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Feeding Horses
First Posted Feb 19. 2008
Jul 25, 2010

Nutrients and Common Feed Sources for Horses

This is an excellent article from Extension on what horses need in their diet: Nutrients and Common Feed Sources for Horses

"Recommendations from the National Research Council (NRC) are to offer a horse at least one pound of roughage for every 100 pounds of body weight. However most nutritionists suggest doubling that amount of forage and minimizing grain supplements, or feeding none at all. Ralston concurs that a basic feeding strategy should be to offer free-choice forage; if forage must be restricted, then it should be divided into four equal feedings.

Water is critical to maintain digestive health and to facilitate processing of large amounts of fiber consumed daily. For every pound of feed ingested, a horse needs two to four pints of water for digestion. This means that a 1,000-pound horse consuming 20 pounds of food each day needs a minimum of 7.5 gallons (30 liters) of water to process the feed material. This is the amount necessary solely for intestinal function; additional water is necessary for other bodily maintenance functions. Regular or intense exercise further increases water demands, and summer climates amplify these needs as well.

Pagan summarizes that the single most important consideration for proper feeding of any horse is ensuring that the microflora in the hind gut are healthy and happy. He stresses, 'This is achieved with a two-step strategy: Provide the good bugs with food in the form of fermentable fiber while minimizing the supply of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates that allow bad bugs to quickly overwhelm the hind gut ecosystem and cause digestive and metabolic problems for the horse. Supplying lots of high-quality forage while being careful about the type and amount of concentrate is the best way to accomplish these goals.

Andrews aptly sums up the basics of promoting digestive health in horses: 'Provide high-quality forage and pasture grazing, and limit grain feeding. High-quality fiber stimulates chewing, and chewing stimulates saliva, which is high in bicarbonate, and bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acid.' He urges an effective strategy to follow, 'Keep your horse chewing!'" Food for Thought: Digestive Health


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