The Worrier's Guide To Changing Feed
Learn how to pick the right feed + stop wasting time and money
With the change of the seasons often comes a change in feed. Maybe your horse needs a bit more calories to accommodate a drop in temps or they need to swap to a lower energy feed in their offseason to avoid turning into a fire breathing dragon.
Regardless of why your changing feed having a bit of guidance can help you sort out all the choices in your area. And a few handy tips can ensure you pick the right option for your goals without wasting a bunch of time and money with trial and error feeding.
I’m not a nutritionist so this guide doesn’t have any specific nutrition advice for your horse’s exact needs. What it does have are the tried and true tips that I use to come up with optimal feeding programs for my own horses.
The Best tips for worry-free feed changes
Know what you want to accomplish with feed
Writing out exactly what your horse needs in a feed will save you a ton of time and money. The more detailed you are in your goals the better. You’ll want to look at what is working with your current feed as well as what is missing. For example, if your current feed is working fairly well with your horse’s GI tract, he seems satisfied after eating and has balanced energy, you don’t want to lose all those benefits by swapping to a dramatically different feed just to help him lose a few spare pounds. In this case, sticking with similar ingredients but making minor changes for more fiber and less fat might ensure you aren’t trading one nutrition issue for another.
A few goals to take into consideration…
- Fat loss or gain
- Muscle gain
- Addressing stomach issues
- Addressing hindgut issues
- Increasing or decreasing energy
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- How satisfied is your horse with their feed (taste, texture, feeling full vs feeling hangry)
- Hoof and coat condition
One change at a time
If your horse has more than one issue going on its easy to want to fix everything at once. The problem with making too many changes at a time is that you won’t know what’s working and what’s a waste of money. It will also be tough to know what to change if something doesn’t agree with your horse’s system. Be patient, one thing at a time, let your horse acclimate.
They can also be caused when horses rub their backside against a wall or a post involuntarily scuffing their hocks in the process.
Analyze the labels
Reading ingredient labels can be a bit intimidating at first but they will give you the best idea of whether or not you’re making a change for the better. Marketers will claim their feed will turn your pokey pony into an Olympic athlete. Bags are covered with buzz words that are meant to take away our worries and get us to pay premium prices- most of it is BS. To know what’s really in the bag you’ve got to read past what’s on the front cover. Some of the most well-marketed feeds have artificial ingredients and animal products in them- yuck these aren’t doing your horse any favors.
The names of feeds can also be misleading. For example, ration balancers and complete feeds give the impression that they contain everything your horse needs when in reality they are designed for an average horse, living in average conditions, and an average area of the country. I’ve never met an average horse and there is no average area of the world. Because soil conditions vary and each horse’s body uses/absorbs vitamins and minerals at different rates basing feed off of one size fits most theory often leaves gaps in nutrition. The best option here is to find out what’s in your soil and what’s in your hay so you can be sure to choose feeds that will balance out what they’re already consuming. I’ve also had good luck with equine hair analysis to determine what vitamins and minerals my horse may require more of then had custom supplements created to meet her specific needs.
Slow and steady changes
The microbes that live in your horse’s digestive tract are not meant to handle abrupt dietary changes. Because these microbes consume the food your horse eats changing feed to quickly can cause them to die off. If your horse’s microbes are out of commission it will be hard for them to break down food which can lead to GI issues. A good rule to follow when changing feed is to replace 1/4 pound of your current feed with 1/4 pound new feed every three days until its totally swapped over. This will allow for the digestive system to slowly adapt to the new feed without getting out of balance.
Consistency and patience
One of the toughest parts about making feed changes is waiting to see results. If something doesn’t seem instantly effective that doesn’t necessarily mean you should switch to another option. Positive changes happen slowly over time, be patient and track the progress (however slow it is).
As mentioned in the tips above if you’re getting further from your goals or your horse is having a negative reaction to new feed try to figure out what in the feed is falling short or not agreeing with their system so you can find a better fit.