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How to Feed a Horse

Horses are naturally grazing animals. They cut the grass with their incisor teeth, and chew it with their molar teeth, producing saliva while they chew. The food is mixed with the saliva and swallowed, then it passes into the stomach. The stomach is designed to hold only small amounts of
food.
How to Feed a Horse
How to Feed a Horse
This means that a horse doing strenuous exercise may be unable to eat enough grass or hay at one time to replace the energy it has used. By feeding small amounts of “concentrated” feeds this problem can be overcome. Concentrates provide more energy for a given volume of food than grass or hay.

Methods of feeding:

Loose on the ground:

Giving food on the ground allows a horse to eat in a natural way, as if it were grazing on grass, but it is wasteful.
The food is mixed with soil and spread out so thinly that the horse cannot pick up all the individual pieces. Another disadvantage is that the horse may pick up silt or sand with the food, which can cause colic.

In a bucket on the ground:

A bucket keeps food together, making it easier for the horse to eat. Keep one bucket per horse and put it flat on the ground. Use buckets without handles so that a horse cannot get its foot trapped. In a field, put the buckets well apart, so that horses do not try to eat each other’s feed. Horses with breathing problems should always be fed with their head down. This lets mucus drain out of the respiratory system and not down into the lungs.

In a manger:

Feeding in a manger ensures that the horse cannot spill all the contents, as it could by kicking over a bucket. It also stops a stabled horse from playing with the container if it becomes bored. Another advantage of a manger in a stable is that it gives the horse more floor space.

Rules for feeding:

- Always make any feeding changes gradually: This allows the digestive system to adjust. It applies to new batches of hay and new brands of a feed, as well as to changes in food type—even grass.
- Never increase food in anticipation of a future increase in work: Feed more concentrates because the horse has lost weight, rather than because you might want to increase its workload in the future. An imbalance between food and work can lead to azoturia or lymphangitis. Reduce feed before reducing a horse’s workload, not after.
- Feed only good-quality food: Cleanliness is a reasonable guide to quality for concentrated feeds. If feeds are dull and dusty, their nutritional value will be low. It is not so simple with hay; good, nutritious hay may be a health hazard because of the high number of fungal spores it contains.
- Allow the horse access to roughage of some sort for most of the day: The horse’s digestive system is designed to deal with almost continuous amounts of roughage. Its stomach is not designed for large meals.
- Always feed by weight rather than volume: Feeds vary in their volume for a given weight, so a scoop of one feed is not the same weight as a scoop of any other. Each type of feed also varies in its volume for a given weight with every batch you buy.
- Do not disturb or work a horse during or immediately after feeding, and do not feed a horse immediately after work: The blood supply to the horse’s muscles is increased during work, so the supply to the digestive system must decrease, causing faulty digestion. Also, if alarmed, a horse may swallow food before chewing it and colic may follow.
- Feed concentrates in small amounts at the same times every day: This evens out the workload of the horse’s digestive system, reducing the risk of colic. Feed at regular intervals, not just when it is convenient.
- Make clean water always available, but do not let a horse drink too much right after feeding: Hay and concentrates are drier than grass. They must be mixed with water in the stomach before digestion, but not washed straight through.

Checking a horse's weight:

How to find out the weight of a horse Use the horse’s weight to assess the effects of your feeding and exercise regimen, not to decide how much to feed. Using a special scale at an animal hospital or vet school is the ideal way to weigh a horse. At home, you can use an ordinary tape measure to find the horse’s girth and length (from the point of shoulder to the point of buttock), and calculate its weight using one of the formulas below.
- Weight (lb) = girth2 (in) x length (in) ÷ 300
- Weight (kg) = girth2 (cm) x length (cm) ÷ 12,000.

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