Feeding the Hard-Keeper Horse that has Ulcers

Feeding the Hard-Keeper Horse that has Ulcers

Ulcer-prone horses might benefit from alfalfa, contains levels of calcium and magnesium that can be useful in buffering acid in the stomach.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

What should you feed a hard keeper that is also prone to ulcers?

Horses vary a great deal in what level of nutrition is required to maintain desired body condition and muscle mass. Horses have not been selected or bred based on feed efficiency, feed conversion, or rate of gain, so there a lot of variation between horses.

A horse that is a hard keeper could require more Calories per day to maintain body condition than an easy keeper doing the same work. One way to help this horse will be to feed high quality forage that has a high relative feed value that is associated with higher digestible energy per pound. A good choice might be an alfalfa or alfalfa/grass mix that was cut at early maturity so it has fine stems and lots of leaves. This hay could be fed free choice or at least three to four times per day at a rate of about 2% body weight or above per day.

The hard keeper could also benefit from a commercial feed that is high fat (8-9% or higher) and controlled starch and sugar (so it can be fed at higher levels) with amino acid fortification (lysine, methionine, and threonine) to help maintain muscle mass. This feed can be fed a minimum of two times per day, and preferably three to four times per day so that the quantity being fed can be increased while controlling risk of starch overload through smaller individual meals. The quantity can be increased with the desired forage to produce weight gain, and then adjusted to maintain desired weight.

A high-fat supplement that is 20+% fat can also be used as a top dressing.

This feeding plan can also be useful in reducing the risk of having ulcers redevelop after a horse has been treated with appropriate veterinarian-prescribed medication. Free choice forage or pasture is a good option so the horse’s stomach is not empty for long periods of time. Alfalfa contains levels of calcium and magnesium that can be useful in buffering acid in the stomach.

High fat, controlled-starch feeds fed in small meals at frequent intervals could also be useful in reducing the risk of recurrence.

Reprinted with permission from The Feed Room, by Nutrena.

About the Author

Roy A. Johnson, MS

Roy A. Johnson, MS, is an equine technology manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition. In his role, he is responsibile for the development of horse feeds for U.S. business, including feeds for Nutrena, ACCO, Agway, and private label brands. A former professional horse trainer, farm manager, and horse judging coach, Johnson was an assistant professor in the Agricultural Production Division at the University of Minnesota-Wasecae before joining Cargill. Johnson has also participated in a successful Thoroughbred racing partnership.

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