Horse Feed and Horse Behaviour

At Australian Natural Health and Healing, we believe in natural feeding. This means that if possible, provide your horse with feed as natural as they can be, that is less processed and as close as possible to what a horse would eat naturally.

Of course grass is the most natural feed available. However, our lands are not as prosperous as they used to be and the variety of grass on a small acreage property would be limited. The soil is also likely to be poor in nutrients, meaning that the grass will not be very nutritious, hence the need to provide extra feed.

The closest feed to grass is hay and chaff. It is important to provide plenty of those. There are different types of hay like lucerne, barley, grassy etc.

The important thing here is that you must provide a balanced diet between roughage (hay, chaff, pasture, bran) and concentrate (grains, meals, fats etc). Although chaff is chopped hay, hay as such is a primary ingredient of the diet because it provides longer stems which help in the horse’s digestion. When horses do not have access to valuable pasture, or are fed grains, they should be provided with hay or chaff with a minimum of 1% of their body weight to enable efficient digestion (Dr John Kohnke).

Feed should be weighted and not measured in volume because it is the only way you will be able to calculate your horse’s intake. If you are using a 2 litre ice-cream container to measure your feed, take 1 measure of each feed, weigh it and record it. On average, a 2 litre container will be about 300g of lucerne chaff, 250g of white chaff etc.

Feed must be free of mould and “unwanted visitors” alive or dead! So it is important to store your feed correctly to avoid any spoilage and contamination. Mould and horses do not agree!!

Whatever ration you establish, you must monitor its effects on your horse and adjust accordingly. For example, if your horse seems to actively seek food after he has been fed, this means he is still hungry and you might need to increase the quantity. If, on the other hand, he has leftovers, then you will need to reduce the quantity. It takes around 3 weeks to see the effect of a particular feed, so if your horse is losing weight without any apparent reason (you know he is not sick or worm infested), then you will need to re-assess his ration. The same applies if your horse starts behaving strangely.

So lets see how food can affect a horse’s behaviour.

A natural diet for a wild horse contains large amount of cellulose fibre from plants that are digested in the large intestine. This natural diet contains very little amount of starch and sugars found in grains and protein in legume plants like lucerne. Starch, sugars and protein overload in the small intestine are a cause of digestive upsets and will “heat up” a horse or cause colics as the feed ferments in this region.

Some horses are so intolerant to starch they cannot eat oaten chaff (yes, there is a little bit of oats in quality oaten chaff). A common feed stuff that is very high in starch is wheat bran with between 30 to 50% starch. If you must feed grains, it is important that you provide plenty of roughage to help with digestion and the amount of grains be minimal.

Synthetic or poor quality vitamins and minerals may also create some unusual reactions, depending how sensitive your horse is. Horses are like people, some react to red cordial, others to lactose, some to red meat etc. Unfortunately there is no black and white answer. It is a matter of trialling something and observe how your pony reacts.

The good news is that once the culprit ingredient is identified and removed from the diet, your horse should return to its normal-self within days.

A good idea is to introduce new feed one by one (if possible) and see how it goes after few days.

Of course there are other factors that might affect your horse’s behaviour and they should be eliminated from the equation before blaming its feed. Horses by nature are not mean animals. They do have a hierarchy in their herd and there is always few fights among them. The alpha horse will ensure to maintain its status and will “boss” other around if needs be. This is normal. There are few books written on the subject that might help understand their behaviour within a herd.

An aggressive horse, on the other hand, is not normal. We should ask ourselves questions such as:

  • When does this behaviour happen? (feed time? During riding? Etc)
  • Has he always been aggressive?
  • If he became aggressive suddenly, what happened? We might need to investigate a little
  • Was he abused, starved or neglected in the past? Horses have a phenomenal memory and it might take a lot of re-education to change behaviour caused by bad memories!
  • Is he in any sort of pain? Like us, some horses are more sensitive to pain than others so a little thing might seem the end of the world for the sensitive ones! This is where we (or a vet) need to check his feet, back, neck, muscular tightness etc. If a horse is unbalanced, even slightly, it may cause some pain in his body and could be the cause for misbehaving. it is true that some horses will endure horrible pain without blinking an eye until they simply fall apart (or down)! This is then a shock to the owner who did not know their horse was hurting. One should take the time to really know their horse and be attuned to them to depict any abnormality. It takes time and patience.
  • Does his tack fit properly? Wrong saddles can cause some musculoskeletal issues and make our pony very unhappy!
  • If it’s a mare, is she in season? Some mares can get extreme during these times!
  • Is he badly educated? Have we got a spoiled brat?
  • Does he have an ulcer? This is difficult to determine and you will need your vet to run some check-ups. According to scientists, it is very common in horses, especially those who raced or competed as they get highly stressed and their diets might not be the best in terms of digestion. Some symptoms might be sensitivity to some feed stuff, especially starch and proteins, behavioural issues and weight loss. These symptoms alone are not sufficient to provide an accurate diagnostic, so if you suspect your horse has an ulcer, contact your veterinarian who will be able to confirm it and prescribe medication.
  • Now, a very simple question which gets overlooked quite often: does he get too much food for his activity level? Food is energy, so if our horse does not use his energy in his activity, he will have some left to spare!!
  • Does the horse buck when ridden (regularly)? Bucking takes a lot of effort for horses so there has to be a good reason. Assuming that it is not a horse in breaking, causes for bucking may be a painful saddle, sore back/body/feet, bad memories as explained above, too playful (too much food)?

I guess the first thing to eliminate is any physical health issues whether they are illnesses or injuries. Your veterinarian is the person to contact first and they will be able to refer you to other professionals if needs be, like farriers, chiropractors etc.

Elimination of any ill-fitted tack is the second one. If there is an issue with the saddle then you might need to get a saddle fitter in. It is not expensive and is worth the spending. Better have a good saddle than having a horse that bucks, is sore, unhappy and dangerous.

Any mental issues due to the horse’s past are better dealt with the help of professional trainers. Same applies to a badly educated horse. These professionals can help us in re-educating our horse and teach us what to do or not do.

If your horse gets supplements like minerals and vitamins, do a bit of research to see how other horses react to what you are giving yours. It is not uncommon to see a change in behaviour according to supplements given to a horse. Sometimes, it is wise to stop all supplements to see if the horse goes back to a gentler state. It is possible that these supplements might be too concentrate, or of an average quality, or that the horse has some allergic reaction to them, especially if they are synthetic. And sometimes, it might be necessary to only give natural supplements like herbs, dolomite etc.

Minerals and vitamins (supplements) should be given based on what the horse’s nutrients requirements. A good start if to check the NRC web site and John Kohnke’s book “Feeding Horses in Australia” to understand nutrients and calculate what your horse needs.

Quick Tips On What To Feed Beef Cattle

Feeding beef cattle with the right food and keeping with the right nutritional balance is important in growing healthy cows. What to feed beef cattle depends on the breed of the cow, the purpose of raising the cow, and the primary use of the cow. A dairy cow would need a different nutritional intake when compared to a cow raised for its meat. There is a proper feeding regimen for each type of breed. It is vital to know what type of feed to give to what type of cattle. This article presents a guide on the feeding requirements of cattle. Listed below are four ways on what to feed beef cattle.

1. Traditional Food

Grass is one of the traditional foods for omnivorous domestic animals such as cows, goats, and horses. There are still a large percentage of farmers who uses grass as the primary source of their beef cattle. The grass used is pretty much the same grass type growing on untended fields, forests, and grazing fields.

Another traditional food that can be given to beef cattle is hay. Alfalfa hay is their favourite of many breeds and is said to produce good quality meat if given as food.

The problem with this type of food is that they don’t suffice for the protein need of the beef cattle. Protein is necessary to develop more meat on the cattle, as that is actually what is marketed after all. Relying on traditional food alone doesn’t ensure good quality beef.

2. Grains

Grains are another type of food included on the list of what to feed beef cattle. The usual grains given are wheat, soybeans, corn, barley, and sugar beets. These grains can provide the proper protein requirements of the animals, as well as additional energy that cannot be provided by grass alone.

3. Alternative Food (By-product Crops)

The health and growth of beef cattle cannot be dependent on grass and grains alone. The system of cattle farming nowadays is very competitive. To ensure that cows produce high quality beef, alternative food sources are given in the form of processed by-product crops – derived from crops and other agricultural products and are supplement with additional nutrition. These processed foods contain fibres, and high-quality protein. It also has carbohydrates, which can provide for the daily energy requirements of the animals.

4. Minerals

Another essential item included on the list of what to feed beef cattle is the minerals. Minerals are essential for the growth of the animal’s body, bone development, reproduction and other body functions. Essentially, there are two types of minerals needed by the body, the macro-minerals and micro-minerals. Macro-minerals are those that are needed in large amount such as sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Micro-minerals, however, are needed in small amounts, such as zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, and sulphur. Farmers usually give minerals in the form of supplements added to feeds and water. This is to ensure that the animals take the amount of minerals that is required.

Producing high-quality meat is on top of the list of every beef cattle farmer. To achieve this, proper nutritional balance must be given the animals. Included on the list of what to feed beef cattle are grass and grains. But these two alone will not provide the nutritional requirements of a growing cow. By-product crops and minerals are usually added to assure a cow’s good growth and healthy body.

So Many Varieties of Horse Feed – How Do I Know Which is the Right Grain Mixture For My Horse?

Decisions, decisions. I can understand how a person just getting started in the horse world could become confused when deciding what to feed and how much. Personally, I came from the old school of oats, corn, barley and molasses. Electrolytes, salt and a good quality hay, preferably more than one kind of hay. Usually if the horses in consideration were riding or show horses, then a good timothy and a good quality of clover hay was sufficient. Racing horses were fed the same but there was a good quality alfalfa added to the diet. Young horses from the time they were weaned, were given vitamins and different supplements with their daily grain. As young horses grow, their nutritional needs are different because of the constant developmental stages they go through, similar to those of growing children. In my experience, young horses seem to get fairly round on the corners and hold their weight well and all of a sudden they sprout up an inch or two at the withers and slim down, then they get a little round and hold their weight again, and then sprout up an inch or two and so on, seemingly until they reach about their third year. The sprouting still occurs until they reach four of five years of age, but not as often, and they become fuller.

There are many high quality mixtures of feeds on the market of which I have used in the past. Many of the companies producing the newest mixtures of feed, have been in business for years, feeding millions of horses and other animals, and they are constantly researching new and better forms of nutrition. My suggestion is to research the larger companies first. They will be happy to show you the different feed mixtures and explain what it is they have to offer. Most feed stores promoting the feed companies will ask you about your animals, what kind of horses you own, whether they have pasture and if they are being ridden, and if so, how often and how hard. There are guidelines on how to feed your horse on each bag of feed, just remember that these are suggested amounts. Time, trial and error will probably be your best teacher, but most feed stores will be able to guide you into the right direction and help you to decide on the correct amount of feed per horse, per day.

On the market are different prices of feed. The lower priced feeds of course have the lower end feed products in them and they do serve their purpose. On the other end, just because a feed is very high priced does not necessarily mean that it is the best feed for your horse. Feeds very high in protein may not be the best for horses that are not being ridden often, these feeds are more for performance horses, growing weanlings or yearlings and perhaps two and three year olds as well as broodmares but that is another episode. And, as we all know, you sometimes pay a higher price because of the brand name. Each company has the right to charge as they please, so if you find a particular mixture of feed that you like becoming a little too expensive, take a little time to compare with other name brands that are up and coming. As time goes on, and you learn more about your horse and his or her nutritional needs, you may at a later date and if you have enough horses to warrant the extra time and energy, go to a mill and design your own mixture of feed. If you run into problems with your horse not wanting to eat the feed you have chosen, you may need to upgrade or have your horses teeth floated (filing down of your horses teeth done by a professional in order to reduce sharp edges in the mouth). Follow your instincts and go with what feels right to you. If you do not get the results you are looking for, never be afraid to ask a fellow horseman. True horsemen are always willing to lend a helping hand. Doesn’t matter if it is just giving out advice or lending a working hand. Horsemen are usually very obliging.

Feeding horses is not something you should take lightly. You can damage your horse in more ways than one by feeding them too much feed or too little. You will always need to monitor the way your horses look weight wise. When feeding large amounts of horses at a time, basically the fatter horses got a little less feed and the thinner horses got a little more feed. With each breed, age of the horses, and their daily activity, comes a basic standard of daily feed. Look at your horses’ weight every single day. Look at the brightness of their coat. Look at their eyes, whether they approach their feed tub in the same manner every day, whether they are stepping as lively today as they were yesterday. If you see any changes in your horse from day to day, ask yourself why and try to figure out what things are different today in comparison to yesterday. A horse that does not go to his or her feed tub is an immediate red flag and you need to investigate and figure out what is the reason for this horse not wanting to eat. Colicing or sick horses will not eat. Remember, horses are creatures of habit. Usually horses will drink fairly soon after consuming their grain. If you keep a sharp eye on your horse or horses, you can then determine if you are giving them either too much feed or not enough. Each horse is an individual, has different metabolisms and different needs. Feeding horses too much can cost them their lives from laminitis or colic. These are very painful deaths. Feeding them too little can cause a barrage of ailments. So don’t be afraid. Be informed, be careful, be observant, and be the horseman you have always wanted to be with a little help from your friends.