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Rule of thumb, Pot belly, chewing, ...


At the current rate, we should finish the important topic of feeding horses in hot weather by the first frost!  Perhaps then we can read the article backward for feeding in cold weather.

We feed roughage for both nutrition and to maintain bowel movement. The better the quality of hay the more digestible it is.  It is possible for the quality to be so good it adds little to the bulk of the diet (such as 2nd or later cuttings of alfalfa).  This hay, with or without grain, will lead to very loose stools.  Without fiber provided by hay or mature grass the bowel contents travel rapidly.  This rapid movement and the lack of bulk greatly increase the chances the bowel will become displaced, leading to the signs of colic.  So a very high quality hay should not be the only roughage fed.  Grazing or feeding a lower quality hay will slow the bowel and neutralize the effects of the grain and fine hay.

Are there any disadvantages to feeding hay to the stalled horse?  We discussed the additional heat generated from feeding hay compared to feeding grain.  Unfortunately, some of this must be tolerated to maintain a healthy digestive tract.

For those preparing horses for halter or model classes, heavy feeding of hay can lead to a larger abdomen (gut).  The better the hay quality, the less effect there will be.  The enlarged abdomen of some young horses maintained only on poor pasture or lower quality hay is due to the high fiber content of these feeds.  The horse's needs are not being met by the roughage they are eating, so they eat even more. The intestines have to expand to accommodate such a large volume.  These enlarged intestines will stretch the abdomen, leading to the “pot belly” effect.  One can be sure the stools from these horses will be hard and well formed.

For the horse destined for a model or halter class, the diet must be fine tuned to meet the nutritional needs of the horse while preventing the pot belly effect.  This balance is easily monitored by observing the stool. When the horse’s stool is formed but falls apart when it hits the ground, all is well.  If the stool is soft and piles up like that of a cow, or worse yet has no consistency at all, corrective measures must be taken immediately.  Not only is there a greater chance of colic, but the high density ration creates a high acid environment within the stomach and small intestine. Within a short time, ulcers will start forming leading to a lack of appetite, blood loss, irritability, diarrhea, etc.

To provide roughage without hay there are cubes available.  These are formulated for our city cousins to feed their horses without getting dirty while handling hay.  While these products do provide the needed roughage, they do not keep the stalled horse content.  Some long stem hay must be provided to prevent the development of vices such as cribbing, stall kicking, etc.

 So what would be a good maintenance ration for the stalled horse? We must take in consideration the age, body condition, breed, and activities of that horse.  Unfortunately I would probably lose our readers if I discussed each.  Grain fed at the rate of ½ % of the horse’s body weight would be a good start (5 pounds per day for the 1000 pound horse).  Of course if the horse needs to gain condition or is worked hard, more grain or a grain of a higher fat content may be needed.

A rule of thumb is to spend most of the ration dollar on a better quality hay. A good quality hay fed at the rate of 2 % of the horse’s body weight is a good starting ration, to be adjusted according to conditioning needs.  An extra block of hay can be offered if the horse needs a little more condition. If not, a block of lower quality hay should be provided for the horse to pick at, to meet any additional needs for roughage.

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