By: Louise Scott BSc (Hons) – Keyflow Junior Nutritionist
When feeding horses it is easy to forget that often ‘less is more’ in terms of concentrates and to overlook the importance of fibre in a horses’ diet.
Horses are naturally trickle feeders designed to have a constant flow of fibre running through their digestive tract, as they naturally graze for up to 20 hours per day. This means that horses require between 1.5 – 2.0% of their bodyweight in fibre everyday. For the average 500kg horse this would equate to between 7.5- 10kg.
However our domesticated horses often don’t have access to constant forage and the additional work we ask our horses to do means they have higher energy requirements, meaning forage alone is not always enough. Therefore, many horse owners also provide additional feed in the form of concentrates to ensure their horses receive the calories and nutrients that their horses need.
Concentrates refers to any feed which is dense in calories or nutrients including complete feeds, such as those made by Keyflow, as well as straights, such as oats and barley.
While feeding concentrates is good practice for when your horse may not be receiving everything they need from forage alone, it is important to remember that horses are not designed to have large amounts of feed in one go and naturally would not eat separate breakfast, lunch and dinner as people do.
A horse’s stomach is only roughly the size of a rugby ball and is structured in a way so it should only ever be 2/3rd’s full, for this reason it is not recommended to feed more than 2.5kgs of concentrates in one feed.
If the stomach is left empty for long periods of time it continues to produce acid but without any feed to digest, so it can cause the acid to rise and potentially damage the unprotected upper area of the stomach. This means there is a delicate balance to ensure your horse is constantly digesting and does not have an empty stomach for long periods of time, whilst not over filling the stomach at any one time. For this reason feeding little and often is the best way to maintain balance in your horse’s stomach.
The amount of concentrates you can safely feed to your horse is limited not only due to the small stomach size of the horse but also horses struggle to digest and utilize feed effectively if fed large concentrated meals. Therefore it is important to ensure that the concentrates fed are nutrient dense and digestible to allow for lower feeding rates.
To provide a super concentrated diet, balancers are a great option. A balancer will ensure that your horse receives all of the essential vitamins, minerals and protein it needs on a daily basis, making balancers a great option for horses at rest or in light work as they have very low feeding rates, generally around 100g per 100kg of bodyweight per day.
If your horse is in work it will have higher energy and protein requirements. In these cases, balancers will not provide the full levels required, however they are still useful to underpin a diet.
The digestibility of a feed also has a large impact on the amount you need to feed. For example straights are generally around 20% digestible, meaning your horse can only utilize 20% of the nutrients from the feed, meaning you have to feed a lot more.
Pelleted or cubed feed is processed in a way that makes the feed generally around 60% digestible. This would account for the majority of complete feeds available for purchase in the UK.
The greatest level of digestibility can be achieved through providing micronized or steam extruded feeds, which are typically around 90% digestible. This allows for much smaller feeding rates than both straights and pelleted feeds. Micronizing is a process done to straights to increase digestibility making feeds such as barley and linseed much more efficient to feed. Steam extrusion is a process that Keyflow uses to ensure the feeds are as digestible as possible. Steam extrusion involves carefully cooking the feed using pressurized steam. This cooking process makes it much easier for the horse to break down the feed in its stomach and small intestine. Keyflow produce complete steam extruded feeds ensuring your horse has a balanced, highly digestible diet, which compliments the digestive wellbeing.