Due to changing lifestyles or variations in the feed supply, we may need to make adjustments to our horse’s diet. This could vary from a complete change of forage source in the event a crop failure through to a new grain type such as a senior mix. Whatever the reason, changing your horse’s diet must be done carefully. But why does it need to be managed so carefully?
Why Can’t a Horse’s Diet Be Changed Rapidly?
The horse has a highly complex and easily disrupted digestive system. Bacteria in the hindgut adjust to feed types in order to enhance digestion and nutrition absorption. When the foundation of the diet changes, the bacteria in the gut must adjust as well. If the gut becomes overwhelmed and the bacteria cannot cope with the variations between food types, this can lead to complications such as colic or laminitis. These issues can be life changing, even fatal. In order to prevent this from happening and to ensure the horse utilizes the nutrients from their feed effectively, dietary changes should be slow, controlled and monitored.Changing Your Horse’s Grain Sources. Often, a change in workload will require an accompanying change in grain feed. More work, and your horse may need more food, less work and he will no doubt need less. Sudden increases in grain feed can lead to the horse becoming overwhelmed with starch, which could lead to laminitis. It is recommended that you increase the ration by one-quarter-pound per day. If you are reducing the grain fed this should be planned over a 2 week period. Ideally, feed should be reduced by around a quarter pound every other day. If you are changing the type of grain your horse consumes, the switch should be carried out over five to seven days. Replace 25% of the current feed with the replacement feed every other day.Changing Forage Sources in Your Horse’s Diet. It is difficult to find research on the best method of switching hay or forage type. It is, therefore, best to err on the side of caution and change at a gradual rate. For example, swapping from grass hay to alfalfa. It's advisable to follow the same plan as with grain and replace 25% of the current forage source with the new one every couple of days.Changing Your Horse’s Grazing Schedule. By turning a horse onto a new lush pasture, there is every chance he will eat and eat and eat! He may end up overloading his stomach with rich grasses which could ultimately lead to digestive upset. It is recommended that you turn your horse out with a full stomach in order to prevent him overeating, using a low calorie, high fiber chaff can fill the horse up without causing weight gain and he will not be hungry and gorge on rich grass. It is also advisable to limit grazing time for the first couple of weeks, use a grazing muzzle or section off an area with portable fencing. Increase the turnout time gradually, each day, in order to allow the horse’s digestive system time to adapt.
Managing dietary changes in the horse does not need to be complex or hard work, with careful planning you can protect your horse’s digestive health and pro-actively prevent issues. If you ever wonder why we write about this subject so much, it’s because it is one of the single most important issues horse owners must know about to keep their horses safe and healthy.
For more hints and tips on horse care, come back to Spalding again soon.
*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club
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