and foal.  Once the foal is born and suckling, the mare will produce up to 3% of her bodyweight per day as milk, the quality of which can effect the foal’s growth.
 
For the mare or stallion who maintains condition well on grass or forage alone, Stud Balancer will provide the additional quality protein, vitamins and minerals required, whilst Baileys Stud Mix or Cubes are preferable where additional calories are needed.  Growth problems in foals or youngsters can occur as a result of rapid growth caused by increased calorie intake from good grass.  If this rapid growth is supported by sufficient vitamins and minerals there is less likelihood of problems, therefore, supplementation with either Stud Balancer or Paddock Lick Plus is essential.
 
Nutritional Investment!

So, you can see that if you are placing demands of any kind on your horse, it is well worth continuing with “nutritional support”, alongside summer grazing, to help achieve the best results.  It needn’t cost a fortune as it’s the quality and content of what you feed that counts and products we’ve discussed are economical in use as they are fed in quite small quantities.  Supplementing horses at grass can seem unnecessary but think of it as making a “nutritional investment”, ensuring horse get all they need whether it’s for growth, performance or simply to prevent them drawing unnecessarily on their own body’s reserves.