Questions to feeding advisor Jenny Persson
Questions to feeding advisor Jenny Persson
Questions to feeding advisor Jenny Persson, who helps horse owners with questions about diets and has many years of experience both as an advisor but also as an amateur trotting trainer and breeder.
Many health problems in horses, just as in humans, come from incorrect or mismatched diets. This is Jenny’s answers to my questions about the feed.
1. What is the most common question you get about feed?
Which concentrate / variety suit a particular forage analysis, or a horse’s body condition / temperament. Nowadays it is also a common question which sugar content a feed has.
2. How are horses usually feed now compared to in the past?
Before they kept to more pure grain oats and barley, which means higher intake of starch and a little more risk for both gastrointestinal disorders and muscle problems if you give larger amounts of concentrates. Today, there are many pelleted complete feeds and muesli mixes on the market. The advantage of this is that you can mix them so that they become gentler on the horse’s digestive system while at the same time more energy efficient.
You can moderate starch levels, raising the proportion of fiber and fat content, adding vitamins / minerals for example. As a horse owner, you get a finished product where someone based the composition to your horse’s diet and it offers complete feed for disciplines, hull and temperament.
3. What do you think is the biggest mistake people do in regards to nutrition?
Now that so many horses are fed with silage and haylage it is normal that you miss that this is a product that contains different amounts of nutrient-free water and sometimes horses simply get too little roughage (dry weight / fiber) in relation to their body weight since one gives the same amount as when using dry hay. This increases the risk of stomach / intestinal problems and behavioral disorders / too little chewing. With this inaccurate estimates of forage nutrient often follow since an analysis is often assessed per kg feed. Thus, including nutrient-free water.
Horse owners often call and say that they have bad protein value in their roughage though in fact it can be high (per kg DM), it’s just that the haylage includes, for example, 40% water. To then start adding alfalfa and other protein-rich feed is part of the way to trouble. When comparing different haylage / silage one should always do it with values per kg of dry matter as the dry matter varies.
Lactating mares often end up with trouble when it comes to their extremely high protein needs, especially pony mares that are considered easily born normally. Among the high-performance horses it is a common blunder that we do not analyze their roughage, or keep track of water consumption / flow in water cups and the horses generally do not get enough salt and electrolytes.
4. How should one think, depending on whether you have a horse who trains light, medium or hard?
Many horses do just fine with only roughage and minerals. They are often overfed with concentrates on the hobby level. The roughage should keep a nutritional value that is appropriate for your particular type of horse. Then, the horse gets to eat as much roughage as possible, regardless of whether it is an easy born pony or a horse from the more demanding breeding sector. If it is needed one complements it with a concentrate suitable for forage and horse’s work / temperament.
For high-performance trotting / galloping horses one should avoid large protein excess. There are often reports from customers that the horses are left without an “extra gear”. They get a little heavy in the legs, slow. Sweat more than usual and becomes numb in the muscles. We have enough difficulty getting the amount of salt and water that they need into the horses at that level so there is no advantage to lose unnecessary liquid. Check the flow in your water cups if you use it. If it produces less than 8-10 liters / min one should provide a water bucket beside it.
5. What would you describe as feed-related illnesses / problems in horses?
Many food-related diseases come from over feeding in relation to work (tying / colic / size). A common misconception is that there is only overfeeding with concentrates, but a horse can also become sick from overfeeding by eating the roughage that keeps much higher nutritional value than what it needs and burns of. It is perfectly possible for a C-pony to eat like a full-size lactating mare if offered the “wrong” roughage and then the risk of colic, laminitis, obesity and the various welfare diseases that are becoming increasingly common is increased.
The second cause is often because of too low roughage ration, too long feeding periods and too starchy concentrates in relation to work, often in combination. When it comes to avoiding tying it is mostly not enough to just review the ration, which should keep high-fat, low starch, but must also consistently clear the horse’s glycogen stores with approximately an interval of every two / three days.
6. What does the research say about food right now?
In recent years there has been much focus on the horses’ sugar intake and the feed’s sugar content. The focus on sugar intake tends to sometimes be very humanizing based on popular science articles. It discusses everything from tooth decay, to insulin resistance and various types of hormone-related diseases, and there is often a little hysteria. Sometimes I feel afraid to say that normal grass / hay contains 10-20% sugar because then I know that there is a risk that the horse will get too little roughage. Sure, keep sugar levels low, but normally this is no problem for the healthy and lean horses.
For a horse with for example EMS, every % is significant. There have also been some studies with high-performance horses with a roughage diet. My experience, based on customer data, is that it is difficult to get an equivalent intensity of a research environment as in professional activities IRL and I’m not impressed by the competition that emerged only on roughage. But I’m a proponent of free access to roughage!
7. How should good horse hay be?
It all depends on the category of horse you have. I think it should have a value that allows one to have the horse in as close to free access as possible without it becoming overweight and for those who need more than that, you can add the appropriate concentrates. For light-born types, it can be 8 MJ / 30-40 g smb rp / kg DM and I also find that to be a suitable protein value for high performance, but with higher energy content. For lactating mares / weaned foals one would want the energy at 8-10 MJ and protein value of 70-90 g smb rp / kg DM.
8. How to choose concentrate?
There is a difference between concentrate and concentrate. Some are starchy and others are low starch and high fiber content. Low starch and high fiber / fat is always an advantage for the horse’s digestive system, but sometimes a more explosive composition is needed to get the temperamental effects that some desire.
Using your hay analysis as a starting point you can then add the concentrate that fits. Sometimes there is need for moderate protein, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot through supplements. The energy content tends to vary less, it however, is significant which produce, the energy comes from. We can likely conclude that some horses are sensitive to oats for example. It is not just imagination and / or overfeeding from the horse-owners.