Commentary

Resolve to Weigh Your Horse's Feed

Resolve to Weigh Your Horse's Feed

Weighing your horse's feed provides consistency and a more balanced diet, both of which are important for maximizing health and performance.

Photo: The Horse Staff

If you’re looking for an equine-related resolution for 2017 that will result in greater organization and peace of mind, consider this one: Weigh your horse’s feed each day. Granted this is perhaps more important for some horses than others, but here are a few reasons to move this simple task to the top of your to-do list.

Weighing Hay

Horses with continuous access to pasture have been shown to consume between 1.5-3% of their body weight per day in dry matter. More recent research has shown that some individuals will consume considerably more than this, but generally adult horses consume 1.5-2% of their body weight per day in dry matter. Experts commonly accept that a horse needs to consume about this much forage to maintain healthy gastrointestinal tract function.

When we restrict a horse’s forage intake by meal-feeding hay, we might feed below this ideal intake level. This is particularly true for easy keepers—those horses fed reduced rations to avoid obesity. Unless you weigh the hay that you are feeding each day you will not know whether you’re maintaining this desired amount of forage intake.

Additionally, flake weights vary. When hay is baled, the baler’s tension can be set so that each flake within a bale is roughly a certain size and density. While there is variation between flakes within a bale, there’s potentially even greater variation between bales from different sources. So considerable variation can result if you buy a few bales at a time from the feed store, with flake weights possibly varying by a couple of pounds. That might not sound like a lot, but if you’re feeding a 1,200-pound horse four flakes of grass hay a day, and those flakes vary in weight from 4 to 7 pounds each, that could results in a 12-pound difference in hay intake per day.

This is a rather dramatic example, and most people will notice that the horse is getting significantly more or less hay; however, I’ve learned that more subtle changes might not be so noticeable. This is especially true when you have multiple people feeding, because one person’s idea of a flake can be different than another’s. I’ve had multiple conversations with barn staff where one person will grab a flake and accept it as it is and another will say the same amount is a small flake so they would feed two. Weighing hay creates consistency. If you’re struggling with maintaining ideal body weight with your horse, consider that there might be an issue with inconsistent hay intake especially if multiple people feed throughout the week.

Weighing and being consistent with your hay allows you to calculate how much hay you need to purchase to ensure you can provide feed for a set length of time. Similarly, when making a bulk purchase of hay, buy by weight not number of bales. This way you can be sure that you have enough hay to last you the length of time you need.

Weighing hay each day might sound like an unrealistic expectation, especially for large operations. In reality it just takes being open to change. If you are open to the idea solutions can be created that mean that it doesn’t take much more time than the way you currently feed. For example, I know a 40-horse-plus barn that weigh every horse’s hay. The staff uses a golf cart to transport hay to the stalls and has a scale welded to the cart. Each stall has a card which has the weight of hay needed on it, and they then place a flake on the scale adding or subtracting until the desired weight reached and then fed. Feeding is very easy, all the horses are in good weight, they can have multiple people feed throughout the week and don’t have to worry about individual variation. Plus, they save money on their hay bill because each horse gets consistently fed what’s needed with little waste.

Grains, Concentrate Feeds, and Supplements

Grains, concentrate feeds, and supplements are no different. Commercial feeds are formulated with specific target daily intakes in mind. If you feed these recommended amounts your horse will likely receive the nutrients he requires resulting in a balanced diet. If you feed too little, your horse will likely have nutrient deficiencies; if you feed too much you might be putting your horse at risk of problems such as selenium toxicity.

While a quart of whole oats weighs 1 pound, this is not the case for other feeds. Many are much denser than this and, therefore, 1 quart provides more than a pound. Some manufactures provide conversion tables telling you how many pounds to a quart for each of their feeds, but most don’t. Therefore, after reading the feeding instructions, you will need to weigh the feed.

Again you might think this is a hassle that adds one more thing to your day. Here’s a time-saving tip: Whereas hay needs to be weighed each time it is fed, concentrate feeds only need to be weighed once. Find a cylindrical container or a box style feed scoop. Place your scoop on a digital kitchen scale and tare the scale so that the scale reads zero with the scoop on it. (If your scale doesn’t have this ability you will need to weigh the scoop and subtract it from the final weight with feed.) Fill the scoop with a pound of the desired feed and mark the inside of the scoop with a permanent marker. From now on all you have to do is fill to that line and you will know you have that weight of feed. If you have multiple feeds in your feed room, I recommend that you create a scoop for each feed and write the name of the feed on the scoop.

If you have multiple people feeding or you ever need to have a friend feed on your behalf, having labeled scoops will ensure consistent feeding.

As with hay, if you need to feed, for example, 3 pounds of a concentrated feed each day and it comes in a 50-pound bag you, know the bag will last you 16 days. Feeding precisely means you won’t run out of feed early, and you can plan your trips to the feed store. This is just as easy to plan with a barn of 20 horses as it is for one.

Take-Home Message

Weighing your horse’s feed provides consistency and a more balanced diet, both of which are important for maximizing health and performance. For you it results in being more organized, saves money, and brings peace of mind.

If you have found time saving ways to weigh feed we would love to hear about them in the comments below.

About the Author

Clair Thunes, PhD

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an independent equine nutrition consultant who owns Summit Equine Nutrition, based in Sacramento, California. She works with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the United Kingdom Pony Club. Today, she serves as the regional supervisor for the Sierra Pacific region of the United States Pony Clubs. As a nutritionist she works with all horses, from WEG competitors to Miniature Donkeys and everything in between.

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