Welcome to my weekly blog for Pegasus Health! The team at Pegasus Health wanted to offer you, their customers and website visitors, an informative and educational blog about equine nutrition, fitness and health so they asked me, an Independent Equine Nutritionist, if I could help them.
What a year it’s been for hay and haylage-making! After a good dry spell in late May when some first cut hay and haylage was made, it rained. And rained. And rained. Not until late July was there a window of opportunity for more forage harvesting, and only in fields that were dry enough not to cause the machinery to get stuck. Nevertheless, all the rain and mild weather has given good yields of grass so there should be no shortage of horse hay and haylage available this winter.
Late cut hay and haylage are still fine for most horses, and in fact a better option for our leisure horses and all our good doers, who need relatively low energy, low protein and high fibre forage. You may need to source the early cut forage for your very hard working horses and breeding stock, but only for those who are not good doers.
Whilst on the subject of forage, do remember that feeding horses is simply about feeding plenty of forage (grass, hay, haylage, straw, hay replacement chaffs etc) and then adding other products, e.g. feeds and supplements, to balance the forage. The ideal is ad lib forage, but this is often not possible for good doers or overweight horses and ponies unless you can find very low energy forage. Only after you have balanced your horse’s forage is there any point in adding therapeutic supplements like herbs or respiratory support and suchlike.
If your horse or pony doesn’t require the manufacturer’s recommended amount of compound feed (coarse mix or nuts/cubes) then you must feed a multivitamin and mineral supplement to make up for the shortages in forage. Even the best quality, most carefully grown or harvested UK forage is short of some essential minerals (and vitamins in the case of preserved forages) and these must be supplemented in the diet. Many horses do not need the full amount of nuts or mix to maintain a healthy weight, therefore they are being underfed essential vitamins and minerals. If you don’t balance your horse’s diet, they will eventually suffer from nutrient deficiencies.
No one essential nutrient is really more important than another, despite the fashion for specific nutrients e.g. magnesium or B vitamins. In reality the most important factor in nutrition is a correctly balanced diet, which is one that supplies all the essential nutrients required by the horse every day, in appropriate amounts. Proportions of essential minerals and vitamins are just as important as the total amount in the diet so add single essential nutrients with great care.
If your horse is a good doer or you are restricting forage, you don’t need to add coarse mix or nuts/cubes to their diet, and instead choose a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement and feed it mixed with some plain chaff or unmolassed sugar beet (or any other feed your horse likes). Doing so will ensure you avoid essential nutrient deficiencies and you keep your horse or pony in peak health.